Mary Norton (1903 – 1992)
(photo from http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Mary_Norton)
When and where born: Mary Norton, the famous prize-winning author of The Borrowers, was born Mary Pearson, a doctor’s daughter, in Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire in England. She lived in a beautiful old Georgian house for much of her childhood, which later became the setting for many of her stories.
School days: Mary went to a convent school as a child. And the house she grew up in is now part of a school – the Leighton Buzzard Middle School!
Why and when she began writing: When Mary left school she became an actress with the Old Vic company in London, but shortly afterwards she married a rich shipping magnate, Robert Norton, and moved with him to Portugal where his family had its business. There she had 4 children, but was often lonely as her husband was frequently away. Then, in 1939, World War Two broke out, and Mary’s husband joined the Navy. Mary and the children moved to America, where Mary worked for the British Purchasing Commission for the British Government. It was then, when she was in her late thirties, that she finally began writing, and in 1943 her first children’s book, The Magic Bedknob, was published in the United States. She then returned to the UK, and her first book and its sequel were republished as the book Bedknobs and Broomsticks, which was later made into a famous film. However, it wasn’t until her third book, The Borrowers, was published in 1952 that Mary’s greatness as a children’s writer was recognized, and the book was awarded the prestigious Carnegie Medal. Over the next 9 years, Mary wrote 3 sequels (The Borrowers Afield, The Borrowers Afloat, The Borrowers Aloft) then 30 years later, the final book in the series, The Borrowers Avenged.
Why I love Mary Norton’s books: I love Mary Norton’s writing for its amazing imagination and detail. It’s so much fun to hear about a miniature world, and the way in which the Borrowers invent and reuse what we humans might regard as rubbish, or of little worth, is truly inspiring! I love the way she turns the ordinary, like buttons, pins, postage stamps and match boxes, into essential furniture in a tiny home. And I also like her characters, especially the feisty and funny Arrietty. She’s like a typical pre-teen growing into a typical teenage girl, but in miniature. These books truly are a feast for the imagination, and I think that’s why, 60 years after The Borrowers was first published, it’s still one of the best-loved children’s books of all time, and has inspired several film versions.
Fascinating facts: Mary was inspired to write The Borrowers because she was very short-sighted as a child. Instead of looking up into the sky watching birds like her brothers, she used to gaze into hedgerows and banks and puddles, and imagine what it would be like to be as small as the creatures living there. She realised that the most ordinary and commonplace things to us humans, like puddles and thistles and small birds, would be huge obstacles or threats if we were as tiny as small creatures like toads.
“‘Clear-up-that-mess!’ has destroyed many a secret world”.
“Children are used to repeated small destructions – in the name of punctuality or tidiness – and have learned to accept them. If the raw materials are at hand, they simply build again. Grown-ups, faced with the equivalent disaster, make far more fuss. Perhaps we should think about this.”
“Supposing” the boy said “you saw a little man about as tall as a pencil, with a blue patch in his trousers, half-way up a window curtain, carrying a doll’s cup – would you say it was a fairy?” “No, ” said Arrietty, “I’d say it was my father”.
Unfortunately there are very few websites about Mary Norton, maybe because she died in 1992, and was 88 when she died. But you can find some very interesting articles about Mary at the following sites: