Love 2 Loves
Tagsearly elementary, tween
There has been plenty of talk about the differences between science fiction and fantasy, usually by aficionados of one and not the other in an attempt to polarize the two. Fantasy authors/readers might elaborate on why their genre is better, or vice versa. An example: Both contain elements that are supernatural by today’s standards, but one obsesses over how those elements work; the other just enjoys them. Another – and far simpler – distinction is “machines vs. magic.” Meanwhile, the rest of the literary world still lumps them together under the generalization “speculative fiction.”
My preferred synonym for fantasy is “transformation,” so that any story involving an unexplained change is truly fantastic. Wendy, John, and Michael’s flight to “the second star to the right” qualifies because their reality must be transformed – expedited unexplainably – for them to bridge London and Never Land. The two settings can’t exist on the same stage. On the other hand, a flight to the stars in a spaceship doesn’t qualify; the internal reality is consistent and undisturbed.
By this definition, Robert C. O’Brien’s 1971 children’s novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH would be considered fantasy, not science fiction as one might suspect, because it tells a story of transformation. (It’s no wonder, then, that Don Bluth’s beautiful animated movie adaptation adds even more magical presence.) Much like Ovid’s Metamorphoses, it concerns animals, though in this case the animals become more human, not the other way around. (Think of it like the spiritual predecessor of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!) The titular rats are given higher intelligence by human experimentation but still require the aid of a widowed mouse, Mrs. Frisby, before they can become truly self-reliant. The alliance proves mutually beneficial, as the rats may be the only ones capable of saving Mrs. Frisby’s sick son and her home from the farmer’s plow.
These are the main components of the plot, but Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is more than just a rollicking tale of tails (and fur and feathers and claws). Parents will enjoy discussing its themes with their nine-to-twelve-year-olds and debating its message on the Amazon Customer Reviews section. A book’s ability to provoke such thought isn’t monopolized by any one genre, making the question “Is it sci-fi or fantasy?” much less important than “Why hasn’t your family read it yet?”