Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971)
This post has been prompted by an article about the real life experiment that inspired this story. The parallels between rats and human society is uncanny. But it also hints at what could be happening to the world that we know: our own little ‘Utopia’ may be coming to an end.
Plot Summary (from Wikipedia)
Mrs. Frisby is the head of a family of field mice. Her son Timothy is ill with pneumonia just as the farmer Mr. Fitzgibbon begins preparation for spring plowing in the garden where the Frisby family lives. Normally she would move her family, but Timothy would not survive the cold trip to their summer home. Mrs. Frisby obtains medicine from her friend Mr. Ages, an older white mouse. On the return journey, she saves the life of Jeremy, a young crow, from Dragon, the farmer’s cat– the same cat who killed her husband, Jonathan. Jeremy suggests she seek help in moving Timothy from an owl who dwells in the forest. Jeremy flies Mrs. Frisby to the owl’s tree, but the owl says he cannot help, until he finds out that she is the widow of Jonathan Frisby. He suggests that Mrs. Frisby seek help from the rats who live in a rosebush near her.
Mrs. Frisby discovers the rats have a literate and mechanized society. They have technology such as elevators, have tapped the electricity grid to provide lighting and heating and have acquired other human skills, such as storing food for the winter. Their leader, Nicodemus, tells Mrs. Frisby of the rats’ capture by scientists working for a laboratory located at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the subsequent experiments that the humans performed on the rats, which increased the rats’ intelligence to the point of being able to read, write and operate complicated machines, as well as enhancing their longevity and strength. This increased intelligence and strength allowed them to escape from the NIMH laboratories and migrate to their present location. Jonathan Frisby and Mr. Ages were the only two survivors of a group of eight mice who had been part of the experiments at NIMH and made the rats’ escape possible. Out of their respect and unending gratitude for Jonathan, the rats agree to move Mrs. Frisby’s house to a location safe from the plow.
Nicodemus also tells Mrs. Frisby about “The Plan”, which is to abandon their lifestyle of dependence on humans, which some rats regard as theft, for a new, independent farming colony. One rat, Jenner, disagreed vehemently with The Plan and left the colony with a group of followers at some point prior to Mrs. Frisby’s arrival.
To move the Frisby home, the rats have to drug Dragon, as it is too dangerous to work in the open with the cat wandering nearby. However, Mr. Ages has a broken leg and cannot dash to Dragon’s bowl to put in the drug. Since the rats are too big to fit into the hole in the wall to enter the house, Mrs. Frisby volunteers to go. Unfortunately, she is caught by the family’s son, Billy, who puts her in a cage. While captured, Mrs. Frisby overhears the Fitzgibbons discussing an incident at a nearby hardware store in which a group of rats were electrocuted after seemingly attempting to steal a small motor. This has attracted the attention of a group of men who have offered to exterminate the rat colony on Fitzgibbons’ land free of charge for him.
At night, the rat Justin comes to save Mrs. Frisby and manages to get her out of the cage. Mrs. Frisby warns Justin of what she learned while captured; they assume that the rats at the hardware store were all from Jenner’s group and that the group of men were from NIMH and are looking for them specifically.
The successful house move allows the mouse family to remain, so that Timothy has time to recover before moving to their summer home. Although the rats have not yet had time to move everything they needed for The Plan, they manage to destroy their underground rooms and create the illusion that they are just regular rats by placing rubbish in the remaining rooms. As the others move, ten rats stay behind so the exterminators would not think the rat hole has been abandoned. When the exterminators fill the rat hole with poisonous gas, eight of the ten rats manage to escape, while two rats die in the hole. It is not revealed exactly who these two are.
Once Timothy recovers, Mrs. Frisby and her family move to their summer home and Mrs. Frisby tells her children the full story of their father and the rats of NIMH.
The Secret of NIMH (1982)
In 1982, the animated film The Secret of NIMH was released, directed by Don Bluth. The film adds a mystical element completely absent from the novel, with Nicodemus portrayed as a wise, bearded old wizard with magic powers and an enchanted amulet, rather than an equal of the other rats. The character of Jenner is made a villain who is still present with the rats, rather than having left them before the story begins. The crow Jeremy has much greater prominence as comic relief in the film than he has in the book. Additionally, the Frisby family name was changed to “Brisby” to avoid trademark infringement with the Frisbee.Adaptations (from Wikipedia)
This is the version of the story that our family is familiar with. But the changes to the original story may have diverted the attention away from the ‘experiment’ and our connection to it.
Bluth himself would later make several changes to the story, most notably with the addition of mystical elements not present in the original novel. He explained “Regarding magic, we really believe that animation calls for some magic, to give it a special ‘fantastic’ quality.” This was most apparent in the magic amulet given to Mrs. Brisby, which was meant to be a visual representation of her character’s internal power; something harder to show on film. The object was also meant to introduce a spiritual aspect to the plot, with the director remarking, “The stone or amulet is just a method of letting the audience know that Mrs. Brisby has found ‘Courage of the Heart’. Magic? Maybe. Spiritual? Yes.” In the same vein, Nicodemus was made into a wizard to “create more mystery” about himself and the rats’ colony. The antagonist Jenner was given much more prominence in the movie, being only mentioned as a traitor who leaves in the book, to “add drama” to the narrative by giving it a more visible enemy. Justin also now succeeds Nicodemus as the leader of the rats to give his character more of an arc and allow him an opportunity to “grow and change.” Unlike the original work, Justin does not rescue Mrs. Brisby from the cage at the Fitzgibbons’ house and she now helps her children without the rats’ assistance by using the amulet; once again giving focus to her personal story. As Bluth put it, “The Secret of NIMH is really a story about Mrs. Brisby and her need to save her children. If the rats save her children, then she hasn’t grown in the film.”Writing (from Wikipedia)
There is a long-held belief that mankind was an experiment started by the creator gods (Elohim) who made us in their image. The Garden of Eden (Paradise) was the original lab. Then they let us loose into the world, and we began to multiply and be fruitful.
It is NOT too far-fetched to conclude that as an experiment, we are doing exactly what rats and mice did in Dr. John Bumpass Calhoun’s Universe 25.
Still, at a certain point, each of these paradises collapsed. “There could be no escape from the behavioral consequences of rising population density,” Calhoun wrote in an early paper. Even Universe 25—the biggest, best mousetopia of all, built after a quarter century of research—failed to break this pattern. In late October, the first litter of mouse pups was born. After that, the population doubled every two months—20 mice, then 40, then 80. The babies grew up and had babies of their own. Families became dynasties, carving out and holding down the best in-cage real estate. By August of 1969, the population numbered 620.
Then, as always, things took a turn. Such rapid growth put too much pressure on the mouse way of life. As new generations reached adulthood, many couldn’t find mates, or places in the social order—the mouse equivalent of a spouse and a job. Spinster females retreated to high-up nesting boxes, where they lived alone, far from the family neighborhoods. Washed-up males gathered in the center of the Universe, near the food, where they fretted, languished, and attacked each other. Meanwhile, overextended mouse moms and dads began moving nests constantly to avoid their unsavory neighbors. They also took their stress out on their babies, kicking them out of the nest too early, or even losing them during moves.
Population growth slowed way down again. Most of the adolescent mice retreated even further from societal expectations, spending all their time eating, drinking, sleeping and grooming, and refusing to fight or to even attempt to mate. (These individuals were forever changed—when Calhoun’s colleague attempted to transplant some of them to more normal situations, they didn’t remember how to do anything.) In May of 1970, just under 2 years into the study, the last baby was born, and the population entered a swan dive of perpetual senescence. It’s unclear exactly when the last resident of Universe 25 perished, but it was probably sometime in 1973.
Paradise couldn’t even last half a decade.
Doesn’t this sound like humanity right now? Well, doesn’t it?
Funny how things turn out…