Monday, April 27, 2015

Mondays on the Margins Newbery Post: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

You know the great thing about doing a blog post series of your own volition with no pay and no deadlines? No urgency or unpleasant repercussions if you get busy and your husband leaves the country a lot and you lose the will to live for a few months. This is also probably the bad thing about doing a blog post series of your own volition with no pay and no deadlines. Anyway.

Not a clue how I missed this one on my first pass through childhood. Lynn (HI LYNN) lent it to me a few months ago, but I've been watching too much Supernatural and reading too much after Lucy goes to bed (which means ipad only) to attack the pile of actual books lately. Yesterday I got home from dropping Angus at basketball, went upstairs and declared that I would read the book at the top of the first pile my eyes fell on. And it was this book.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH won the Newbery Medal in 1972. It's a great story, with strong characters and a fantastic plot that has suspenseful intrigue and strong motherly love and duty, as well as some quite dense moral questions. What I think I loved most is that, although it's clearly targeted at juvenile readers, the writing doesn't talk down to children AT ALL. In the description of young Timothy Frisby's illness, Robert O'Brien uses terms like 'hypochondriac' and 'delirious' without overexplaining them, and this continues throughout the novel with descriptions of farm work, forest geography,  laboratory procedures, power tools and and basic physics. This reminded me of how there was outrage expressed on social media at one point about words related to the natural world such as 'almond', 'blackberry', 'minnow' and 'budgerigar' had been dropped from the Oxford Junior Dictionary in favour of terms such as 'broadband' and 'mp3 player'. Was there just an assumption back then that children would know about this stuff, or would ask their parents? I feel like a book written right now wouldn't make those assumptions. Of course, I could be totally tripping. There is also death and lack of closure on one thread (Justin? Justin, come back!). I just really felt like Robert C. O'Brien told the story he wanted to tell without trying to dumb it down or make it more marketable, and I love that the Newbery committee rewarded that.

I haven't seen the movie either, although I'm ninety-five-percent sure it was sitting on a shelf in my best friend's living room when I used to go over there all the time. I have it on good authority that Justin, the rat described in the book as "alert, dark gray in color, and extraordinarily handsome", is extremely crushable in the movie (and I completely had a thing for Goliath from Gargoyles, so I'm not judging). I have also been told that NIMH stands for National Institute of Mental Health, although this is NOT revealed in the book, which nearly made me blow a gasket (I LIKE TO KNOW STUFF, OKAY?)

On Goodreads, the book's title is modified with The Rats of Nimh #1, but apparently the only #2 book was actually written by the original author's daughter, and the reviews are somewhat uneven. There's also a second movie, but the consensus seems to be that it was an abomination, and the description I found keeps changing the name Frisby to Brisby, so my hopes are not high. Unless.... wait..... the original movie seems to call Mrs. Frisby Mrs. Brisby too, WTF, all is ashes, why? Was Mrs. Frisby too reminiscent of a .... frisbee? And how do we all feel, just by the by, about the fact that she doesn't get to have a first name? Mrs. Frisby or Mrs. Jonathan Frisby, or Mrs. Jonathan, that's it. I mean, yes, she's all about the family, but.. Alice Frisby? Jane Frisby? Catherine Emily Frisby? I guess maybe good old Robert C. wasn't catering to women's libbers either.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and for the next few weeks I'm going to have a really hard time doing anything permanently harmful to the mice that keep getting into our garage. "Here, Mrs. Frisby, have a tiny blanket for poor little Timothy". I'm sure that will wear off in time.


Sarah McCormack said...

my DH has read it to several of his classes... a great story! we also have he movie, IF you ever do want to watch it. I really like it :)

Steph Lovelady said...

I loved that book when I was about 10. I always thought the acronym should be pronounced Ni-AM. That's how I heard it in my head. I think Noah might have read it for school in 4th or 5th grade.

Nicole said...

I haven't read the book but I did see the movie - although I can't really remember much about it. I remember pneumonia, and their house getting mowed down (maybe? it's fuzzy).

Nicole said...

Also? When we had mice in the house I practically had a nervous breakdown. I WAS VERY UNKIND TO THE MICE.

Hannah said...

I had the hots for Justin the rat. First, last, and only rat I ever didn't want to kill with fire because while mice are adorable, rats are hideous awful things.

The movie is fantastic and I highly recommend it.

Magpie said...

i confess that i never read that book. Hmmm. May need to remedy.