Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Book Review: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
It is both wonderful and unexpected. I remember seeing the movie as a child, the book follows much the same plot, but is so much better for so many reasons.
It is the story of a young mouse family. The mother has been widowed, and her young son is sick. She knows that "moving day" is approaching because they've been living in a cinder block in the farmers field all winter so they could find easy food left over from harvest. But spring is coming, and she knows the farmer will plow right over her little home and smash it to bits. She needs to move, but her son is too weak, and the move would likely kill him.
She needs help.
The story then weaves a wonderful tapestry of events and characters including her befriending of a crow, seeking help from the wise yet predatory owl, daring to challenge a cat, and her need to meet with the mysterious Rats of NIMH. They are strange rats. They seem coordinated, defensive, intelligent. They steal things from the farmer, like electrical wiring. What are they doing? What are they building? Why did the owl tell her to seek their help? What can they do?
The book has two very different halves. The first half is all about Mrs. Frisby. Then when she finally talks to the rats, the author goes into flashback mode and spends a great amount of time discussing the rats, where they came from, what they're doing, and why.
When I figured out what NIMH stands for I had to laugh at myself. I should have known all along, it was right in front of my face.
National Institute of Mental Health
The rats were all experimental lab rats at a mental health research facility.
When I think back to the movie I am disappointed. The beauty and wonder of the book is both in Mrs. Frisby's daring love for her family, and in the rats.
The movie ruined the rats. It took what they really are and where they came from (which makes sense)- and replaced it with something mythical and magical. The rats suddenly have magical powers and give Mrs. Frisby a magical amulet. They aren't scientifically advanced with amazing minds. They aren't able to figure out complex ideas like electricity - no, the movie gives them magic.
It ruins it. It ruins the whole point of the rats, who they are and how they got that way.
The book is marvelous.
The movie, though cinematically advanced for 1982, is disappointing in comparison.