Source: John Rowe Townsend, Written for Children: An Outline of English-Language Children's Literature (1974), p. 258
The notion underlying Robert C. O'Brien's Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971) is that laboratory rats, raised to a high standard of intelligence and with the aging process inhibited, might plan to escape and set up an unratlike community of their own. But the story that embodies this notion is told retrospect by one of the rats involved, in the course of a rather ordinary 'outer' story about Mrs. Frisby the fieldmouse and the rescue of her family from the plowing-down of their home. The construction is awkward, and there is a lack of memorable characters. One remembers the Wind in the Willows for Rat, Mole, Toad and Badger; Charlotte's Web for Charlotte and Wilbur; The Mouse and his Child for Manny Rat. I do not think any animal in Mrs. Frisby will be remembered in that way. But there are some nice touches of detail. Look at the farmer's cat Dragon, as seen from a mouse's height:
He was enormous, with a huge broad head and a large mouth full of curving fangs, needle sharp. He has even claws on each foot and thick, furry tail, which lashed angrily from side to side. In colour he was orange and white, with glaring yellow eyes; and when he leaped to kill he gave a high strangled scream that froze his victims where they stood.
Source: Margery Fisher, Who's Who in Children's Books: A Treasury
of the Familiar Characters of Childhood, 1975, p. 249, 301
Note: The following comes from a dictionary type guide to children characters, hence the two entries.
Mrs. Frisby, a fieldmouse, becomes the sole provider for her four children after the disappearance of her husband Jonathan. When spring plowing becomes imminent, she prepares to move from their underground house in Farmer Fitzgibbon's vegetable field to a safe summer burrow near the river. Then the youngest child becomes seriously ill and the anxious mother, taking a dangerous journey past the farm to the home of the old white mouse, Mr. Ages, is warned by him that Timothy must not be moved until the weather is warm.
It chances that Mrs. Frisby, on her unhappy way home, has been able to free a crow from a tangle of silver foil just in time to save him from the dreaded farm cat. Jeremy Crow takes her to consult the owl and so she hears about the remarkably clever Rats of NIMH (q.v.) who by applying their acquired skill are able to move the concrete block in which Mrs. Frisby made her winter home, and to re-locate it where the farmer will not reach it with a plough.
Mrs. Frisby's Home is an underground cavity, not a pretty mock-cottage, yet in her speech her contacts with other animals, her methodical life, she seems to belong to the same world as Alison Uttley's Gray Rabbit. There is another aspect to this story of the American countryside. The fieldmouse, believable in her mouse-life, also earns by attraction a different kind of reality when she is involved with the science-fiction expertise of the rats. As far as the reader is concerned, Mrs. Frisby is definitely in, though not of, the futuristic world of the Rats of NIMH.
Rats of NIMH (the): live in a city where pickings are good and life agreeable till one day a number of them are netted and taken to a laboratory. The rats in Group A, who receive more powerful injections and more stringent tests, quickly begin to outstrip the other groups in intelligence, so much so that they learn to read and eventually escape. This group of rats now have intellectual reasoning as well as gregarious instinct to keep them together. They resolve to use their acquired knowledge to make a better life for themselves.
After several stages in their search for a home they come to the Fitzgibbon farm and there hollow for themselves a branching city lit by electricity (led from the farm supply), furnished with a library and other civilized adjuncts of life, and with a formidable educational programme for the younger generation and a stable democratic government.
Mrs. Frisby (q.v.) is full of awe and admiration when Nicodemus and Justin finish telling her their story--but there is more to come. For the rats have read about something called the Rat Race and realize that they are in danger of becoming slaves to technology, and to devices which they have stolen from men. They must build a rat civilization of their own, dependent on nobody but themselves; their move to Thorn Valley with laboriously collected seed corn and other supplies brings about a firm, satisfactory climax to their efforts.
The Rats of NIMH are not humanized in the strict sense of the word. They are represented as a super-race, an evolutionary phenomenon resulting from man's interference with nature but capable of using intelligence independently of man. In this sense they belong to science fiction rather than to animal fantasy, to the worlds of Orwell and Andre Norton rather than to Kipling and Kenneth Grahame. Their connection with the human race does not lie in their actions (which are always strictly performed by paws, not hands) but in their philosophy, which in its far-reaching, honest model for a civilization throws, by implication, the searching light of criticism on the human world in general and the rat-race in particular. So, we have here a politico-social allegory, as well as an exciting story in the successful solving of Mrs. Frisby's domestic problem. Those rats who are seen as individuals--the dignified Justin; Jenner, the erratic leader of a doomed splinter group; the schoolgirl Isabella, with her armful of books and her squeaky her-worship of Justin--are characters as memorable as any in animal fantasy.
Source: Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books, 1966-1975. Kingman (?), 1975(?)
MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH
written by Robert C. O'Brien
illustrated by Zena Bernstein
published by Atheneum Publishers 1971
Mrs. Frisby, mother of Teresa, Martin, Cynthia and Timothy, has made a cozy winter mouse-home in a cement block in farmer Fitzgibbon's garden. When Timothy falls ill, Mrs. Frisby seeks help from another mouse, Mr. Ages, and on the same journey rescues a crow, Jeremy, from the Fitzgibbons' cat, Dragon. When she realizes Timothy is not going to recover in time for their necessary Spring Moving day, Mrs. Frisby is flown by Jeremy to consult an old owl, who tells her to go to the rats, whose entrance hole is under the rosebush in the farmyard. There Mrs. Frisby meets Justin, Nicodemus, and Brutus, and sees the underground complex built to house themselves and their offspring by the twenty educated rats who escaped from NIMH. When they learn she is the widow of Jonathan Frisby, they tell her their amazing history, which includes her husband's heroic death, and of their Plan for the future: for rats to be self-sufficient and never steal again from men. When Mrs. Frisby offers to slip a sleeping powder into Dragon's food, so the rats can move her home to safety, she is caught in the farmer's house and learns that all the rats are in immediate danger of extermination. There is a dramatic ending, baffling to Farmer Fitzgibbon, disappointing to the doctors from NIMH, but satisfying to the Frisby's, most of the rats, and The Plan. The human thought and intellectual ideas given to these clever animals, the sensitive observance of their natural world of farmyard and forest, and the scientific purpose of the NIMH laboratories seem incongruous elements. But the author's skill in blending them creates an unusual, convincing, and totally intriguing story.
Source: Anatomy of Wonder, 1976 Edition, p.329
O'Brien, Robert C. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Atheneum, 1971, $5.95
Mrs. Frisby, the head of a family of field mice, is told to
consult neighboring rats concerning the illness of her son.
Justin, a leader of the rats, agrees to help because Mr. Frisby
had been of assistance to the rats. Upon hearing the whole
story of the rats' being the objects of psychological and
biological experimentation by the NIMH labs and becoming, as
a result, super intelligent, Mrs. Frisby also volunteers to aid the
rats. The rats escape from an attempt to exterminate them by
NIMH labs and establish a utopian society away from man.
Outstanding combination of fantasy and science fiction: a
winning portrait of rats and mice that has little cuteness.
Newbery Award, 1972.
Source: English Journal, vol. 66, October 77, p. 93
O'Brien, Robert and Zena. MRS. FRISBEE (sic) AND THE RATS OF NIMH. (Atheneum)
When the National Institute of Mental Health experiments with rats, giving them reading instructions and special shots to raise their IQ, no one suspects that they will read the instructions on their cages, open the doors, and go off to form a culture of their own. A book that will engage and delight almost all readers.