The Book of Lost Things
Front Cover of Dust Jacket
|Cover artist||Rob Ryan|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|Pages||339 pp (hardcover edition)|
|ISBN||0-7432-9885-3 (hardcover edition)|
|LC Class||PR6053.O48645 B66 2006|
The Book of Lost Things is a fantasy novel by John Connolly. The book follows David, a twelve-year-old boy who struggles with his mother's death and his father's remarriage. When a World War II bomber plane crashes into his garden, he finds himself in the fantasy world of his books; he must find the King, who can return him to his home. The novel takes a fresh look at traditional fairy tales, following a child's journey into adulthood.
- David - A boy of twelve, who loves books and stories. After his mother's death and his father's remarriage, he is magically transported into another world and must seek out King Jonathan and his Book of Lost Things to find a way to return home.
- David's mother - She dies at the beginning of the novel and is an inspiration for David to enter into the "other world", since he is tricked by the Crooked Man into believing she is there and in distress.
- David's father - After David's mother dies, he marries Rose; they have a child named Georgie.
- Rose - David's stepmother, administrator of the "not-quite-hospital" in which David's mother died
- Georgie - David's half-brother, son of Rose and David's father
- Dr. Moberley - David's psychiatrist
- The Crooked Man - The antagonist, he lures David into the other world and is both David's protector and his enemy. He is loosely based on Rumpelstiltskin.
- Jonathan Tulvey - Rose's uncle, King of the other world
- Anna - Jonathan's adopted sister
- The Woodsman - David's friend, who promises him to get to the king. Based on the woodsman from Little Red Riding Hood
- Leroi & the Loups - Loups appeared when a young woman wearing a red cape (Little Red Riding Hood) seduced a wolf. Their child was the first Loup, named Leroi. There are many wolves, who have begun to transform into humans. With the ability to talk, some have nearly-human faces, walk on two legs, and wear human clothes. Leroi is the most advanced, and the leader; his dream is to overthrow King Jonathan and take his place.
- Roland the Soldier – based on the English poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came
- Raphael – Soldier, friend and romantic interest of Roland
- The Harpies – based on Greek mythology
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
- Alyssa - David's wife
- The Huntress - based on The Most Dangerous Game
The title refers to a book kept by King Jonathan which contains many things from "our world" and his past. The title may also be understood as a metaphor for the relationship between David and the loss of his childhood, his plunge into the adult world. The title is also that of the book David writes (as an adult) about his adventures in the other world.
The novel begins in World War II London. The main character, David, is faced with his mother's slow death. David superstitiously believes that he will save his mother's life by living in a strict routine (e.g. getting up on the same foot, avoiding anything related to odd numbers). David thinks that his mother's eventual death occurred on the day that he made a mistake in his routine. His father remarries a woman named Rose; they have a child, Georgie. While David tries to adapt to his new family, he begins to hear his books whispering and has "attacks" during which he sees visions of a strange land. He finds himself lured to another world, hidden in a crack in the sunken garden of the family's new home. While exploring this fantasy world, David has many adventures and lives out his own fairy tale.
Soon after the death of young David's mother, his father remarries and they move into Rose's country home. Rose tries to befriend her stepson, giving him the bedroom of her uncle, Jonathan Tulvey, who disappeared as a boy. After Rose gives birth to David's half-brother, Georgie, David begins to hear his books whispering, and he has fainting spells. When David is in the woods, he looks back towards his house and sees a mysterious figure in his room. His father helps him search the house; all they find is a magpie, which they release. The next day Rose and David argue, and David longs to escape from his new surroundings. As he lies in bed that night, he hears his mother calling him and he follows her voice outside to the sunken garden. While he looks for his mother, he notices lights in the sky and realizes that a German bomber is falling towards the garden. With nowhere else to go, he hides in a crack in the garden wall.
By climbing into the wall, David is transported into a fantasy world where he meets the Woodsman. The two begin walking towards the Woodsman's home but end up running to safety from wolves and Loups (wolves turned partially into humans). They meet Leroi, the first Loup and their leader. There is not enough food in the forest to feed them all.
After several failed attempts to return to his world through the portal, it is decided that the best thing for David to do is to seek out the king and his Book of Lost Things. David and the Woodsman travel to the edge of the forest; as they approach a canyon guarded by trolls and harpies, a pack of wolves and Loups appear and attempt to capture David. After solving the trolls' riddle, David can cross one of two bridges over the canyon. The Woodsman remains on the bridge to keep the wolves at bay but is overcome and dragged into the forest. David cuts the bridge's ropes, which keeps the wolves from crossing.
On a road David sees seven dwarfs, who speak of "rights" and "liberties" and "resisting oppression." The seven comrades (as the dwarfs refer to one another) take him to their home where he meets an obese Snow White, who is demanding and cruel. David spends the night with Snow White and the seven dwarfs, learning that she is gluttonous. He also learns that unbeknownst to her, the dwarfs are mining diamonds. When parting, the dwarfs ask David to send them a suitor they can pay to marry Snow White.
While picking apples, David sees a huntress kill a deer that has a young girl's head. The huntress captures David. He learns that she captures young children and animals to fuse their bodies together; with the body of an animal and the mind of a human, they make better sport for her. David comes up with a plan, convincing the huntress that she would be a better hunter as a centaur. He disarms her by cutting off her hand and running away, while many of her experiments return and attack her.
After escaping the huntress, David encounters a soldier named Roland, who allows David to ride with him on his horse, Scylla, and accompany him on a quest to the Fortress of Thorns. They find a battlefield with many casualties; a tank from David's world sits there, as if it fell from the sky. Here David meets the Crooked Man, who promises David the life he had before his mother's death. The ground reflects what looks like his father, Rose, and Georgie dancing happily. The image transforms into one of Rose and David's father making love; David looks away, so overcome with anger that he cuts the Crooked Man with his sword. In the distance, howls fill the air as the wolves find another bridge to cross the canyon.
Roland and David spend the night in an abandoned church, where Roland explains that the king tried to force the people to follow a "new religion." During the night, David wakes to find Roland whispering to a locket with a picture of a young man. The next morning, David asks Roland about his quest; he explains he is searching for his friend Raphael who left to release a woman from a curse. They leave the church, followed by a wolf scout who is killed by the Crooked Man. Roland and David meet a group of hunters, who take them to their settlement for food and rest. A man named Fletcher lets Roland and David spend the night in his stable and eat with his family. Fletcher tells them of a terrible Beast which has been wreaking havoc. Roland speaks with the village elders; they agree that the best plan is for the women and children to leave the village for caves in the nearby hills, while the men stay behind to lure the Beast to his death with a tethered cow. After three nights the Beast appears. Roland tries to lure the worm-shaped Beast into the village, but it follows David instead. The Beast turns out to be female, and as she dies from her offspring bursting out of her body, the offspring are killed with fire.
The next morning, the villagers return; Fletcher explains to Roland and David that it would be best if they leave quickly and gives David one of the Beast's claws as a keepsake. David wanders away from Roland and is pulled underground by the Crooked Man, who mocks his and Roland's friendship. The Crooked Man insinuates that Roland is homosexual and that he is only helping David because he desires him sexually. Roland rescues David from the Crooked Man, but when Roland tries to comfort him, David recoils. Meanwhile, Leroi and his pack have arrived at the settlement. Fletcher defies them, and they leave.
David and Roland continue their journey. Roland reassures David that his feelings towards David are only friendship and respect. Roland claims that his feelings towards Raphael are no one else's business. They reach the Fortress of Thorns, a great castle covered by thorny vines and surrounded with the bodies of knights killed by the enchantress. At nightfall, the vines pull back to reveal a gateway. Roland leaves David with Scylla, entering the castle alone. After several hours, David enters the fortress to look for Roland.
Each room David passes seems to be enchanted; one has a feast, which is poisoned, and another is a replica of his old room in Rose's house. He climbs to a chamber at the top of the tower; inside, impaled by thorns, are the bodies of Roland and Raphael. In the centre is a stone altar upon which lies a sleeping woman, who is his mother. He kisses her on the cheek and she opens her eyes, which are completely black; the woman now resembles Rose. David tries to run; she catches and tries to kiss him, but David scratches her face with the Beast's claw and she impales herself on the thorns. David carries the bodies of Roland and Raphael down and lays them on the stone altar, descends from the tower and rides Scylla towards the King's castle.
En route David kills two thieves who try to steal Scylla, and the Crooked Man protects him from wolves. When he reaches the castle, the King sends soldiers to meet him. The chief guard, Duncan, takes him to meet the King; David is taken to his room to eat and rest. During the night, David is awakened by voices; it is the Crooked Man on the throne, talking to the King who sits below him holding the Book of Lost Things. The King talks of a mistake he made as a child and of how he wants to die. The Crooked Man disappears behind a tapestry, and the King returns the book to its place in an alcove. David sneaks down to the throne room and opens the Book of Lost Things; he finds it to be a child's scrapbook with some diary entries expressing the writer's hatred for a little girl who lived with his family, stating that he has decided to get rid of her. The book belongs to Jonathan Tulvey, Rose's uncle who disappeared with his adopted sister Anna, and David realises that Jonathan is the King.
David finds a door to the Crooked Man's home. Inside is an hourglass with a little sand in the top bulb and a glass jar with the ghost of the little girl, Anna. She tells David of how Jonathan led her to the garden and through the hole in the wall, where the Crooked Man was waiting for them. He took her back to his home where he tore out her heart, ate it, and stored her soul in the jar. She also tells David that the Crooked Man is looking for another child to take Jonathan's place before the sand in the hourglass runs out. David takes the jar back to his room, where Anna asks him to put her on the balcony in the sunlight; there, David sees that Leroi and his army are at the castle.
Outside the castle, the Crooked Man kills one of the wolves, then lures the others to chase him through his tunnels into the castle. In the throne room, David tells the King that he knows that he is Jonathan and about his betrayal of Anna. The Crooked Man appears, trying to tempt David to stay, promising protection from the wolves and Loups that burst in and massacre the guards. David refuses to betray Georgie to the Crooked Man, who dies after Leroi kills the King. At the Crooked Man's death, Anna sighs with joy and disappears. Because the Loups were a creation of Jonathan's fears, they crumble into dust after his death. The Woodsman appears at David's side, having survived the fight at the bridges. They leave the castle and begin to travel back to the woods; when they arrive, they find the tree open and waiting. After saying goodbye to the Woodsman and Scylla, David climbs into the portal. He wakes up swathed in bandages in a hospital bed; Rose is sitting asleep next to him. He wakes her, apologises for his behaviour to her, and falls into a deep sleep.
Years pass, sometimes filled with pain and unhappiness as the Crooked Man prophesied. David grows up happily with Georgie, until Rose and David's father divorce; David goes to university, while his father lives alone in a little cottage until one day he dies of heart failure. Georgie joins the army, but dies in an Eastern war. David marries a woman named Alyson; she dies in childbirth, and their son (named George in honour of his uncle) dies soon after. Rose grows old and weak, so David takes care of her; when she dies, she leaves her house to David. He moves in and begins writing stories, beginning with a book about his adventures which he named The Book of Lost Things. Finally, David himself grows old and sick; one night, he gets out of bed and walks down to the garden. He climbs through the hole in the wall to the magical land. The Woodsman is there waiting for him and walks him to a cottage. Scylla is grazing in a field outside; she greets David happily, and waiting for him at the cottage door are Alyson and their son George.
Literary significance and reception
This novel was a departure for author John Connolly, whose other novels belong to the thriller and crime genres. Graham Joyce of the Washington Post reviewed the novel as a "distracting outing for the author". Other critics had similar views of the novel as possessing unrealistic conventions and disturbing elements.
References and allusions
A feature of the novel is its retelling of traditional tales; characters, from Snow White to Rumpelstiltskin, are re-examined by the author. However, none of the tales are the same as when we last heard them. Snow White is now gluttonous and no longer charming; her dwarves are attempting to get rid of her. Little Red Riding Hood is no longer an innocent girl visiting her grandmother, but a seductive temptress who gives birth to the first loup (wolf-human). The figure of Rumpelstiltskin is an inspiration for the most despicable character, the Crooked Man. The novel takes place during World War II, and there are many references to the war and its principles. Throughout the story contemporary vehicles appear, such as the Ju88 bomber plane which crashes into the sunken garden and the tank attacked by the monster.
Awards and nominations
- Nominee, 2007 Irish Novel of the Year
- 2007 Alex Awards
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
On July 11, 2007, RTÉ Entertainment reported that Irish director John Moore received the rights to adapt the book to a film.