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Book Review: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH


They say that man is the highest form of animal, but what if man does something to help other animals catch up?

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien is the curious tale of several animals: mice, cats, crows, owls, shrews, but mostly, rats.

The story begins with the woes of Mrs. Frisby, whose son Timothy is burning up with a fever and coughing terribly. She turns to a mouse named Mr. Ages, who cures Timothy from his sickness with his medicinal powders. But this is only the beginning of greater woes.

In the winter, they live in a cinderblock in the farmer’s field. As the weather gets warmer, they move to their summer house by the river to avoid being plowed by the farmer. This year, Timothy is too weak to be moved, and the weather is warming up too fast. Mrs. Frisby befriends a crow, Jeremy, and together they visit the Owl, the wisest animal in the forest. The Owl suggests that she visit the rats. She follows the advice and visits a nearby rat colony. At first, they don’t mind her. But as soon as they tell them her name, she is taken to their leader, Nicodemus. After some discussion, the rats agree to help. But Mrs. Frisby is still wondering why they were willing to help and how they became so smart.

The rats then tell her the story of how they ended up in the field. They had been taken to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), where they were experimented on. They were taught to read and use tools, and eventually, they escape, along with Mrs. Frisby’s husband, Jonathan. At the moment, their colony still relies on humans for everything. The rats eventually tell her that they plan to create a new civilization, where they can stop stealing from humans.

In the end, the plan succeeds. Mrs. Frisby and her family are safely relocated to their summer home, and the rats are off to the mountains to create their new lives.

Mrs. Frisby teaches the basic values of friendship, loyalty, heroism, and trust. We see in the novel that the rats were willing to help Mrs. Frisby because his husband once helped them. In turn, Mrs. Frisby helped the rats and even risked her life doing so in order to save her family.

More than these, there is also the underlying tone of independence. Even though the rats manage to survive by stealing everything from humans, they decide that they want to do things on their own. More than intelligence and wisdom, the rats have developed a moral code over time. This begs the question, “Are the rats’ artificial intelligence up to par with humans?”

The novel is a great story for teaching children basic values, but at the same time, it is a great read for adults.


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