Select one of the keywords
The Stolen Child    by Keith Donohue order for
Stolen Child
by Keith Donohue
Order:  USA  Can
Nan A. Talese, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Keith Donohue adapts his enchanting debut novel from folk legends and a poem by W. B. Yeats of the same name, The Stolen Child ... 'Come away, O human child! / To the waters of the wild / With a faery hand in hand, / For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand'. Donohue's novel reveals a rich world somewhere between fantasy and realism. In alternating and smoothly connecting chapters, the two central characters tell their parallel stories in flowing first-person narrative.

Seven-year old Henry Day runs away from home and nestles within a chestnut tree. The youngster is pulled from the tree, coming face-to-face with a being who looks just like him - a changeling. He is wrapped, bound, and thrown into water for purification. He awakens to discover himself amongst hobgoblins, or as some call them faeries. Left behind are his mother, father, and twin infant sisters. His name becomes Aniday. When a search party discovers the replica Henry Day, he is taken into the distressed family without hesitation.

This Henry was once a changeling, now human again. As he recounts his story, he struggles to redefine a former life, and makes excuses to his new parents to explain surprising talents. German words inside his head slip out from time to time, phantom memories of a past life and of his real father speaking to him in German. Unlike his predecessor, he's a gifted pianist who also superbly mimics voices and songs - he writes, 'my musical talent was a human one ... I did a mean Judy Garland.'

Beginning second grade, he has difficulty with the structure of school life. When he explains who he once was to Oscar, the details of hobgoblin life, and why they are never seen, his friend doesn't believe him. He watches over his sisters to make sure they aren't kidnapped too. At age sixteen, father and son become estranged, and Henry's college years are interrupted by his father's suicide. He works as a bartender at Oscar's Bar, where he and Oscar perform a gig now and then.

Then Henry opens himself to hypnosis, and in this state reveals a 'long repressed past life ... and dredged up memories ... from more than a century'. The ecstasy of discovery leads to agony, and the telling of his story comes back to haunt him in future years. The changeling falls in love, marries, and sires a child, not telling his beloved the truth of why he wanted to honeymoon in Germany - and why they would sneak into Czechoslovakia to gather clues relating to his century-old background. His discoveries add to his anguish.

Aniday, the stolen child, writes of his kidnapping and awakening to see children approach him. 'They did not look like any children I knew, but ancients in wild children's bodies ... not at all like faeries in books and movies ... but boys and girls stuck in time, ageless, and feral as a pack of wild dogs.' As Aniday grows used to his surroundings, he becomes 'fond of them all'. They forage for food and supplies, and Aniday is lauded as a good student of their ways. Yet, pulling at his subconscious are slight memories of his family, and he asks himself whether Christmas has gone by yet?

In the stealth of night, Aniday is reminded of the past by the gates of the Church, and sounds of the Latin chorus. Venturing to a library under darkness, Aniday is taught the art of 'bone softening', the magical ability to enter into small places, crevices, and gaps in foundations. He writes, 'Silence has its own allure and grace, heightening all the senses, especially hearing ... They showed me the hidden things silence revealed: a pheasant craning its neck to spy on us from a thicket ... a raccoon snoring in its den. Before daylight completely faded, we tramped through the wet grounds ... ice crystals grew, and listening closely, we heard the crack of freezing.' Aniday is punished when he voices his wish to return to his family. He ages into manhood in his child's body, and he, too, falls in love, but to no avail.

In his notes, Keith Donohue writes: 'The very first image that came to me when I began The Stolen Child was of a young boy hiding in a hollow tree, face pressed against its wooden ribs, determined not to be found by anyone. His defiant wish to be alone struck me as a universal gesture - a striking out for independence that children make when frustrated by the confines of childhood. When the changelings come ... he becomes a victim of his own imagination ... stolen away by his own worst nightmare ... I wanted to write about an adult struggling to remember the dreams of childhood. He had to be as trapped and frustrated by the strictures of his adulthood. And in order for any drama to exist, these two emotional states must clash.'

Donohue successfully captures the complexity and truths about the loneliness and the freedoms of childhood, while exploring past identities. Readers will hang on to every word in this eloquent creation, and find it traumatic to put the book down, not wishing to break the rhythm and communion with the author, or interrupt such phrasing as 'Behind every child's bright eyes exists a hidden universe' and 'What the memory loses, imagination recreates.' I felt at story's end that Donohue had actually experienced the changeling, hobgoblin life.

2nd Review by Tim Davis (2 book rating):

Parents, you will all recognize the problem: You are confounded by the sudden changes in your sons and daughters. You are puzzled. How can a child, almost instantly, become so different? Somewhat like the universal mystery of the missing sock (the one which disappears from all the laundries throughout history), the child you know seems to have somehow disappeared. However, unlike the lost sock which is gone forever, the child seems to have actually been replaced by someone who looks the same but thinks and behaves quite differently. Yet that cannot be possible. Or can it?

The Stolen Child finally offers an explanation (perhaps even a solution) for the problem.

To begin with, The Stolen Child would seem to be the straight-forward story of children and fairies. Yet you ought to know that these fairies are 'not the kind from books, paintings, and the movies. Nothing like the Seven Dwarfs, munchkins, midgets, Tom Thumbs, brownies, elves, or those nearly naked flying sprites at the beginning of 'Fantasia.' Not little redheaded men dressed in green and leading to the rainbow's end. Not Santa's helpers, nor anything like the ogres, trolls, and other monsters from the Grimm Brothers or Mother Goose.' These fairies are quite different.

Also, you ought to understand that this is the story of Henry Day, a seven-year old boy who is kidnapped in the forest near his home. Yet this is also the story of a rather different fellow with a rather unusual (and complicated) ancestry who has taken Henry's place.

Both Henry and his replacement now face special trials and ordeals. They each begin new lives with new identities in new locations. One not-so-young fellow who has assumed the name and identity of seven-year old Henry must live with (and completely beguile and convince) the Day family. The other fellow (seven-year old Henry who is given a new name, Aniday), must learn to live in an adjacent but virtually hidden world that is inhabited by - are you ready for this? - hobgoblins.

Well, that being said, perhaps it will help if you also understand something else of The Stolen Child that Henry's replacement in the Day household, immediately makes quite clear: 'We don't like to be called fairies anymore ... If you must give me a name, call me a hobgoblin. Or better yet, I am a changeling - a word which describes within its own name what we are bound and intended to do. We kidnap a human child and replace him or her with one of our own. The hobgoblin becomes the child, and the child becomes the hobgoblin.'

Thus, The Stolen Child becomes the bewitching story of the hobgoblin's and the child's intersected and conflicted lives. And it is the remarkable and strange story of their complicated pasts and their challenging futures.

So begins the beautifully lyrical and poignantly ironic fable, The Stolen Child. With its title borrowed from a W. B. Yeats poem, Donahue's fantastic and realistic novel is narrated in the alternating voices of Henry and his changeling double. As a magical tale of adventure, lost innocence, and the search for identity, The Stolen Child invites you to believe the unbelievable (or at least suspend your sense of disbelief - an aesthetic imperative first propounded by Coleridge) as you travel into the dark woods of the human psyche wherein personality, character, and memory are formed. You might learn something about your children (or yourself). You may even discover where those lost socks have gone!

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Fantasy books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews