Monday, December 05, 2005

The Witch's Boy

“Once upon a time, in a faraway country, there was a woman who lived by herself in the middle of a great forest. …One spring morning the woman set off to collect some plants she needed… She passed the old oak tree, lightning killed and half hollow, where people were accustomed to leave things for her, and there she heard and odd little cry.”

This isn’t an ordinary fairy tale, it is a fracturing of several tales and has a plot much more intricate than a simple fairy tale. The “witch” is left with the ugliest baby ever and the rest of the novel deals with her “mothering” of this child. According to legend, witches are not supposed to be able to be mothers; they are supposed to eat babies, not feed them. She names the baby Lump. The witch, a she-bear demon named Ysul, and a familiar cat named Falance form a family to care for the boy.

When the group has to move on, they become mountebanks (modern definition is a seller of quack medicine). As they move about, they meet characters from other fairy tales like Pinocchio and Hansel and Gretel. Lump discovers that he too has magical powers and has difficulty dealing with them.

Much like any mother, the witch makes a tremendous sacrifice for this ugly child. Lump treats her terribly. This story deals with relationships, love, and the pain of being rejected by others. Michael Gruber, the author, has developed the novel into more than a retelling of classic fairy tales, but familiarity of those tales makes the book intriguing.


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