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The Borrowers: what is that ending all about??

5 replies

LostHorizon · 05/08/2009 00:00

I never read this as a kid, but I heard it was a classic, so I bought it and have been reading it to my 6-year-old daughter at bedtime.

WTF is the ending all about?? If I've grasped it correctly, it's the biggest farking retrospective copout and theft of your emotional investment in the story since the end of The Magus.

Which was written about the same time. Coincidence? Can't be.

"My name's not Arrietty, Nicholas. And I'm sorry I can't provide the customary flames."

Enlighten me someone.

OP posts:
PortAndLemon · 05/08/2009 00:13

It's just ambiguous, I think. Meant to suggest that the sister thinks it may well be a put-up job by her brother, but not committing one way or the other. There are several sequels that (IIRC) don't even allude to the whole "who wrote the diary" thing, so Mary Norton seems to have decided to throw in her lot on the side of its all being real (well, either that or the boy has embarked on a lengthy career of literary forgery that suggest he really ought to get out a bit more and meet some girls).

Unless there's some other potential copout that I've forgotten that you were really talking about.

misshardbroom · 05/08/2009 17:36

I'll have to go and re-read it now - I loved the Borrowers books as a child but now I can't remember how it ends. Can you remind me?

LostHorizon · 05/08/2009 18:19


The sister of the boy who befriended the Borrowers later went to the house where he met them. She found Arrietty's journal, and all the letter Es were written the way her brother used to write them.

The implication is that the boy wrote the journal. No Arrietty, and no Borrowers.

The sister - who is in fact, as an adult, the narrator - also relates how she herself left things for the Borrowers to find, which they duly took away. This is the bit that bothers me most, because while she might not know whether the boy's story was made up or not, she does know whether her own part was. So if she knows there are Borrowers, why cloud the issue; and if she knows there aren't, why dress the story up as true and then embellish it with a lie?

I know it's "only" a children's book, but seriously, I was actually quite invested in it. There was a terrible poignancy in the account of the lonely boy abandoned to a drunken aunt and indifferent servants, left to play alone. You knew from the outset that he later dies young in battle, and I warmed to him because of the fate he had in store.

I also liked the fact that the relationship with the Borrowers wasn't a cutesy-cutesy Narnia-esque aren't-they-sweet load of twaddle. To begin with he is actually pretty cutting towards them, telling them that what they do is simply stealing. But later, in his conversations and deeds, he is sometimes the neglected child ("You could have read those to me, but you never come") and sometimes the parent he needed someone to be. He brings them things they need, and tries to protect them.

When he's locked in his room, he's humiliatingly cut down to size again and it actually prefigures the end of his short life.

It actually reminded me a bit of the early life of Douglas Bader, the Spitfire pilot who lost his legs and came back from it. His parents went to India without him when he was two. He didn't see them again till he was about five, and not long after that, his father was killed in World War One. With that amount of emotional neglect, it's not surprising he turned into a tough SOB.

So yeah, I found The Borrowers really quite moving, until she cocked it all up.

It reminded me of Green Knowe, where you can guess, but you don't ever really know for sure, that the child who sees the ghosts is probably dead himself.

OP posts:
PortAndLemon · 05/08/2009 18:41

I don't think she does know, though. She knows that she used to believe it, and she knows that her stuff used to disappear, but now as an adult she's wondering whether it was all true or was just a game she and her brother used to play. It's sort of like the way that Susan in the Narnia books decides as an adult that it was all make-believe (which is a bit freaky IMO given that she spent twenty years or so in Narnia the first time and probably a good month the second time and that's got to be hard to write off as just your imagination) except that in this case she isn't sure, just wonders. It's about adult attitudes to childish things, and so forth. And as I said, the sequels leave no doubt that the Borrowers are real so I think that bit at the end of the Borrowers is more about the adult woman wanting to believe that this whole episode from her childhood was real, but not quite being able to let go of her practical adult no-nonsense attitudes enough to do it. Sort of thing.

Tolly in Green Knowe? He's definitely not dead. Or if he is he has a pretty darn long series of adventures that don't make much sense. Or are you thinking of Roger, who's the point-of-view character in The Stones of Green Knowe, and who's certainly dead from Tolly's perspective (I haven't read that one for a while so am a bit vague on its exact timeline).

misshardbroom · 05/08/2009 20:36

Digressing a bit into Green Knowe, but I'd certainly never thought of Tolly as being dead himself.

I was pretty sure he was a lonely little boy with a vivid imagination.

I do see the potential of this, especially as the grandmother has seen so many children come and go, but what about 'The River at Green Knowe' where both Mrs Oldknow and Tolly are absent. Surely if Tolly was a ghost he'd appear to Ping then??

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