Mrs. Frisby and The Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O’Brien, follows the struggles of widowed mouse Mrs. Frisby as she endeavors to save her sick son. This quest soon leads Mrs. Frisby to realizations she never expected about her late husband’s origins and the actions of the mysterious rats in the rosebush. This is definitely a book geared towards a younger audience, though I think it would be enjoyable for most readers. The characterization is done well, weaving in with the plot to create a rather charming, if somewhat mildly dark, tale. I’ll call this a READ, because it’s a nice break from the somewhat stuffy overcomplexity that so much adult fantasy harbors. Also, nostalgia.
Here, There Be Spoilers
I read this book because I loved the movie (The Secret of NIMH) as a child. I only found out that a book existed a few months ago, so when I was able to procure an ebook copy, I decided to indulge. Overall, the story was fairly simple and straightforward, but dealt in interesting angles of morality and sentience.
The widow Mrs. Frisby only wants to safely get her family moved out of the field where they spent the winter, but her youngest son comes down with pneumonia and cannot risk going outside in the still-chill air. Calling on her friend Mr. Ages, a wise and fearsome owl, Jeremy the capricious crow, and ultimately the rats living under the rosebush, she finds out that there is a great deal more going on around the farm than she could have imagined. Her husband’s connection to the super-intelligent rats means that her son will be saved, but then the rats need her help — and she’s merely an ordinary mouse.
The characterization in this book, although not too complex, was well done and pleasing. The rats of NIMH are genetically modified to be intelligent, learning the ins and outs of most human technology through observation and trial. Mrs. Frisby is therefore not nearly as smart as they are, but the author never once portrays her as stupid. She struggles to follow certain concepts that the rats discuss, but she’s able to help them where she can, and the rats trust her to do so, in general. This is refreshing, as I feel like most books would have had this relationship be quite different and potentially involve discrimination. This also showcases wisdom versus intelligence, involving the interesting concepts of types of intellect rather than simply assuming one type of intellect being superior.
There are certain somewhat dark themes in the novel that deal with morality and the concept of sentience. The scientists at NIMH are trying to genetically modify rats and mice to be more intelligent, and they manage to do so successfully. As such, the now-self aware rats realize that the basic existence (and hatred) of rats is based on scavenging and stealing from humans. As such, the escaped rats dream of a civilization where they live completely separate and make their own power, food, and no longer steal. This is a rather noble goal, but it also showcases the concept of whether it is moral or satisfying to borrow or live off another population, even for the betterment of yourself and your family. In fact, this is the sort of thing that politics often discusses these days.
Overall, I quite enjoyed Mrs. Frisby and The Rats of NIMH. Admittedly, I may be riding the high of nostalgia, but the book is different from the movie after about 50% of the way in, and it deals much less in the mystical and more in the scientific. The characters and relationships were handled well, allowing the book to be appropriately entertaining and charming. I call this a READ, because I think most people would enjoy it, if nothing else but for the delightful world itself.