REVIEW: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

REVIEW: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’BrienMrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
Published: Scholastic (1971), Paperback, 268pg
Source: Bought
Genres: Fiction, Sci-fi

Mrs. Frisby, a widowed mouse with four small children, must move her family to their summer quarters immediately, or face almost certain death. But her youngest son, Timothy, lies ill with pneumonia and must not be moved. Fortunately, she encounters the rats of NIMH, an extraordinary breed of highly intelligent creatures, who come up with a brilliant solution to her dilemma. (from Goodreads)

The Secret of NIMH is one of my favorite movies, despite the many things that were changed from the book. In the movie, the rats have a kind of magical, mystically-thing going. The book is more scifi, though scifi with a hard edge of reality to it. It’s super sophisticated for a kids book, way more than you’d expect from a book with a mouse on the cover.

Ana said something interesting in her review of Mrs. Frisby back in September:

Yet on the other hand, there’s a lot about Mrs Frisby that’s traditional in less than positive ways. She constantly defaults to her deceased husband’s superior knowledge and wisdom, and although the story provides an in-world explanation for this, the resulting power deferential is never really explored. Mrs Frisby thinks nothing of having been kept in the dark about things that affect her life directly — she accepts that her duty as a wife was to offer support without asking any questions, and this is a great shame.

I definitely did get the sense that there were some old-fashioned ideas about what it means to be a wife (and/or married), and it was weird because Mrs. Frisby is in almost every other way so NOT a typical housemouse. She actively goes out to find help for her kids, even after being told there’s nothing to be done, she takes chances and meets dangerous people. She’s learned to read even though she doesn’t have any special brain enhancement things. She kicks butt!

The mix of submissive 1950s wife and modern heroine is interesting and, I think, a little confusing. It’s good characterization, though! It’s almost like this is the start of Mrs. Frisby’s character arc instead of the whole thing. She’s learning to trust herself and her instincts, and if this were a trilogy I bet by the third book she’d be more confident overall and say things less humbly. Maybe.

(Alright, technically it IS a trilogy, but the other two books don’t star Mrs. Frisby and they were written by other people, so it doesn’t count.)

One thing I didn’t remember from my previous reading of this book was the downer ending. What was that?! I didn’t really expect it at all– I mean, with kids books I usually don’t expect things to be that depressing anyway? But I’d totally forgotten that Ye Olde Pre-1990s/maybe 2000s Childrens Books could be and WERE that depressing. See: this list I put together in January. (I totally stole my copy of Mrs. Frisby from that teacher’s classroom library, btw. Ha!)

And then the little children mice try to make it less depressing! BUT IT ISN’T. You can say a lot of bad things about the movie, but at least it had an unambiguously happy ending.

Read: July 25, 2013

2 thoughts on “REVIEW: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien”

  1. I don’t remember the bummer ending of this book at all! I don’t actually remember the ending of either the book or the movie. They are maybe trying to move a something? Stop a something from something? What’s the bummer ending, does Mrs. Frisby die?

    1. Some of the rats die (INCLUDING THE BEST ONE!) and the rest leave without saying goodbye, and nobody knows what happened to them. It’s kind of a heroic death, at least? But it’s still depressing.

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