I read The Borrowers for the first time in my life last month, having already watched the 1992 television series in my childhood, the 1997 movie in my youth, and the 2010 Studio Ghibli film on its release a few years ago. It was an interesting experience going back to an original source after so much pop-culture osmosis has changed and distorted and expanded our idea of the story, even as they keep its basic premise.
Let's just say that Mary Norton's quaint and imaginative story isn't anything like its various adaptations, not least because the entire story's validity is cast into serious doubt thank to its framing device. By the end of the story, the reader isn't sure whether the whole thing was true, or just an elaborate fairytale spun by the narrator's little brother.
But what stands out in any adaptation is its young protagonist. Arrietty Clock is everything you could want from a 20th century literary heroine: curious, open-minded, friendly and a little pert; brave without being fearless, adventurous without being foolhardy, and intelligent while still being crushingly ignorant of her place in the world.
Every adaptation makes her a little different: the miniseries focused on her inquisitiveness, the nineties film on her thrill-seeking, and The Secret World of Arietty on her relationship with the world and its people.
You can always count on Studio Ghibli films to deliver great female characters, and Arrietty is special thanks to her nifty combination of extraordinariness (being only a few inches tall) and utter ordinariness (as a normal pre-teen girl).
My favourite detail would have to be the demonstration of the complimentary tomboy/girly qualities within her: Arrietty not only carries a pin at her side like a tiny rapier (and uses it) but also holds her hair back out of her face with a single pink butterfly clip, checking her hair every morning in the mirror to make sure it’s tidy.
She's a fascinating character mainly due to her circumstances, exemplified best by Norton herself: a smart but vulnerable girl navigating the world when she's only a few inches tall. She's not as famous as the likes of Alice or Wendy or Dorothy, but she's clearly left her mark on children's literature.