Today in a discussion about ferrets I wrote:

I don't doubt anyone who says ferrets make good pets.

However, I sort of think that ferrets are rather sinister ever since reading Mary Norton's The Borrowers (1952,1953), about a family of tiny people called "Borrowers" who live inside the walls and floors of a house. As I remember, when adult humans discover the Borrowers, they get a rat catcher to bring his ferret to kill the Borrowers, who have to escape from their home to survive.

But just today (Feb. 15, 2024) I checked Wikipedia's plot summary and it says that the adult humans have the house fumigated in an attempt to kill the Borrowers.

The summary says:

Driver suspects the Boy of stealing after catching him trying to open a curio cabinet full of valuable miniatures. One night she finds Arrietty's house from the bright candle light shining through the floorboards. Believing this is where the Boy cached his stolen goods, Driver peers beneath the boards and is horrified to discover the Borrowers in their home. To prevent the Boy from helping the Borrowers escape, she locks him in his room until it is time for him to return to India. Meanwhile, she hires a rat catcher to fumigate the house in order to trap the Borrowers. Driver cruelly allows the Boy out of his room so that he can watch when the Borrowers' bodies are found. The Boy manages to escape her and, running outside, break open the grating in hopes of providing an escape route. As he waits for the Borrowers to emerge, the cab arrives to take him away. Driver drags him to the cab and forces him inside, leaving the fate of the Borrowers unknown.


So I guess I remember incorrectly. Maybe it was the 1973 TV adaptation where a ferret was used to try to kill the Borrowers.

So was a ferret used in an attempt to try to kill the Borrowers in the novel or any adaptation of it?

List of adaptations:

  • The Borrowers: a 1973 American made-for-TV movie in the Hallmark Hall of Fame.

  • The Borrowers: a 1992 BBC TV series and its 1993 sequel The Return of the Borrowers, both starring Ian Holm and Penelope Wilton.

  • The Borrowers: a 1997 film with a British/American cast including Tom Felton, John Goodman, Jim Broadbent, Celia Imrie and Mark Williams.

  • Arrietty: a 2010 Japanese animated film from Studio Ghibli, known as The Secret World of Arrietty in North America.[10]

  • The Borrowers: a 2011 BBC production starring Stephen Fry, Victoria Wood, and Christopher Eccleston.[11]

  • The Borrowers: a 52-episode animated series currently[when?] in production.[12]

  • There is a village boy who has a ferret, but it's just a possible threat, and not actually a direct threat that the borrowers have to face.
    – DavidW
    Feb 15 at 15:31
  • Also a potential threat discussed in the sequel Borrowers Afield.
    – DavidW
    Feb 15 at 15:34
  • There are a lot of [references] that seem to be links, but don't link to anything. Was the list of adaptations borrowed from somewhere and the links left behind? If so, they should probably be copied over, too, and the original list source be given credit.
    – FreeMan
    Feb 15 at 17:08
  • For the links, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Borrowers
    – FuzzyBoots
    Feb 15 at 17:33

1 Answer 1


In the original book series there is indeed a ferret present when the Borrowers are smoked out, but it's owned by Tom Goodenough, not the rat catcher (Rich William). Not much of it is mentioned in The Borrowers:

'But the kitchen, as she dragged him past the baize door, seemed a babel of sound. No approaching cab could be heard here. "Steady, steady, steady, steady, steady..." Crampfurl was saying, on one loud note, as he held back the rat-catcher's terriers which shrilled and panted on the leash. The policeman was there, Nellie Runacre's son Ernie. He had come out of interest and stood back from the others a little in view of his calling, with a cup of tea in his hand and his helmet pushed off his forehead. But his face was pink with boyish excitement and he stirred the teaspoon round and round. "Seeing's believing!" he said cheerfully to Mrs. Driver when he saw her come in at the door. A boy from the village was there with a ferret. It kept sort of pouring out of his pocket, my brother said, and the boy kept pushing it back. Rich William himself was crouched on the floor by the hole. He had lighted something beneath a piece of sacking and the stench of its smouldering eddied about the room. He was working the bellows now, with infinite care, stooping over them—rapt and tense.

But we find more about it in The Borrowers Afield:

'Oh, them,' he said, 'smoked out, they were. But it ain't true—' he began, raising his face suddenly, and Kate saw that it was a sad face when it was not smiling.
'What isn't true?'
'What they say: that I set the ferret on 'em. I wouldn't. Not once I knew they was borrowers.'
'Oh!' exclaimed Kate, kneeling up on her chair with excitement, 'you were the boy with the ferret?'
Old Tom looked back at her—his sideways look. 'I were a boy,' he admitted guardedly, 'and I did have a ferret.'

The ferret becomes more of a threat towards the end of the book; as the Borrowers are cornered by Mild Eye, Tom turns up again, and seeing movement in his pocket they believe he has his ferret with him and will soon set it on them. They prepare for the worst.

'Shut your eyes,' said Pod. 'No use running and you won't know nothing: a ferret strikes quick.'

As it happens, Tom is a friend to Borrowers, and the movement is Spiller. He rescues them from Mild Eye, and reunites them with Lupy and Hendreary's family.

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