Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH


Robert O'Brien


Fantasy / Science Fiction


Date Reviewed:

December 4, 2022

ice have been featured as the protagonists in other classic children's stories. I can think of The Rescuers, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Mouse Guard, and The Tale of Despereaux. Although he wasn't the star of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the sword wielding mouse named Reepicheep is the most interesting character in that book. The Newberry award winning Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is another book starring a mouse. This book was later turned into an animated movie by ex-Disney animator Don Bluth, though in the movie the mouse's name is changed to Mrs Brisby out of fear of being sued by Wham-o for infringing on the name "frisbee".

Mrs Frisby is a widowed mouse living with her four children at the edge of a farmer's field. Her son Timothy has always been a weak child prone to illness, and now he has caught a sickness that requires him to remain warm and resting in bed while he recovers. But alas, this means that Mrs Frisby and the kids cannot just scamper to their summer home when farmer Fitzgibbon plows his field. What can Mrs Frisby do?

A crow named Jeremy is tangled in string, which makes him a sitting duck for the fearsome farm cat named Dragon. Mrs Frisby notices the crow's plight, and frees him just before the cat can pounce. Mrs Frisby asks the Jeremy if he could do her a favor - she must ask the wise old owl if he can think of any solution to the her dilemma of how to keep her son Timothy safe from the plow. Could Jeremy fly Mrs Frisby to the owl's nest? This leads to a nice scene where a mouse flies above a landscape, seeing further than she has ever imagined.

It takes a lot of courage for a mouse to approach an owl, but Mrs Frisby is prepared to take chances for her family. It turns out the wise owl does not know an answer, but he suggests that Mrs Frisby contact the rats that live beneath the rose bush. Those rats have been doing some very un-rat-like activities, so it is clear that they have a lot of unusual ideas. And thus Mrs. Frisby meets the intelligent rats of NIMH.

I don't recall if it was ever explained in the novel, but NIMH of course stands for the National Institute of Mental Health. It turns out that a group of laboratory rats have been injected with an experimental substance that greatly expands their life spans, and also increases their intelligence such that they can learn to read and write. In fact, that rats of NIMH have grown so smart that they engineered an escape from the NIMH laboratory and now have built their own society beneath the rose bush on Mr. Fitzgibbon's farm. Mrs Frisby learns all about the history of the rats in a long story told to her by the chief rat, Nicodemous - it seems that the story of the rats at NIMH takes up a good percentage of the overall book. While interesting, it has the effect of relegating Mrs Frisby to a mere observer. I think that long explanation by Nicodemus arrested the pace of the story, the urgency of the rescue of Timothy is forgotten for too long.

Back when I was in third or fourth grade, I remember the teacher reading a chapter a day to the class, and I really enjoyed the story. I no longer remember anything of that story except the title: Owls in the Family. I think Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH would be a tale that would be an entertaining if read to young children, it isn't too scary, yet it also has great characters, especially the courageous Mrs. Frisby. The idea of brilliant, talking rats who can read and write certainly would appeal to many youngsters.