"Borrowing," he said after a while. "Is that what you call it?"It seems that Borrowers have the same peculiar skill most humans have in thinking that the world and all its inhabitants exists for their use, not even bothering to question the veracity of their securely held belief, and not even considering that there might indeed be a point of view of held by those who are the recipients of their actions. As I read this story it made me think of so many human arrangements - noblesse oblige, the British imperialist certainty that the natives of other lands could only benefit from British rule, British law, British christianity, and, often newly drawn British borders (of course there have been similar fantasies indulged in by the Dutch, the French, and my own country too), religious missionary activities partake of the same, certain, self-focused zeal . It is a convenient belief and one Norton gently parodies in this novel for young readers. At the same time, the Borrowers are our protagonists, so one experiences the actions and the consequences from both sides of the equation, without any pious lecturing on Norton's part. Indeed, the Borrowers in written in pleasantly old-fashioned prose that imparts a cozy, book-at-bedtime glow to the story. I was delighted to revisit both the story and its themes in a book for children, as so much children's literature this days is openly prescriptive. I may yet visit some of The Borrowers sequels in the future.
"What else could you call it?" asked Arrietty.
"I'd call it stealing."
Arietty laughed. She really laughed. "But we are Borrowers," she explained, "like your a-a human bean or whatever it's called. We're part of the house. You might as well say that the fire grate steals the coal from the coal scuttle."
"Then what is stealing?"
Arietty looked grave. "Don't you know?" she asked. "Stealing is - well, supposing my Uncle Hendreary borrowed an emerald watch from Her dressing-table and my father took it and hung it up on our wall. That's stealing."
"An emerald watch!" exclaimed the boy.
"Well I just said that because we have one on the wall at home, but my father borrowed it himself. It needn't be a watch. It could be anything. A lump of sugar even. But Borrowers don't steal."
"Except from human beings," said the boy.
Arriety burst out laughing; she laughed so much that she had to hid her face in the primrose. "Oh dear," she gasped with tears in her eyes, "you are funny!" She stared upward at his puzzled face. "Human beans are for Borrowers - like bread's for butter!"
This lead to another young reader's novel, coincidentally also about little people - Mistress Masham's Repose by fantasy fiction giant, T. H. White. While I'm enjoying the whimsy of White's narration, I'm having a hard time entering the world of his young heroine and so found myself switching to Once on a Moonless Night, Dai Sijie's atmospheric tale of an ancient document that holds some mysterious power over the people who come in contact with it.
I came across this book at a favorite New York bookstore - McNally Jackson - a little while ago, browsing their "recommended" shelf. This was something I did several times per week and now I so rarely get to visit bookstores, especially ones with personalities and staffs who read. Dai Sijie's tale is written in an elegant prose (translated from French) and casts its own enticing spell. This one may have me hooked.