Sunday, November 2, 2014

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

I think there are very few people in my generation who haven't read this book or seen the film.  I thought the film was great as a kid, but now as an adult I wish it had seemed less magic-y and more science-fictiony, if that makes sense!

Our title character, Mrs. Frisby, is a widowed mouse who lives in a farmer's fields with her children during the winter.  Her youngest son, Timothy, had fallen gravely ill, so she seeks out the help of Mr. Ages.  Mr. Ages is an old white mouse who is very smart and has a vast store of medicines he develops from local plants.  As promised, with the help of Mr. Ages's medicine, Timothy recovers.  But he is still very weak.  And the spring thaw has begun early- Mrs. Frisby may not be able to keep him warm enough in their Summer home to prevent a severe relapse.  But if they remain in their winter home, they will all die when the plow comes.

Jeremy, a crow who Mrs. Frisby has befriended, offers to fly her to the home of the owl.  As the oldest owl in the forest, he has been known to help animals with difficult problems.  Although he doesn't seem to have much advice for Mrs. Frisby, upon hearing her name he suddenly becomes more helpful.  He tells her to seek out the rats who live in the rosebush by the farmhouse, and gives her the names of two of the rats to look for.  Mrs. Frisby is told that they should move her house to the lee of the rock, where the plow will miss it.

Mrs. Frisby is uncertain why the rats would be willing to help her, or how they would be able to do so, but she learns that her deceased husband had had some sort of dealings with them.  When she is finally admitted to their lair, the *real* story begins.

The rats, especially their leader, Nicodemus, share with her the story of how they came to exist as a community.  Formerly scavengers in a city, they were captured and sold to NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) as test subjects.  Those in Nicodemus's group received a number of injections which heightened their intelligence, and greatly increased their physical strength and lifespan.  Over time they grow in knowledge (which their keepers vastly underestimate) which they then use to escape and form their present advanced community.  However, they still live very much like wild rats, stealing things to build and maintain their home.  So the rats have planned a move of their own, to relocated to an isolated place, grow their own food, and live completely independently of humans and other creatures.  As far as I'm concerned, this story is by far the most interesting part of the book.

Suffice it to say that everyone gets their wish and lives happily ever after.  The book is set up perfectly for a sequel, which the author unfortunately did not have time to write.

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