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The Witch's Boy
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that extrapolating the lives of fairy-tale characters before and after their stories take place can make for interesting discussions -- and may inspire readers to search out other modern retellings. There is some violence here, including a beheading, various injuries, and death. Lump is tortured and dogs are killed -- but it is within a context where witches and djinns exist. Lump is a surly, ungrateful boy, but he is ultimately redeemed.
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What's the story?
An unusually ugly baby is left for a great witch to care for. Knowing little about children, she names him Lump, and gets a bear to be his nursemaid and a captive afreet to build his nursery. With these companions he grows up ignorant of his appearance until the first time he meets other humans. Badly treated by them, Lump becomes vengeful and petulant, and his disobedient actions cause his witch-mother to lose her powers. Forced to flee with a cat-turned-human, they become itinerant entertainers, and Lump turns into a loutish young man. He becomes obsessed with Aude, a cold but beautiful social climber and, after his actions cause his mother to flee and his companions to be imprisoned, he embarks on heedless acquisition of wealth to impress Aude.
Is it any good?
The novelized fairy tale is a rich and growing genre, and this is a more than worthy entry. In the original Grimm story there is little reason for the appearance of the little man, his offer to help, or his demand for the woman's first baby. His help at first seems generous, and after he unreasonably demands her first born he gives her a way out. But when she succeeds in guessing his name, he tears himself in half. Very strange behavior. A member of the Actor's Studio would have reason to ask, "What's the motivation?"
Author Michael Gruber provides a thorough backstory that explains all, as well as an after-the-fairy-tale ending that wraps things up a little too easily. Lyrically written, engrossing, at time humorous, though a bit overlong, this vivid reimagining is as prickly and unpredictable as Rumplestiltskin himself.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the character Lump: He seems surly and ungrateful -- does the way he's been treated justify his behavior? Does his ultimate redemption ring true?
Can you think of other examples of fairy tales that were retold to give another idea about a character? What is fun about reading these stories? What would be fun about writing one?
Themes & Topics
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