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)