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Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH: Top 100
Transcript of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH: Top 100
By Robert C. O'Brien
Robert C. O'Brien
Plot: Major Points
The Canon of Sentiment
The Canon of Significance
O'Brien's wife and daughter, Jane Leslie Conly, published Z for Zachariah posthumously. His daughter also continued his work after his death and finished Rasco and the Rats of NIMH in 1986.
Don Bluth directed a full length animated film, The Secret of NIMH, that was released in 1983. Mostly overlooked by the public, the movie is a cult classic to many. Steven Spielberg admired the film and went on to make animated films with Bluth. The Secret of NIMH won the Saturn Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films in 1983.
Posthumous Work and Adaptations
Jeremy knows that Mrs. Frisby must move her family quickly, before Farmer Fitzgibbons plows the field where her home sits. He suggests that she visit the wise Owl for help. The Owl tells her to go the rats in the rosebush.
Incredulously, she visits the rats in the rosebush and is amazed by what she finds. These rats are intelligent. Their leader, Nicodemus, tells her how they escaped from the National Institute of Mental Heath (NIMH), where they were used for experimentation. They were injected with a substance that made them stronger, smarter, and able to live longer. Nicodemus also reveals that her late husband was one of two mice that escaped with them.
Soon, the rats were ready to create their own society and sever their dependence on the farmer and his equipment. THE PLAN was made, and part of it meant moving to Thorn Valley and living independently. A few rats, like Jenner, were not interested in starting over and creating a new civilization. Others, like Nicodemus and Justin, were ready to go to Thorn Valley, right after moving Mrs. Frisby’s home. Mrs. Frisby bravely volunteers to deliver the sleeping powder to Dragon’s food bowl in the farmhouse. She is caught by the farmer’s son and caged, but she quickly escapes to let the rats know what she has learned in captivity—the NIMH scientists are coming to exterminate them. Read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH to find out more.
Timothy is the motivation for Mrs. Frisby to seek out help for her family. Because he is ill, Mrs. Frisby must visit Mr. Ages and get medicine from him. Because of Timothy, the Frisby's need the rats to help them, since Timothy is too weak to escape from the plow.
Mrs. Frisby is a kind and dedicated character, who will do anything to keep her family safe. She is especially driven to help her youngest child, Timothy, survive. Mrs. Frisby has lived through much adversity and provides the reader with a resourceful and reliable protagonist.
Nicodemus is a wise and kind leader of the rats. For the rats of NIMH, he provides the catalyst for their move to Thorn Valley, where they can live in their own society without reliance on Mr. Fitzgibbons and his machinery. He feels an alliegiance to Mrs. Frisby since her late husband, Jonathan Frisby, was pivotal in the rats escape from NIMH.
Mr. Ages was the other mouse that escaped from NIMH with Jonathan Frisby and the rats. He helps Mrs. Frisby with her medical needs and aids the rats with THE PLAN, which will get them to Thorn Valley.
Jeremy the crow helps Mrs. Frisby get to where she needs to go. He provides her with a ride home and a ride to visit the Owl, who tells her to visit the rats in the rosebush. Jeremy is lighthearted and provides a bit of comic relief to the story.
Justin is Nicodemus' right-hand man. He is a kind and benevolent character who, like Mrs. Frisby, portrays altruism and self-sacrifice in the story. He is with Mrs. Frisby when she must make the dangerous dash to Dragon's bowl to deliver the sleeping powder. At the end of the story we don't know if Justin has escaped the exterminators, or if he died heroically saving fellow rats.
Dragon is the Fitzgibbons' cat. He is the one that has killed Jonathan Frisby, and he must be given a sleeping powder to allow time for the rats to move Mrs. Frisby's home. Dragon is one of the major antagonists in the story.
The survival of Mrs. Frisby is reliant on her new friends, the rats of NIMH. Without their help, she could not get her family to a safe place away from the Fitzgibbons' tractor. Alternately, the rats would not survive without the help of Jonathan Frisby, Mrs. Frisby's widow. The rats also need Mrs. Frisby's help in order to get to Thorn Valley when she is the one who volunteers to put the sleeping powder in Dragon's food.
Working Together to Survive
New Beginnings and Building a Civilization
The theme of renewal is found in moving from the winter home to the spring home for the Frisby family. This is also found in the new civilization that the rats hope to build in Thorn Valley.
Hope and Harmony
Mrs. Frisby never loses hope, even when there are many roadblocks to her goal of securing her family's survival. The rats are willing to risk the seeming security of life in the rosebush in order to live in a setting that is more harmonious with nature and their ideal society.
Mrs. Frisby, a widowed field mouse, must work hard to help her family survive, especially her frail son, Timothy. After visiting the chemist, Mr. Ages, to get Timothy some medicine, she meets her first friend: Jeremy the crow.
Altruism and Generosity
There are many selfless and heroic acts in the story. Mrs. Frisby puts her own life in danger to save Jeremy from the tangled string that traps him while Dragon lurks nearby. She volunteers for the dangerous job of drugging Dragon so the rats can escape. Justin also risks his life in the end of the story so that other rats can survive. These acts all happen without pressure from others and show the reader selfless behaviors.
O'Brien, R. C. (1971).
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.
New York: Aladdin/Macmillan.
The early 70s were a time in US society where liberal values and standing up to authority was prevalent and acceptable. The Vietnam War was a backdrop for protest against the government and an event that took many American lives. Counterculture ideas included living off the land and creating small societies, or communes. More attention was given to the environmental issues that included reducing pollution and saving endangered species.
Although it was never popular, animal experimentation became more objectionable in the 70s. It was at this time that environmental and animal rights groups were gaining ground. They paved the way for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Temple Grandin who both continue to work for animal rights. Herbert Wray (1982) suggests that O’Brien based the story on the work of NIMH psychologist John B. Calhoun, who was conducting elaborate experiments using rats in the early 1970s.
About the time that O'Brien started writing fiction, he was living with his family on a farm in West Virginia, not far from his office in Washington D.C. His wife, Sally (Conly) O'Brien (1972), suggests that this was a time that her husband was cultivating a life with nature, and an appreciation for the everyday lives and struggles of the smallest animals.
Quote on Writing the Novel
"I suppose [rats are a] rather grim idea to serve as background for a children's book. But once I got it started, the rats took charge, and they turned out to be much saner and pleasanter than we are." -Robert C. O'Brien
Excerpt from Newbery Acceptance Speech
Body of Work
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is set in the Twentieth Century, on the Fitzgibbons farm. Robert C. O'Brien lived on a farm in West Virginia with his family, and it is thought that this rural location may have been the inspiration for the story's setting.
"How the rats help Mrs. Frisby and she, in turn helps them from being captured, is told in a thoroughly enjoyable animal fantasy that seems almost believable." (Booklist, 1971)
"How these magnificent rats (led by a tall, handsome, long- whiskered hero named Justin) save Mrs. Frisby's son Timothy from the perils of Moving Day, and how she in turn saves their dream from destruction, is the theme of this superbly suspenseful story." (Christian Science Monitor, 1972)
"Robert O'Brien has given us an extraordinary, thought- provoking book. . . [due to] its ability to comment validity on our times, without once being unfaithful to the rules of the story game. Recommended for children of eleven up, all adults and literate rats." (Children's Book Review, 1972)
"Loyal, resourceful Mrs. Frisby, a widowed mouse with four children, is the engaging heroine of this thoroughly engrossing, thought-provoking fantasy." (The School Library Journal starred review)
"Both the story and the tale within it are deftly told, fulfilling the first requisite of fantasy by making the impossible believable. The characters are credible, their adventures entertaining, and their conversation natural." (Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books)
Stevenson (1997) notes that the canon of sentiment "exists to preserve—to preserve the childhood of those adults who create the canon and to preserve the affection those adults feel for the books’ within it. . .one must be able to pass on with approval, not just cherish [the books] for oneself.”
Books in the canon of sentiment “call forth affection both from the adult recalling a childhood reading. . .and from the child reading these books for the first time.”
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH falls within the canon of sentiment. The story is timeless and the quality of the characters brings readers to the book again and again. With the animated film released in 1983, the story was able to reach a new generation more than a decade after its initial book release. There is rumor that Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH will be hitting the screen again in the near future as a live action and CGI film.
Browsing the Internet discussion boards and user reviews on Amazon prove that this classic is beloved to all that have read it—adults and new readers alike. The book still stands on library shelves and continues its popularity with many re-releases and translations in many languages.
The awards, including the Newbery, will ensure that Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH will continue to pique the curiosity of readers everywhere. In one study, nearly 30 years after being published, the story was still a favorite of sixth grade students, their teachers, and librarians. It was number eight on a list of forty favorite Newbery winners (Kerby, 1999).
Stevenson writes that the canon of significance exists to "justify, document, chronicle, or explain," and that it, "can contain books of great merit and worth that might otherwise be overlooked." She further explains this canon by comparing it to the canon of sentiment, which "favors books that comfort over books that challenge, books that reinforce the status quo over books that attempt to change it."
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH clearly fits in the canon of sentiment, but there is room for this story in the canon of significance as well. There are many teaching guides and classroom sets for the story, which tells us that this novel holds significance in the literature used to teach. Rosemary Petralle Cook (2012) writes that, "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH successfully melds two narrative themes which are seemingly incompatible: animals having human names in situations that are human and a study of wildlife that is accurately presented." Themes of survival, renewal, altruism and interdependence, as well as character study will keep Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH in classrooms and the canon of significance.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
“Blending scientific possibility with fantasy, a fascinating talking-animal tale with intriguing contemporaneous, if not futuristic, implications.” (American Library Association)
1940 worked for Newsweek magazine in New York City. 4F status (physical and psychological frailties) kept him out of the war.
1944 he moved to Washington DC and became a reporter covering Capitol Hill for the Washington Times-Herald.
1951 he joined the staff of the National Geographic magazine.
1963 he started writing fiction. He wrote steadily while still working at National Geographic, but the magazine did not like staff writing outside of work. He took the pen name Robert C. O’Brien.
1972 awarded the Newbery Medal. Due to situation at National Geographic and nerves, his editor reads his acceptance speech at the ALA conference.
Born Robert Leslie Conly on January 11, 1918, in Brooklyn, New York.
Third of five children from a well-to-do Irish Catholic family.
Grew up in Amityville, Long Island.
Showed musical talent at a young age. Played the piano and studied at Julliard for a short time when he was older.
In 1935 he entered Williams College but dropped out in his sophomore year due to stress. The following year he returned to the University of Rochester.
He graduated from the University of Rochester in 1940 with a B.A. in English.
In 1943 he married Sally McCasalin. They had four children together and remained together until his death.
March 5, 1973, Robert C. O’Brien dies at the age of 55 from a heart attack.
The Silver Crown, illustrated by Dale Payson, 1968.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, illustrated by Zena Bernstein, 1971.
A Report from Group 17, 1972.
Z for Zachariah, 1975.
For Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Horn Book Fanfare Book, 1971
Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, 1972
Newbery Medal, 1972
National Book Award finalist, 1972,
Mark Twain Award, 1973
Pacific Northwest Library Association Young Readers' Choice Award, 1974
William Allan White Children's Book Award, 1974
I am grateful that there is a Newbery Medal, and not just because I won it. After Anne Izard telephoned me to tell me my book had been chosen (as I told her, that was the best phone call I ever got), I went out and found a list of all the Newbery titles over the years. I was familiar with quite a few of them, but my youngest daughter knew them all and had read most of them. Obviously the Newbery Medal works. It gets the books to the children and the children to the books.
Click the link below to read O'Brien's entire speech.