Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O’Brien, was published in 1971 by Aladdin.
Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is one of those books
where I felt like I remembered a lot about it before reading it, and then
realized that I really didn’t remember much at all. The only thing I truly
remembered was that Mrs. Frisby’s son Timothy gets sick, and also that the rats
were genetically modified. Other than that, my vague impressions of the book
were dead wrong.
The book has a more middle-to-high level reading level (on a scale that I invented just this minute to express what I’m trying to say about the writing), and so it feels, at least, a bit more mature and complex than an average Newbery Medal. I actually quite like this type of writing style. There’s a lot of words, but they’re not complicated ones, so children should still be able to follow along fairly well. It was a nice change after some of the more simplistic things I read, and it helped give the book a more serious and studied air, as befitting the NIMH rats.
The story itself is engaging. Mrs. Frisby enlists the
help of the genetically modified rats of NIMH to help her move her house, and
along the way learns their story and their ultimate goal of achieving their own
sustainable den so they no longer have to steal to survive. There’s some
tension involving the cat, Dragon, as well as the looming threat of NIMH, and
the ending is dramatic and even a little ambiguous as to the final fate of the
rats (one in particular).
The biggest weakness of the book is that the whole premise of the book is based on evolutionary theory, and I honestly don’t think O’Brien did a very good job at all at communicating it in an even remotely sensible way. Perhaps the age of this book shows a little during all the talk of monkeys and prairie dogs. In any case, it’s presented in a way that’s almost laughably bad. In addition, the end goal of the rats is shaky at best. It’s a bit like Rabbit Hillwas. At least in this book it explains how the rats were modified, but the whole idea that rats could have their own community, their own farm and crops, and flourish (in essence, live like humans) is unbelievable.
Despite my problems with the entire premise, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is
still an interesting story—and it’s not all about the rats, either. Mrs. Frisby
gets some great moments to shine, too, which are arguably some of the best
moments of the book besides the rat escape at the end.