The Witch's Boy


They call him Lump. Ugly, misshapen -- more goblin than human child -- abandoned as an infant and taken in by a witch, he is nursed by a bear, tutored by a djinn; his only playmates are the creatures of the forest, whose language he learns to speak.

But when Lump inevitably stumbles into the human world, his innocence is no match for the depths of people's cruelty, which turns his heart to stone, and fuels a vengeance that places him and his witch mother in deadly peril. Yet ...

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They call him Lump. Ugly, misshapen -- more goblin than human child -- abandoned as an infant and taken in by a witch, he is nursed by a bear, tutored by a djinn; his only playmates are the creatures of the forest, whose language he learns to speak.

But when Lump inevitably stumbles into the human world, his innocence is no match for the depths of people's cruelty, which turns his heart to stone, and fuels a vengeance that places him and his witch mother in deadly peril. Yet these disasters also send Lump on a journey of self-discovery, to realms deep within the earth and far beyond mortal imagination.

In this stunning fantasy debut, Michael Gruber has created a world that is at once deceptively familiar and stunningly original, a world of cruelty, beauty, legend, truth, and above all, wonder. Readers will delight in the author's ingenious retelling of classic fairy tales and will marvel at the stunning new tale of a boy raised by a witch, a cat, a bear, and a demon.

A grotesque foundling turns against the witch who sacrificed almost everything to raise him when he becomes consumed by the desire for money and revenge against those who have hurt him, but he eventually finds his true heart's desire.

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Editorial Reviews

“This astonishing fantasy plumbs the depths of the human heart and lays bare its emotions.”
London Times
The Guardian
“Brilliantly woven.”
To quote from the review of the audiobook in KLIATT, November 2005: The witch never knew she wanted a child until he appeared: an infant, ugly and misshapen, abandoned in the woods. And thus Lump was named. His nurse was a bear, his teacher a djinn. Unfortunately, he is not bear nor djinn nor witch and mixing with the human world proves disastrous. Lump blames his mother for all his woes. However, there comes a time when each person must ultimately make his own way. For Lump that way comes with great cost, but ultimately with great redemption. Gruber is incredibly clever, turning familiar fairy tales inside out with simple changes in point of view. (The witch, in her girlhood, wore a little red riding cloak and contrary to popular rendition, the wolf is the savior of the story.) KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2005, HarperTempest, 377p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Jodi L. Israel
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-"Once upon a time, in a faraway country, there was a woman who lived by herself in the middle of a great forest." Thus begins this literary fairy tale of a witch who takes into her home an ugly, abandoned infant whom she calls Lump. Wise in the ways of magic, the witch is inexpert in the ways of motherhood and so she appoints, in turn, a bear as his nursemaid and a djinni as his tutor. As predicted by her cat familiar, all does not go well and the witch is forced to give up her magic to save the boy. The adolescent Lump, far from being grateful for her sacrifice, becomes increasingly troublesome. Gruber incorporates well-known tales such as "Little Red Riding Hood," "Hansel and Gretel," and "Rumplestiltskin" into his narrative, giving readers a different, and sometimes more frightening, take on these childhood staples. The inclusion of these retellings and the elegance with which the author shapes his fable will appeal to readers who love to immerse themselves in the complex reworked fairy tales of Donna Jo Napoli. This is not a quick read, but it is an engrossing and enormously satisfying one.-Sharon Grover, Arlington County Department of Libraries, VA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Threading recognizable but artfully altered fairy tales throughout, Gruber crafts a hefty bildungsroman that takes an ugly foundling child from dour innocence through an utterly hellish adolescence to joyful maturity. Discovered abandoned in the fork of a tree by the Queen of Air and Darkness herself, Lump grows up alone, in the care of a kindly, dimwitted she-bear assigned to be his nanny by the well-intentioned but very busy and distracted sorceress. He turns out to be a most disagreeable child, spoiled, selfish, quick to anger, as pigheaded as he is pig-featured, and with a cold, closed heart that refuses to acknowledge or return any kindness-even after his foster mother sacrifices nearly all of her powers in payment for his misdeeds. After several wild reversals of fortune, capped by a disastrous infatuation with a certain miller's beautiful but empty-headed daughter, the scales do fall from Lump's eyes at last, allowing him to mend fences with his patient mother, and to find real love with Bluebeard's blind daughter. One of the least sympathetic characters readers will ever meet in literature, Lump is going to make many a teen, preteen or for that matter, parent uncomfortable-and there's plenty of grist for fans of Donna Jo Napoli's fairy tale psychodramas, too. (Fantasy. 12+)
Booklist (starred review)
“This astonishing fantasy plumbs the depths of the human heart and lays bare its emotions.”
London Times
The Guardian
“Brilliantly woven.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060761677
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/25/2006
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 400
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.12 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

New York Times bestselling author Michael Gruber is the author of five acclaimed novels. He lives in Seattle.


Michael Gruber, in his own words:

I was born and raised in New York City, and educated in its public schools. I went to Columbia, earning a B.A. in English literature. After college I did editorial work at various small magazines in New York, and then went back to school at City College and got the equivalent of a second B.A., in biology.

After that I went to the University of Miami and got an M.A. in marine biology. In 1968-69, I was in the Army as a medic.

In 1973, I received my Ph.D. marine sciences, for a study of octopus behavior. Then I was a chef at several Miami restaurants. Then I was a hippie traveling around in a bus and working as a roadie for various rock groups. Then I worked for the county manager of Metropolitan Dade County, as an analyst. Then I was director of planning for the county department of human resources.

I went to Washington, D.C., in 1977, and worked in the Carter White House, Office of Science and Technology Policy. Then I worked in the Environmental Protection Agency as a policy analyst and also as the speechwriter for the administrator. I started writing freelance at that time, and shortly after being promoted to the Senior Executive Service of the U.S., I left Washington and settled in Seattle. I worked for a while for the state land commissioner, but since 1988 I have been a full-time writer.

I am married, with three grown children and an extremely large dog.

Good To Know

Some interesting anecdotes from our interview with Gruber:

"My first job was writing copy for Classics Comics, which was the best job I ever had. Reducing Tolstoy to thought balloons!"

"I did my Ph.D. on the relation between moray eels and octopuses. As a result of this work, I am one of the few people who have been bitten by both a moray eel and an octopus. Being bitten by a moray is much like catching your finger in a car door. Being bitten by an octopus is like being snakebit. Your arm swells up and turns black."

"I was once a member of a traveling commune called the Hog Farm. I was the cook on one of the buses. My roadkill dumplings were famous throughout the mobile counterculture. I once made eggs Benedict for 14 hippies on the banks of the Rio Grande. Aside from that my life has been fairly dull and no fun at all."

"I have no hobbies. The only thing I do with my time is reading, writing, and research. I walk my dog. I occasionally dig in the garden, but we have a gardener and this tends to upset her. I never unwind, except I get drunk with a bunch of journalists every Friday. Every Wednesday I teach snippets of Catholic theology to people who wish to join the Church."

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    1. Hometown:
      Seattle, Washington
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 1, 1940
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Columbia University, 1961; Ph.D., University of Miami, 1973
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

The Witch's Boy

By Michael Gruber

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Michael Gruber
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060761679

Chapter One

Once upon a time, in a faraway country, there was a woman who lived by herself in the middle of a great forest. She had a little cottage and kept a garden and a large gray cat. In appearance, she was neither fair nor ugly, neither young nor old, and she dressed herself modestly in the colors of stones. None of the folk who lived nearby (not the oldest of them) could tell how long she had dwelt in that place.

One spring morning, the woman set off to collect some plants she needed. As she glided silently along, she studied a list she had made, for she tended to be absentminded about small things. She passed the old oak tree, lightning killed and half hollow, where the local people were accustomed to leave things for her, and there she heard an odd little cry. She stopped and looked, and saw that in the hollow was a wicker basket. Have they left me a piglet? she wondered. But when she came closer, the basket shook and she heard the unmistakable cry of a new baby. There was a note in a crude hand tied to the handle of the basket, which read:

The devil's child
For the devil's wife

"Well, well," said she to herself, "let us see what some rude person has left." She opened the basket and lookedin. "Oh, my!" she said aloud, as she beheld the ugliest baby boy that she, and perhaps anybody, had ever seen. He had a piggish snout and close-set eyes of a peculiar yellowish color. His mouth, wide and floppy, was already full of square little grinders. He was covered in coarse dark hair resembling the bristles of a hog; and his ears were huge and pointed like a bat's. His body was also oddly shaped, like a sack of stones, and his feet were far too large. Of all his features, his hands alone might be called good, their long delicate fingers flexing as the stubby arms waved.

He seemed healthy enough, and when the woman reached down and touched his cheek with the backs of her fingers, he gave a lusty cry and rooted with his mouth for her thumb.

"Hungry, are you?" she asked. "Don't you know that witches are supposed to eat babies, not feed them?" The ugly baby gurgled and pushed harder against her hand. His yellow eyes looked hungrily into her gray ones. She felt a magic older than even her own flicker between them, and it startled her.

"What am I thinking of?" she said. "How could I keep a baby? I have never been sentimental before." She addressed the baby. "You will make a meal for the lynx or the gray wolf. This is your fate." She moved her hand away and turned to go, but the little thing, feeling the withdrawal of the woman's warm presence, began to whimper again. In an instant, almost without thought, she had drawn the baby into her arms and pressed him to her bosom. The baby gurgled and stared with mindless intensity into her eyes.

"Ah, well." She sighed. "It seems we are stuck together, little lump. I have no idea how we shall get on or what will become of you. I have never heard of a woman of my sisterhood rearing a child before, but lately the world is full of new and disturbing things--and perhaps this is one of them, dropped into my very lap. Perhaps we shall both learn something from it."

She placed the child carefully back in his basket, and carried it back the way she had come. The few people she passed all nodded cautiously at her and made room on the path, but none attempted to start a conversation, as they might have with almost anyone else. The people of that neighborhood were woodcutters, trappers, charcoal burners, and a few farmers who worked the small clearings. They thought her strange; she had the disconcerting habit of appearing without warning around the turn of a path; or you might be working and suddenly be aware of her presence in a corner of your sight, like smoke from a distant fire. You could not hear her coming, not even in autumn, when the very rabbits made a crunching as they traveled their underbrush roads. Although she greeted people politely on these occasions, she was short of speech and soon glided onward, out of sight. Her voice was deep and clear and not accented with the local twang. She kept no company, nor did she trade, as far as anyone could see.

Tongues wagged about her, of course, as they will in a small place. One fellow said he saw her pop out of a cleft in a rock in broad day, and when he looked for a passage or cave had found nothing but the smooth black stone. Another said she had seen her walking with the shy roe deer often and once with an enormous brown bear, chatting away and pausing as if to listen, as if she were conversing about the weather or the year's chestnuts. The local boys dared each other to go down the path to her cottage and peer in the windows at night. None ever did, although they lied a good deal about it. Some of the older women brought little baskets of fruit or crocks of cream or preserves and left them in the hollow tree by the head of her path, where today someone had left a more strange and less welcome gift. The rough men of the forest left her clever fur bags they made of whole marten skins or stone jars of the spirit they distilled from elderberries in the fall while they waited for the ricks to burn down. These were plain people who still felt the weirdness of life's twists, and, God-fearing though they might be, they were also in the habit of making small sacrifices to keep on the good side of powers more strictly local.

They made up stories about the woman to pass the evenings and frighten the children into bed: how she could change her shape, becoming a raven or a red fox, how she could sour milk with a glance or spoil traps, what she did in her cottage to little boys and girls who did not mind their elders. These tales grew richer with the years; in the end, they called her a witch.

Such things used to happen often to women living alone and mostly no harm done, although when some old goose is treated as a witch and given little presents, she may get it into her head that she really has the power to make rain drop from the sky or two people fall in love, and then she might find herself in trouble.

But this particular woman was a real witch.


Excerpted from The Witch's Boy by Michael Gruber Copyright © 2006 by Michael Gruber. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2008

    witche's boy

    i read this book and loved it the story puts a twist on all the classic fairy tales and the boy's life turns into the life story of a classic charector but not the one you'd expect

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2007

    Great Book!

    This book is humorous and interesting. It takes your everyday fairy tales and intertwines them in this deep and intriguing story of finding oneself and finding your true desire.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2006

    From Ugly Duckling to Passable Goose

    The ugly foundling Lump grows up. A neglected child, then a mean-tempered adolescent, he is slow to appreciate his adoptive mother (a sorceress), her familiar (a cat) and the she-bear assigned to nurture him. As he grows, Lump takes us on a cook's tour of classic nursery rhymes, including Goldilocks, Rumpelstiltskin and Hansel and Gretel. Like many a fictional tough guy, a repentant Lump responds to the love of a good woman (who happens to be blind). After a long trek Lump presents his wife to his adoptive mother who, through a spell designed to find out Lump's deepest value, cures the girl's blindness.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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