May 2006

The boy and the hobgoblin

By Keith Donohue
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"The Stolen Child" was a poem about changelings written by William Butler Yeats in 1889; now, this novel by the same name expands on the theme in an enchanting way. Keith Donohue's debut immediately intrigues the reader with the tale of Henry Day, a seven-year-old boy kidnapped by a band of forest-dwelling changelings (mythical miniature creatures who never age and form a secret society on the fringes of the human world) after he runs away from home. Henry is replaced in his own home by a changeling boy tapped to re-enter the real world. Henry is now a hobgoblin, and the hobgoblin, a child. But can this carbon copy, who is identical yet so different—for example, he suddenly displays extraordinary musical talent—truly become another?

The reader is treated to two narratives—one by Henry Day himself, who has to adjust from the human world to the changeling one, and one by his duplicate, who is readjusting to the human world after more than a century spent as a changeling (for he was also once a real boy). As the years pass, both Henry and his double struggle to come to terms with their true identities. And as the modern world (the book opens in the 1950s) impinges upon the covert changeling sect, their very existence is threatened.

Both storylines captivate in different ways while dealing with the same topic: the who am I? question we all face while growing up. Childhood is not sentimentalized; when describing his school experience, the changeling Henry Day details the nightmares that every kid who has ever braved the schoolyard faces: "They came back from recess bearing the signs of their abuse black eyes and bloody noses, the red welt of tears . . . these human children were altogether inferior." Donohue seamlessly blends the fantastical and the real here, with a matter-of-fact approach to the magic that exists on the edges of everyday life. This is a mysterious journey told in lyrical prose.


Rebecca Stropoli writes from New York City.

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The Stolen Child

The Stolen Child

By Keith Donohue
Nan Talese
ISBN 9780385516167

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