Summary: A mother risks her own safety to protect her children.
I was about 9 when the movie version, The Secret of NIMH came out. I remember seeing it in the theater, and I think that was only time I saw it. So I was a bit vague on the details of the story when I picked up the audiobook.
Mrs Frisby is a field mouse widow. Her husband died the previous year, but as a family they are doing fairly well. They have a warm winter house in the garden field where food is abundant, even if it is monotonous. Spring is coming soon and the family will move to their summer house by the creek.
However, when one of Mrs Frisby’s children gets pneumonia, things suddenly become dangerous. The family cannot move because of a very sick child. But they have to move because the field will be plowed soon and if they stay they will all likely die.
After Mrs Frisby saves a young crow from being attacked by the farm cat, and he hears her problem, he suggests that she ask for wisdom from the wise Owl, who suggests she ask for help from the Rats.
The Rats are set apart from most other animals around the farm. They are secretive and while Mrs Frisby’s husband knew them, Mrs Frisby does not.
It takes a while, but eventually we learn that the Rats have escaped from a medical research lab (NIMH) where they were injected with an experimental drug that has not only made them very intelligent (they can all read and write and have learned much about the world since their escape), but also they seem to have stopped aging, or at least only age very slowly. The Rats agree to help Mrs Frisby.
The story was good, but slow. And the slowness of the story was accented by the slowness of the audiobook narrator and very long pauses. It is a good children’s story. There are a couple of plot holes that as an adult, I think should have been fixed, but that does not detract from the overall story.
Once I was done, I thought the movie and the books were not that close in storyline. So I went back and looked for comparisons. The movie was mystical. In the end it was magic that solved the problem (which was a different problem in the book). The book was mechanistic. The Rats were engineers and philosophers. The book was about what it means to be independent and create a new society.
Most reviews seemed to think the movie was better because it created mystery, danger and suspense. But I think the addition of magic, really changes this from an animals perspective of vast intelligence (similar to Flowers for Algernon) to one of magical understanding, which really doesn’t make sense in context of escaped lab rats.
The book came out in 1971, but feels like an older book. I think many kids will like it, especially if they like books about animals. But the slowness will put some off.
As an adult I appreciate the fact that the book is about a parent that is sacrificing to save her children instead of the standard children’s book that is about children needing to take care of themselves because the adults around them are unable to protect them.