Bookworm is a feature whereby I follow a trail of children’s books – linking them by author, illustrator, subject or any other random connection that takes my fancy.
The film version of this book came out in 1982. My brother (2 years older than me) must have seen it at a birthday party or something, because I can remember him being REALLY excited about it, and going on about it endlessly. I also remember being really jealous, since he made it sound like the best film EVER, and back then you had either had to save up for the video, or wait till it came on at Christmas. I’ve still never seen it.
So, you can understand, when I picked up the book a couple of months ago, I was quite excited about reading the hugely exciting, magical and captivating story that I had been promised all those years ago. But that isn’t really what I got.
Mrs Frisby needs the rats to move her house. The rats tell her how they got so smart. Then they move her house. And that’s pretty much it. Now, it’s not a bad story, you understand, but it isn’t what you would call action packed. I know it has a lot of fans out there, but I found it a bit, well, dull.
Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against simple, character driven stories. But my problem here was that a) the characters aren’t that well developed (I couldn’t tell one rat from another) and b) even simple stories need moments of tension to keep things interesting, and to keep you reading. A huge chunk of the book is taken up with the rats telling Mrs Frisby their story. Not only is this story-within-the-story quite long winded (I really wanted the author to get on with the ‘real’ story), but it’s also completely lacking in tension, since the rats clearly survived to tell the tale. The actual action only really starts on page 156, well into the last quarter of the book. I couldn’t help but feel that a story about the rats – their capture, escape and subsequent escapades, all told in real time rather than retrospectively, would have made for a much more exciting story.
It does have some good points. Mrs Frisby’s motivations are based on her love for her children and her desire to protect them. It doesn’t gloss over serious issues, including death. It has positive messages – the rats moral stance against stealing things and the unselfish help they give Mrs Frisby. And I suppose it raises some early awareness of important issues (animal testing). Plus it is well written, to be fair.
I know a lot of the book’s fans really hated the embellishments of the movie. But I am beginning to understand why they jazzed it up a bit. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I had read it when I was younger. Or if I hadn’t been expecting the best story EVER.
Title: Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.
Author: Robert C. O’Brien
First published: 1971
Link to previous: Subject (rats)