The Borrible Trilogy

The Borrible Trilogy is a series of young adult books written by English writer Michael de Larrabeiti. The three volumes in the trilogy are The Borribles, The Borribles Go For Broke, and The Borribles: Across the Dark Metropolis. Each book contains a separate story but together they form an overall larger story, and as such should be read in succession. The books also become progressively more serious in tone and themes.

The Borrible Trilogy can be seen to subvert the mainstream of children's literature in that it does not attempt to gloss over grunge, pain, and violence. The language of the book is true to the London streets, including various instances of swearing. Though critically acclaimed, the books have been the subject of much controversy over the often graphic violence and plethora of bad language. These factors created much controversy among reviewers and contributed to the failure of the first volume of the trilogy to be paperbacked in the UK. The controversy surrounding The Borribles caused the book and its two sequels to go underground for years. However, in June 2002 the trilogy was republished in one volume in the UK by Pan Macmillan as a trade paperback with an introduction by China Miéville; in April 2003, the UK branch of Tor Books reissued the trilogy in a smaller paperback volume. Tor released the trilogy as three separate paperback volumes in the USA in late 2005.

The books have a strong anti-authoritarian flair, with the neat, orderly and boring adult world positioned in direct contrast to the wild, scruffy and exciting world of the Borribles. Along with structure and organisation, materialism is heavily derided; the Borribles have fulfilling existences despite their lack of possessions, while those who crave material wealth are inevitably presented as villains. Comradeship and cooperation are also presented as highly laudable traits - the Borribles will go to any length and take any risk in order to protect one of their own. Though written as young adult fiction, the books deal with serious themes, most notably the debate over what causes are noble enough to die for and which aren't.

What is a Borrible?

Though the trilogy is set in London, Borribles can be found in any large city. They are runaway children whose ears become pointed as a sign of their independence and cunning. As soon as a child is "borribled," he or she ceases to age and will maintain the appearance of a child forever – unless caught by the "Woolies," the police who, believing the Borribles' freedom a threat to the social order, capture Borribles and "clip their ears". If their ears are clipped, they will begin to age like any normal child, and this is a prospect worse than death for Borribles, because it means growing into a boring, adventureless adulthood; for this reason, Borribles wear woollen hats pulled low over their ears.

Borribles are skinny, scruffy, and tough; they have nothing to do with money, and steal what they need to survive: "Fruit of the barrow is enough for the Borrible," as one of the many Borrible proverbs states. Stealing just enough food to survive, they generally live in abandoned houses, though they will live wherever they can, existing on the edge of a dull adult world. Borribles aren't given their names at birth as is usual in most human societies; they must earn them through an adventure of some sort.

How long Borribles can live is never made quite clear. One character in The Borribles speaks of having been Borribled in the time of "the old queen", meaning Queen Victoria. Furthermore, although Borribles do not age physically, the wisdom they gain through their way of life and, in some cases, extreme old age, is often foregrounded in the books.

Book 1: The Borribles

The Borribles (occasionally known as The Borribles: The Great Rumble Hunt) is the first book in Michael de Larrabeiti's Borrible Trilogy. It was first published in the UK in 1976 by The Bodley Head, and in the U.S. in 1978 by Macmillan Inc., New York. It was named one of the Best Books for 1978 by the American Library Association, and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Awards and the Other Award.

Plot summary

The stories begin with the discovery by the Battersea Chief-Lookout, Knocker, of a Rumble in Battersea Park. The Rumbles are rat-like creatures that live in an underground bunker in Rumbledom, and are hated by the Borribles for their riches, power, and haughtiness. Rumbles are also clearly a parody of the popular children's characters, the Wombles of Wimbledon Common. Fearing a full-scale invasion of Battersea, each of the Borrible tribes across London send their best and brightest un-named member to form an elite hit squad, known as the Magnificent Eight or the Adventurers, with the purpose of infiltrating the Rumble bunker and eliminating the eight members of the Rumble High Command.

The Adventurers are each assigned the name of the individual target of the High Command that they are to assassinate: Napoleon Boot, the suspicious and cynical Wendle; Chalotte, the tough and brave girl Borrible; Vulgarian (Vulge), frail-looking, but "tough as nails"; Bingo, always cheerful; Sydney, another female and an animal-lover; Stonks, strong and kind-hearted; Torreycanyon, light-hearted with a knack for mechanics; Orococco, the jovial, black Borrible. Napoleon, Chalotte, Sydney, Vulge, Bingo, Stonks, Torreycanyon, and Orococco set out to squash the Rumble threat - but other Borribles have secret agendas and personal vendettas of their own which create an even greater threat than the Rumbles ever were. The supposedly straight-forward adventure dominoes into a desperate fight for the very existence of Borrible life.

Book 2: The Borribles Go For Broke

The Borribles Go For Broke was first published in 1981 by The Bodley Head in the United Kingdom.

Plot summary

Following the adventures of "The Great Rumble Hunt" in the first volume of the trilogy, the second volume begins with the surviving adventurers' discovery that Sam the horse is still alive. In attempting to rescue him the Borribles are lured into danger both by the newly-established Special Borrible Group, a branch of the police determined to wipe out the Borribles and their way of life, and by one of their own – Spiff, whose motives behind the mission to Rumbledom are slowly revealed.

All this leads the Borribles deep in to Wendle territory beneath the streets of Wandsworth, and down in to a shifting tunnel of mud dug deep beneath the mudflats of the Wandle River.

Book 3: The Borribles: Across the Dark Metropolis

The Borribles: Across the Dark Metropolis was first published in 1986 by Pan Books in the United Kingdom.

Plot summary

In The Borribles: Across the Dark Metropolis, the third book in The Borrible Trilogy, Battersea is no longer safe for a Borrible. The SBG, a section of the London police driven on by the fanatical Inspector Sussworth and dedicated to finding Borribles and clipping their ears is determined to wipe them out. The Borribles decide to escort Sam the horse to safety in Neasden and then return to the old way of life of independence and freedom. They begin their journey Across the Dark Metropolis, a journey that tests the courage and cunning of the Adventurers to the limits.

The Borrible Trilogy in translation

The Borrible Trilogy is, as of 24 July 2006, in print in English in both the United States and the United Kingdom:

  • In the UK: The Borrible Trilogy. London: Tor, 2003. ISBN 0-330-49085-0.
  • In the USA:
    • The Borribles. New York: Tor, 2005. ISBN 0-7653-5005-X.
    • The Borribles Go For Broke. New York: Tor, 2005. ISBN 0-7653-5006-8.
    • The Borribles: Across the Dark Metropolis. New York: Tor, 2005. ISBN 0-7653-5007-6.

The Borrible Trilogy is also in print in the following languages:

  • German:
    • Die Borribles Auf zur Großen Rumbeljagd (translation of Book 1). Trans. Joachim Kalka. ???: Hobbit, 1996. ISBN 3-608-87511-5
    • Die Borribles Im Labyrinth der Wendels (translation of Book 2). Trans. Joachim Kalka. ???: Hobbit, 1996. ISBN 3-608-87512-3
    • Die Borribles Die Schleppnetzfahndung (translation of Book 3). Trans. Joachim Kalka. ???: Hobbit, 1996. ISBN 3-608-87513-1
  • French:
    • Les Zorribles (translation of Book 1). Trans. Alain Robert. Nantes: Librairie l'Atalante, 1994. ISBN 2-905158-87-5
    • Gare Aux Zorribles (translation of Book 2). Trans. Alain Robert. Nantes: Librairie l'Atalante, 1995. ISBN 2-84172-004-7
    • Les Zorribles Dans La Nuit (translation of Book 3). Trans. Alain Robert. Nantes: Librairie l'Atalante, 1996. ISBN 2-84172-023-3
  • Italian
    • I Borrible: Attacco a Rumbledonia (translation of Book 1). Trans. ???. ???: Fanucci, 2006. ISBN 88-347-1172-6.
  • Japanese

The Borrible Trilogy has been in print in the following languages, but is currently out of print:

  • Spanish
    • Los Borribles (translation of Book 1). Trans. Joaquín Vidal. ???: Fontanella, 1984. ISBN 84-244-0527-7.
  • Swedish
    • Borriblarna och stora rumlarjakten (translation of Book 1). Trans. Sven Christer Swahn. Stockholm: Liber Förlag, 1983. ISBN 91-38-90273-7
    • Borriblarna flyr för livet (translation of Book 2). Trans. Sven Christer Swahn. Stockholm: Liber Förlag, 1983. ISBN 91-38-90274-5

Film adaptation

The film rights for The Borrible Trilogy have been optioned many times but the project has always remained in development hell. A film is currently being developed by CUBA Pictures, the film development arm of literary agents Curtis Brown.


The Rumbles, who play a significant part in the first book, are in fact vicious satires of perennial children's favorites The Wombles. Each member of the High Command, in fact, corresponds directly to one of the main characters of The Wombles:

  • Vulgarian (Great Uncle Bulgaria)
  • Bingo (Bungo)
  • Chalotte (Madame Cholet)
  • Torreycanyon (Tobermory)
  • Orococco (Orinoco)
  • Stonks (Tomsk)
  • Napoleon Boot (Wellington)
  • Sydney (Miss Adelaide)

External links

Michael de Larrabeiti's official website,, includes free PDFs of the first chapter of each book in the trilogy:


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