These days the changeling myth has lost much of its fearsomeness, although parents who learn of it probably have fleeting thoughts about how terrible it could be. With The Stolen Child, author Donahue takes this ancient scenario out of the fantasy realm and into the real one. To immerse one’s self into the narratives of Henry, the stolen child now trapped in a time warp, and other Henry, the hobgoblin who stole his identity and his very life, is to delve into the profound psychological effects that such a switch, if possible, might cause. Living forever and never aging sounds enticing, until the consequences, the gains and losses, are considered in their entirety. Similarly, the strain of pretending to be, and ultimately becoming, somebody else, would be equally burdensome.
The Stolen Child is a tale that can be experienced on several other levels. There is the practical,eg, how could such an exchange be accomplished? There is the philosophical, eg, how could one be one’s self and someone else at the same time? And would it be worth trying to adjust to the changes? There’s the emotional, leaving one’s home/family/clan and breaking/forming different bonds. And of course there’s the simple adventure of it all. Real Henry’s situation is complex enough, but the substitute Henry must cope both with his new life and with several others as they become manifest to him.
Donahue is a skilled writer, creating enthralling characters, plots, dialog, and consciousness. More than a coming of age story, it’s a study of human nature and basic needs. This debut novel is reminiscent of some of Neil Gaiman’s work, though with less of the magical and more of the existential. But like Gaiman, Donahue explores the archetypal themes of loss, love, identity, survival, and moving on. Here’s hoping for a new Donahue release sooner than later!