The Witch's Boy

The Witch's Boy

by Michael Gruber


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This critically acclaimed tale of a witch and her goblin-child is wholly original, and the legendary characters of old who touch their story — Cinderella, Rapunzel, Rumplestiltskin — are made new through Michael Gruber's imaginative lens. Gruber's literary voice is as magical as his imagination. With The Witch's Boy he has created a wondrous journey through the realms of magic.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060761677
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/25/2006
Edition description: REPRINT
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.12(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

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


Seattle, Washington

Date of Birth:

October 1, 1940

Place of Birth:

New York, New York


B.A., Columbia University, 1961; Ph.D., University of Miami, 1973

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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The Witch's Boy 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
safowlie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed the audio version of this. The narrator, Denis O'Hare, did a wonderful job with the voices. Lump is a very unlikeable character for most of the book. After a while I became impatient wondering when things would turn around. Lump was abandoned as an infant and taken in by a witch. He leads a very unconventional childhood, and eventually brings hardship to his family. Folk and fairy tales are given a remix throughout the novel, and makes for some fun.
TheCriticalTimes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fairy tales are usually for kids, but not this one. The Witch's Boy a dark story about what happens when humans explore all of their horrible human ways is part bildungsroman, part fable and part a commentary on human behavior. Or perhaps a better description is that the novel is a rich set of observations on the contradictory nature of human behavior. None of the characters are completely good as we normally see in fairy tales, but there's something human in all of them. Not all of the evil characters are truly bad, which is also a well known trope of this genre. That doesn't mean the novel is a bad mix of everything, it is a well crafted and satisfying story. We learn about an ugly boy who is found in the forest by a witch. We learn nothing about the boy's background and all we know is that even as a baby the boy is ugly as sin. No matter how ugly and revolting the boy is and no matter how much the old witch hates the outside world, she can not resist but take the boy in and nurture him. In this task she is assisted by a large bear, a smartass cat and a demon.In rapid succession the boy, is adopted mother and everyone around them are flung through a rapid series of experiences that each teaches them about their roles in life and the harsh reality we all have to learn to cope with. Only at the very beginning do we think nothing is different from any other fairy tale. Lump however starts off as an innocent little boy, who through circumstances transforms into the ogre he thinks he looks like and after which everything ends unsuspectingly appropriately (although not happily ever after). The exact same can be said of all the other characters, they exist in what feels like a real world where everything makes perfect sense without the fairy tale perfection. Even though the world is fantastical and anything can happen, Michael Gruber instills his characters with such humanity that we can understand the bad choices they make when under the irresistible influence of magic or the impossible to cope with struggles of human existence.Interwoven will all the magical bravura are numerous references to well known fairy tale stories. Famous characters from stories like Hansl and Gretl or Pinocchio make their appearance but in slightly different ways then we expect them to, which adds another layer of depth to the story another unexpected aspect for us to take in as readers. All this is in aide of an author who shows us that things don't always turn out the way we expect them to, but that those endings are perhaps more satisfying then if everything turned out perfectly. The story deals with loss, love, beauty and its repercussions, jealousy, power and the many disappointments we all deal with throughout our lifetimes. Quite a lofty goal to pack into a novel but Gruber pulls it off splendidly. If you're not afraid of a book that plays with established stereotypes and if you're willing to suspend your belief that good is always perfect and bad is always evil, then you will be highly satisfied with this read.
hoosgracie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An odd take on fairy tales. It mixes up Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella, Snow White, and several other stories in a very clever way. Highly recommend if you liked Wicked or enjoy take offs of fairy fairy tales.
punkypower on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've read thirty-two books so far this year. I would put it in the top 10.I LOVE twists-on-classics even before Gregory Maguire came out with "Wicked." Angela Carter does some great short stories. Fables is a great graphic novel series. Post-Maguire, Jasper Fforde has done a couple of kick-ass series (Nursery Crimes and The Eyre Affair/Thursday Next) and Frank Beddor's "Looking Glass Wars."My description: Goblin Lump is left as a baby in the hollow of a tree for a witch to find. His nurse is a bear, his tutor is a demon prince, and his mother's confidant is a cat. The witch can't bear to spend much time with him, but when she does, she spoils him and never lets on that he's anything but a beautiful boy. Once he grows and realizes the truth, he becomes sulky and selfish. He wastes all his mother's sacrifices and puts them all in danger. Growing up, he meets many different characters. The name is familiar to you and I, but the stories make it appear we've been lied to all these years. The biggest mystery is who is Lump. If we find out, he may perish.I enjoyed the extras in the book: an interview with Gruber, his advice to writers, the background of the story, and his top ten "weird books" (which are most of my faves, anyways).Awesome cover as well. :D
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
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
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.