by Mary Norton
We are willing to bet you've never heard the names Homily, Pod, and Arrietty before in your life. We dare you to prove us wrong. So where in the world did the kooky Clocks come up with this stuff?
But don't go on thinking that they're original—as Mrs. May tells Kate, "they imagined they had their own names—quite different from human names—but with half an ear you could tell they were borrowed. Even Uncle Hendreary's and Eggletina's. Everything they had was borrowed; they had nothing of their own at all." (1.44)
The weird and borrowed names in this book distinguish the borrowers from the humans, who have much more normal names like "Great-Aunt Sophy," and "Mrs. Driver." But they also tell us a little bit about their characters.
A homily is a sermon of sorts, often lecturey and boring. That makes perfect sense because Homily is always warning her family about dangers, and lecturing them on one thing or another. Pod is a much more simple name, which fits simple, unassuming Papa Pod like a glove.
Arrietty, on the other hand, is pretty unique, just like she is. Our girl stands out, so she needs a name that does, too. We have just one question: where'd she borrow it from?
Where you live determines your social status in The Borrowers. Homily, Pod, and Arrietty live in a clock, and are not fancy enough to be invited over to the family that lives in the fancy drawing room above the mantle piece—the Overmantels:
"Oh, you must've heard me talk of the Overmantels," exclaimed Homily, "that stuck-up lot who lived in the wall high up—among the lath and plaster behind the mantelpiece in the morning room. And a queer lot they were. The men smoked all the time because the tobacco jars were kept there […] The women were a conceited lot too, always admiring themselves in all those bits of overmantel looking glass. They never asked anyone up there and I, for one, never wanted to go." (5.30)
Whoa. It turns out there's a whole pecking order of social classes based on location within the house. Overmantels are at the top, followed closely by Harpsichords (a piano-like instrument), and then Clocks, who are above Rain-Pipes (families that live in the rain pipes of the stable). Poor Rain-Pipes.
Speech and Dialogue
The key to sounding cultured and educated is in speech and dialogue in The Borrowers. The cultured characters speak very properly, whereas the unschooled or uneducated characters speak more roughly.
Pod, for example, rarely speaks in grammatically correct sentences, as in, "I never see'd 'em" (5.31). Homily is not much better, saying things like, "and it'll give her a bit of interest like and stop her hankering […] for blue sky and grass and such like." (6.73-75)
Arrietty, however, is another story. As a result of being allowed to write in her diary and read as much as she likes, Arrietty speaks the most beautifully and properly of all the borrowers. You'd be forgiven for assuming that Arrietty's taken a rhetoric class or two when she says things like, "Eggletina had brothers and Eggletina had half-brothers; Eggletina had a tame mouse; […] and Eggletina did get out—just once!" (6.57)