This is probably one of the hardest pages that I've had to write on Thorn Valley. Ironic, too, 'cause it's likely to also be one of the least looked at. Oh well...
Well, to start with, I'm Simon Tesla. Simon came from my old screen name, Seoman, and the Tesla bit came about from my roleplaying on NIMHmuck. It's obviously not my real name, but it is the name I go by in the NIMH and furry fandoms.
Anyway, this is my website dedicated to the book, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien, and the movie based on it, The Secret of NIMH produced by animator Don Bluth.
Why? Why make a website dedicated to a somewhat obscure book and movie? Well... that's kind of a long story...
I don't really remember the first time that I saw the Secret of NIMH. It seems to me that I first saw it when we recorded it from the Disney Channel when I was about seven. I remember that I liked it, though not as much as most of the Disney movies, probably because I didn't understand it that much. I didn't start really liking it until around the time I read the book it was based on (in about 6th grade), Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I guess the reason for that was that I really liked the book's storyline, and I also liked the visual appeal that Secret of NIMH had, so when I read, I would imagine the characters and settings as they appeared in the movie, and when I watched the movie, I attributed the deeper aspects of the characters and the plot (which are found in the book, but glossed over in the movie because of time constraints) to those in the movie. So, reading the book and watching the movie together enhanced my experience from both of them, even if there were inconsistencies between them.
The book also introduced a character that I identified with quite a bit at that age; Timothy Frisby. Admittedly, the book gave only a brief sketch of him as a character, and the movie did even less. I think what really made Timothy my favorite character was reading the book sequel Racso and the Rats of NIMH (by R.C. O'Brien's daughter), which focused more on him, and which I thought was an excellent story at the time. Of course, my opinion of the book sequels has changed over the years, but Timothy remains as the character that I saw myself in.
Growing Up with Animation
After a while I'd all but forgotten about NIMH and grew into reading a lot of science fiction and fantasy books and devoting a lot of attention to a then-hobby that I continue to devote most of my time to: computers and programming. I don't think I ever lost my love of animation. Like any kid, I loved (most of) the Disney movies, and would often watch them so often and repeatedly that I probably just about drove my parents insane. While I was getting older and reading much longer books and learning a lot about computers, I never stopped watching animated movies.
In fact, at that point in my life, I almost never cared for much of the live-action offerings, and to this day, I have never seen Terminator or Titanic or any number of popular films. Never have interested me, I guess, although there are a number of exceptions, and the list grows, albeit slowly. And fortunately enough, I have a number of younger siblings, so I always had a good excuse to see the latest animated flick.
The Trouble with Disney...
However, after a number of really good movies, like Rescuers Down Under, Aladdin, and The Lion King, Disney started having a decline in the quality of its animated features, beginning with Pocahontas -- a film that very much failed at making interesting and relatable characters and had the most saccarine sweet comic relief characters I'd seen before (namely the idiotic racoon and hummingbird). Things only went downhill from there; Disney was in a slump that it wouldn't start getting out of until Mulan. Disney has since recovered a lot of their lost magic, though I'm still dissappointed that they've generally abandoned traditional 2D animation, as has most of the rest of the field.
During this slump of the late 90's I began looking a lot more closely at the animated movies produced by other studios, looking for something to satisfy the animation bug in me. One movie worth mentioning here is Balto. I absolutely loved this movie at the time, and I regret not seeing it in theaters; my first look at it was on the Disney channel (back when it still showed movies and was, y'know, good).
Balto had a lot of the things that I'd been missing from Disney at the time; a good, well-paced plot, engaging characters that you grow to care about, just the right amount of comic relief... all-in-all a very good movie. I think this is what led me to rediscover some favorite, older, non-Disney movies, like An American Tail and eventually The Secret of NIMH. I ended up buying a factory copy of it, to replace the aging Disney Channel recording, and reread the book. But I wasn't obsessed yet... although due to some very unique circumstances, I began to toy with the idea of writing my own book sequel to Racso and the Rats of NIMH and even wrote out a couple of small rough drafts -- which became the germ for my permanently unfinished Return to NIMH fan fiction.
The Internet Changes Everything
It sounds cliche, but at that time, the internet was not nearly so ubiquitous as it is today, and people were still trying to figure out what it all meant, and what potential it had. It was just starting to get its legs when I was introduced to it in the mid-to-late 90's, and I think that if it were introduced at any other time in my life, it's very likely I would've ended up considering The Secret of NIMH to be just another of my favorite movies. As with many others who had been introduced to NIMH fandom around that time, I happened upon Jeremy Hodges NIMH website originally. And through Jeremy's links page I discovered a whole slew of people that loved this flick enough to make a website of some sort.
From there I found Robin's NIMH Fan-Fiction Archive. I was hooked. I blame the late Paul S. Gibbs for that with his very engaging stories The Rats of Thorn Valley and Second in Command; I had never before read anything close to that caliber for what was supposedly "amateur" fan-fiction. And it made me want to work on fanfiction of my own even more.
But where to put it?
Thorn Valley is Born
Since it was very much a work in progress, I didn't feel it a good idea to put my original attempts at fanfic up at Robin's, since I didn't even know how I'd end it, but I wanted to put it somewhere that others could read it and give me feedback. I had only a few months earlier created a small personal site on Geocities, and I figured I'd post it there in a subsection of that site. I named that small section of my site "Thorn Valley", put up the incomplete story and some other fan content, and eventually it became its own thing, the results of which you see today. To this day, I'm amazed that I was the first person to use "Thorn Valley" as the name for a Secret of NIMH fan-site.
From its humble beginnings in about February of 1998 as a collection of pages made with the awful Claris Home Page software on my high school's Macs and about 100 or so screengrabs captured from VHS with a TV capture card, Thorn Valley has grown in ways I couldn't have possibly imagined. It's been an interesting ride, and while the NIMH fandom isn't as active as it once was, I intend on keeping Thorn Valley up for as long as I can.
As time wears on, the notion of personal home pages and dedicated fan sites has largely gone by the wayside, replaced by blogging, social networks, and the occasional fan wiki. The people I originally knew in the NIMH fandom have largely moved on to other things, and in most ways I have as well. The NIMH fandom today, such as it is, is a far cry from the fairly small but very active group of fans with their incredible output of fan art, fan fiction and roleplaying in its heyday. I'll admit that my own interest in running this site has waned, though never enough to want to kill it completely. However, it is no longer the center of a vibrant community that it once was, so to that end, I feel it appropriate that Thorn Valley become more of an archive of these earlier fan works. This will likely be the last time I make any major changes to the website from here on out. Perhaps at some point in the future, interest in NIMH will be revitalized, but I have no desire to make Thorn Valley or myself be the center of it.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank all of the fans that have reached out to me to contribute content to Thorn Valley or just chat about NIMH over the years, and I'll always remember the connections and friendships that formed from that shared interest. It is a period of my life that I will always treasure.