The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw

Recently, my sister referred me to the author Margo Lanagan.  I do eventually want to read her books, and we have a couple of them here at the library, but I really wanted to read something lighter in the fantasy/folk tale fiction mode.  That’s when I found a favorable review to The Moorchild.

It’s a children’s book and is a retelling of the old theme of the changeling – a fairy child exchanged for a human baby.  In The Moorchild, Saaski is the changeling in question – at first, she grows up with “the Folk”, the fairies who live in the wild moorland beyond the village.  As she’s half-human, Saaski is unable to change her shape or become invisible when humans approach, which puts her group at risk.  As such, they switch her with a human, and she starts life anew as a baby to the village blacksmith and his wife. 

As Saaski grows up, her parents are at odds with her quirky behavior; they are harsh at times, but grow to accept her.  It’s not the same with their neighbors, who quickly see her differences to other children in the village.  She looks peculiar and has certain attributes that make her “freaky-odd” to the rest of the kids.  Needless to say, Saaski spends most of her free time away from the village and the taunts of others.  While wandering the moor, she meets Tam, an orphan boy who tends goats for Bruman, a lame ne’er-do-well who stays drunk and largely leaves Tam alone.  Tam notices Saaski’s peculiarities but is completely nonjudgmental – he’s pretty much the only friend she makes.  They are both outcasts in their own way.  

It takes a few misfortunes for certain villagers to start blaming Saaski and threatening her family.  She leaves the village and tries to redeem herself by returning her parent’s real child to them.  But first, she has to make deals with certain people, Folk and human alike, and get past the conjuring of the fairies.

I thought the ending was a little too pat, but overall,  McGraw writes a good fantasy tale, and genuinely gets you involved with Saaski’s life.  The Moorchild is a very worthy recounting of the changeling idea, and I’d recommend it to kids and adults alike – anybody who likes fairy tales and their motifs. 

For adult readers who want something a little more grittier about changelings, try The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue

    To any fan of folklore, the changeling tale is a re-occurring theme, the idea of a human baby switched at birth or early childhood with a fairy child – an abduction story for past times.  As an early (and still avid) reader of folk and fairy tales, The Stolen Child had my interest up when I read the book review.  It sounded like the author was taking serious leaps away from the full-blown fantasy genre, and after reading this book, I’m glad he did.

Stolen_child      The novel revamps the changeling story for a present day world, telling the story in a very matter-of-fact manner from the perspectives of the stolen child (Henry Day) himself and the changeling who is left in his place.  Both of their stories are painfully human, and illustrate well the feelings of individuals as outsiders within social groups.  You will sympathize for the changeling as he assumes Henry’s identity, becomes a piano prodigy, discovers a hidden past, and finds his way through despair and ultimately, acclaim as a music composer.  You’ll also cheer strongly for the real Henry Day as he takes his place in the small society of (seemingly) feral children, some with certain grownup sensibilities. 

     Donohue really downplays the fantastical element in his approach – for sure, he creates a lingering supernatural edge here, but nothing overwrought.  There is an touch of spookiness throughout The Stolen Child – this feeling certainly got my imagination going on a day hike through the woods last weekend, a sense of being watched.  But the changelings aren’t sinister savages, or at least not completely, although their mode of life is far more hand to mouth than the "ordinary world."  Their social group actually reminded me of the kids in The Lord of the Flies, albeit more civilized.

     Definitely read this one if you like a great retelling of a folk belief that’s as old as the hills.  This is Keith Donohue’s first novel, and it’s one of the best debuts I’ve seen in awhile – I look forward to his future fiction endeavors.  Oh, and if you get this book and have the CD Fisherman’s Blues by the Waterboys handy, listen to the track of the same name as the book before you read it – it’ll set the mood nicely.  Or, read the poem "The Stolen Child" by W.B. Yeats.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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