Saturday, March 11, 2006

Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - Robert O'Brien

Robert O'Brien's Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH was a favourite of mine as a child as I rather enjoyed books featuring talking animals, although I never knew before that it won the 1972 Newbery Medal.

Mrs Frisby is a field mouse and a widow with four children: Martin, Theresa, Cynbthia and Timothy. In winter they live in a brick in the garden of Farmer Fitzgibbon, but when spring arrives and Mr Fitzgibbon ploughs the garden for planting asparagus, beans, lettuce, potatoes, etc., they have to move out to a summer home near the stream. One year, however, Timothy falls ill with pneumonia and the spring thaw arrives early; Mrs Frisby realises that she will be unable to move her family to their summer home if Timothy is to survive the move to the stream. She goes to Mr Ages, another mouse whom her husband Jonathan knew, for medicine and on the way back she meets a young crow named Jeremy. He has caught his foot in a pieces of silver-coloured string which in turn has become entangled on a fence. Mrs Fribsy rescues Jeremy, biting through the knots, and he in turn takes her on his back to her home in order to save them both from Dragon, the farm cat. Once Mrs Frisby realises she will not be able to move her family to their summer home, she finds Jeremy to see if he knows anyone who may be able to help. He recommends going to see the owl who lives in the nearby wood, and she agrees, with some trepidation. The owl suggests that Mrs Frisby goes to talk to the rats who live inside the rosebush in Mrs Fitzgibbon's garden.

She takes the owl's advice and she discovers an astonishingly civilised colony of rats who knew her husband. The rats, together with Jonathan Frisby and Mr Ages, are escaped lab testing animals. They are super-intelligent and long-lived as a result of the injections they were given in the NIMH lab., and can read, write and use tools and electricity. Once they learn who Mrs Frisby is, they agree to move the brick in which she lives so that it will no longer be in the path of the plough, which means she and her family will be able to stay in it until Timothy is fit to travel. The only problem that stands in the way of the rats moving the brick is Dragon, but they have a way of dealing with Dragon. Mr Ages mixes a sleeping powder which Mrs Frisby volunteers to administer to Dragon's evening meal, even though it means venturing inside the farmhouse. Things don't go quite according to plan, and she is captured by the farmer's youngest son, who wants to keep her as a pet. Whilst she is imprisoned in a bird cage she overhears some worrying news. A group of seven rats who opposed the plan of their fellow rats to abandon their life of stealing food and electricity from humans in order to create an independent farming colony in the nearby Thorn Valley, have been found dead in the hardware store of a nearby town. The local paper runs a story about the "mechanised rats" and it comes to the attention of the NIMH scientists, who plan to re-capture their escaped rats. The rats have to bring forward their planned departure, but they also have to fool the scientists into believing that the rats on the Fitzgibbons' farm were ordinary rats, not the rats of NIMH.

Robert O'Brien's daughter, Jane Leslie Conly, wrote two sequels to Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH: Rasco and the Rats of NIMH and R-T, Margaret, and the Rats of NIMH (both illustrated by Leonard Lubin). I've never read them, but I've requested both from the Oxfordshire library service as I'm curious to see what Conly did with her father's ideas.

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I also read Terry Deary's The Fire Thief this week. To be honest, I felt the book did not live up to the first chapter which I read on the Love Reading website. The story is an addition to the myth of Prometheus, the Titan who stole fire from the gods and gave it to the human race. In order, to escape from the revenge of the gods, Prometheus travels through time to a murky city in an unnamed country. Once in Eden City, he befriends an assortment of characters and learns just what humans have done with his gift of fire. The narrator of The Fire Thief is a young orphan boy called Jim, who is an actor, an aspiring novelist, and a petty criminal, who helps his "Uncle Edward" to rob the rich. Unfortunately I found Jim to be rather irritating and juvenile; as a narrator he works far less well than Jonathan Stroud's knowing and witty Bartimaeus. I'm also getting slightly tired of stories with footnotes ! Terry Pratchett does it very well in his Discworld novels, using them relatively sparingly. Stroud's footnotes give us Bartimaeus' inner thoughts and are also funny without being too intrusive, but Deary's Jim interrupts the narrative far too often and tries far too hard to be funny; in the end I almost wanted to shout at him to shut up and just concentrate on telling the story ! Apparently this book is the first in a trilogy, but I doubt that I will bother to read the other two books when they come out.

7 comments:

Mrs. Coulter said...

Mrs. Frisby was always a favorite of mine...I always loved mice! A wonderful book. Too bad they made such a terrible movie out of it.

We just got Howl's Moving Castle yesterday from Netflix...can't wait to watch!

Michele said...

I've not seen the movie - didn't actually know there was one until I was doing an Amazon search to see if the book was still in print and it pulled up the movie as a "You may also like" link !

Howl's Moving Castle is out soonish here - I believe... When I can spare the £3.75 I need to rent it, I'll get it out.

Martin LaBar said...

There was an animated movie of Mrs. Frisby. It wasn't really so bad, I guess, and was largely true to the book, except that some of the rats seemed to have some sort of occult powers, which didn't occur in the book at all. I didn't like it, for that reason.

Michele said...

I'm not really planning on seeing the movie of "Mrs Frisby"...

Mrs. Coulter said...

Replacing science with occult is exactly why I didn't like the movie. I loved the idea of these technically and scientifically advanced rats using and manipulating technology. Magic? What was served by replacing the science with magic?

Michele said...

Nothing that I can think of - I mean "mechanised" rats is an interesting concept, but rats with magic less so, I think !

larissa said...

I think that Mrs. Frisby is a very interesting book and i am planning and hoping that i can see the movie.