Nina Bawden on Robert C. O’Brien’s Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH – a book with more to it than adventure …
Every writer has things they can’t do. I cannot write about talking animals because I cannot see them as people, having the kind of thoughts and conversations that people do. On the other hand, I love Beatrix Potter, and one of my favourite novels is Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.
Mrs Frisby is a widowed field mouse who lives in a house beneath a cement block, ‘the hollow kind with two oval holes through it’. Robert C. O’Brien, who wrote this brilliant story, has the gift of making you ‘see’ the fields, the holes and underground tunnels where his characters live. This is one of the reasons why you believe in them, both as rats and mice, and as people.
And, like all good stories, there is more to it than an adventure. The rats, who come to the rescue of Mrs Frisby and her family, are not ordinary rats. They have escaped from a laboratory experiment which has increased their intellectual powers so that they can read and write and reason as well as human beings. And what they do with these bigger brains makes an interesting argument as well as a fascinating story.
Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien is published in Puffin (0 14 030725 7, £4.99) and as a Puffin Modern Classic (0 14 036614 8, £5.99). Nina Bawden’s latest book is Granny the Pag (Puffin, 0 14 038061 2, £4.99); Carrie’s War (0 14 036456 0, £5.99) and The Peppermint Pig (0 14 037911 8, £4.99) are in Puffin Classics.