"The Stolen Child"
(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie AUG 26, 2006)
Angry with his mother for punishing him, seven year-old Henry Day runs away from home one sunny summer afternoon and into the nearby woods. Tired after exploring his new surroundings, he finds a hollow tree, perfect for napping. What happens next is beyond belief...although author Keith Donohue makes his tale far from far-fetched as he takes the reader into the world of faeries, hobgoblins and changelings.
The novel was inspired by W. B. Yeats' poem "The Stolen Child" and the lines, “Come away, O human child: To the waters and the wild with a fairy, hand in hand, For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.” It is also based on the changeling of European folklore, offspring of faery, troll, elf or other legendary creature that has been secretly left in exchange for a human child.
You see, Henry Day is, in fact, taken by a band of shape-shifting, feral creatures, changelings, who live furtively in the woods, hiding from the human race. They have been observing Henry closely for some time. To reenter the longed for real world, a changeling must find a human child to replace it, one who is exactly the same age as the changeling was when he or she left their parents and humanity. These changelings were once real little boys and girls themselves, who were stolen away from their families and homes. Some are centuries old, although they remain the same, outwardly, as the young children they once were. The group's chief, who has seniority and whose turn it is to become a real boy, reconfigures his features to look exactly like Henry Day. Having spied upon Henry and his family closely, the hobgoblin, (as these creatures prefer to be called - "faery" is quite outdated because of recent cultural associations), is almost as familiar with Henry's life as is the little boy himself.
And so, when "Henry" is found late that same night, sleeping in the tree hollow, he is embraced by his family and taken home. Thus the changeling becomes Henry Day and begins a new life, while Henry becomes a changeling, called Aniday, and a new member of the band. He is initiated into their ways and quickly forgets his human roots...almost. Meanwhile "Henry," vaguely remembers his German roots and prodigy-like musical talents from over a century before, becomes a talented 20th century musician. His father, William Day, is suspicious, however: "One day you can't carry a tune, now you sing like a lark."
The story, told in alternating narratives by Henry and Aniday, revolves around their individual search for identity in a world turned topsy-turvy. One boy lives as a hobgoblin in the wild wood among others like him. Physically, he never ages but his mind matures. He is trapped forever in the body of a seven year-old. His life is a hard one, for the faery world is nowhere near as romantic as Yeats paints it. The other "boy" tries to live as a human and adjust to the modern times, but is plagued by past memories. Both boys are restless, unable to live at peace with themselves and their worlds.
Mr. Donohue's prose is spare, sometimes quite humorous, the writing tight and the story haunting. A plus is the author's portrait of American life in the 1950s, 60s and 70s - from the fabulous Kennedy era to the Beatles and Vietnam War. This is a book I could not put down. I predict a bestseller here...and deservedly so. I highly recommend it.
- Amazon readers rating: from 305 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Stolen Child at Nan A. Talese
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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- Official website for Keith Donohue
- BookBrowse interview with Keith Donohue
- Reader's Guide for The Stolen Child
- The Onion review of The Stolen Child
- Guardian Unlimited review of The Stolen Child
- Emerald City review of The Stolen Child
- MostlyFiction.com review of Centuries of June
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About the Author:
Keith Donohue lives in Maryland, near Washington, D.C. For many years, hwe was a speechwriter at the National Endowment for the Arts.