The Stones Are Hatching

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The Stones Are Hatching
First edition
Author Geraldine McCaughrean
Country UK
Language English
Genre Young adult fantasy
Publisher Oxford University Press
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover, Paperback) & audio book
Pages 183 pp (Oxford hardcover edition) and 256pp (paperback))
ISBN 0-19-275091-7 (Oxford hardcover edition)
OCLC 59577228

The Stones Are Hatching is a young adult fantasy novel by Geraldine McCaughrean first published in November 1999 by Oxford University Press. It recounts the adventures of Phelim Green and his companions as they try to prevent the Stoor Worm from waking.

Plot summary[edit]

A boy named Phelim lives with his sister Prudence. One day, while Prudence is away, he wakes up to find his house full of small creatures called glashans, led by a creature called the Domovoy which lives behind his stove. The Domovoy tells him about 'hatchlings' which Phelim doesn't understand, before the house is attacked by a monstrous black dog. Phelim narrowly escapes being eaten; the Domovoy saves him, and then evicts him from his house, referring to him as 'Jack O'Green'.

Confused, Phelim wanders into a forest, where he encounters Mad Sweeney, a tramp who lives in the trees and never touches the ground. He leaves, and finds himself at a river, where he sees a washerwoman cleaning his shirt of blood. This terrifies him, and he flees, encountering Alexia, a strange girl who casts no shadow or reflection, on a bridge. She tells him that she will be his 'Maiden' but before she can explain what she means Phelim spots treasure at the bottom of the river, he wades in to take it, before Alexia jumps in an attempt to stop him, and is grabbed by a monster that was creating the vision of treasure as a lure to catch and eat Phelim.

They are saved by Mad Sweeney, who explains what is going on; a gigantic worm called the Stoor Worm is buried under Europe, asleep, after being defeated by a hero thousands of years earlier. However, the sound of the artillery from the war in France is waking her up; as she becomes more and more awake, her children, various mythological monsters such as the dog that attacked Phelim, are hatching and rampaging above-ground. Alexia tells him that he is 'Jack O'Green', the hero fated to stop the worm from waking and bringing destruction, helped by the Maiden, the Fool, and the Horse. Alexia will be the maiden, and Sweeney the fool, but they still have to find the horse. She also tells him that the washerwoman he saw is an omen of his impending death, which frightens him greatly.

The next morning, Phelim abandons Alexia and Sweeney, taking refuge with a group of farm workers. He works with them for a few hours, helping to reap wheat, but is then attacked by more hatchlings - people made of iron who slaughter all the farmers. Alexia rescues him. Phelim is then attacked by a spirit that attempts to snap his neck; when his blood falls on it, however, it vanishes. Alexia tells him that this is the final proof that he is the chosen one.

Phelim and Alexia travel, seeing that there are now many hatchlings causing chaos across the country, and then after using a spell involving acorns and a well to turn Phelim's money into silver, they use it to summon the Horse; a horse arrives, but when Phelim tries to feed it the bun a Domovoy gave him, it panics and flees, revealing it to be the ushtey; a hatchling in horse form. The real Horse turns out to be a conical talking creature made of cloth called the Obby Oss that stands on two legs. It begins to take them to Storidge, where the Worm's head is.

On the way, Alexia reveals to Phelim that Sweeney fought at Waterloo; he survived an attack where his entire regiment was killed by pretending to be dead, but was discovered and ordered to be hanged by a British officer for cowardice. He went mad from fear, escapes by leaping into a tree, and making his way through the forests back to England; this left him with great knowledge, but almost completely insane.

They arrive in Storidge, a seemingly normal town, where Alexia then tells Phelim her story; her father was a gambler, and in an attempt to become lucky, made her go to Germany and study to be a witch, and her brother become a priest. However, while she was studying, the Devil appeared to take her master's soul in exchange for his magical knowledge. The master bargained to save himself, saying that the last of his students to leave the room would be taken by the Devil instead. Alexia was the last to the door, but she tricked the Devil by pointing to her shadow and saying that it was the last one out of the room; he takes her shadow instead and devours it, leaving her without a shadow, and with her studies unfinished, she left.

They arrive at the house of Alexia's Uncle Mordo and Aunt Audrey, only to discover that their souls have been taken by hatchlings called merrows in order to stop them from helping Phelim on his quest. Alexia decides to go retrieve their souls from the merrows. Phelim swims down to a submerged village and rescues all the captive souls, being saved from the attacking merrows by Sweeney.

Alexia's aunt and uncle take them into their house. That night, her uncle tells Phelim that Alexia, Sweeney, and the Obby Oss are all in league with the worm; they're taking him to it to be eaten, not to slay it. It turns out that Murdo wants Phelim to do something for him; every seven years, the land of the fairies Hy Brasil rises above the ocean. Each time it has done so, Murdo has made a wish to the fairies, asking them where their gold is, and each time they've responded on their own language, which he can't understand. Murdo thinks Phelim will be able to translate it, and make them both rich.

The fairies take Phelim and Sweeney ashore. He can indeed speak their language, but they refuse to grant his wish, to stop the Stoor Work from waking, and reveal that they have actually come to steal human women and girls and force them to be their brides. They have chosen to begin the invasion now, because all the men who would otherwise fight them off and defend the women are away at war.

Phelim narrowly escapes the island on Murdo's boat. The fairies attack them, and Murdo is killed. As the fairies come ashore, a now much more confident Phelim sets a trap for them; be buries Murdo on the beach. As he is a sailor and should be buried at sea, the sea surges inwards to where his grave is, killing most of the fairies, to whom seawater is lethal.

After the Obby Oss saves Phelim from a group of murderous farmers who want to sacrifice him, they return to Storidge, where they discover that Mr. Pringle, the librarian, has taken control of the town in the chaos caused by the hatchlings, and is making the people perform ancient rituals to ward them off. The Obby Oss lets slip to him that Phelim is Jack O'Green; the librarian gets him drunk and convinces him to carry a burning bale of straw from one end of the town to the other, fulfilling an ancient, yearly tradition. Alexia takes the bale off him and tries to continue the ritual, but it collapses into her and sets her on fire.

She dies from her burns, and Phelim realises that it was his fault; he gave her the shirt that he saw the washerwoman cleaning, condemning her to die instead. Her last words tell him to 'ask Sweeney' about the 'witch's ladder'. Sweeney realises what this means; he gives Phelim Alexia's bones, which he uses like pickaxes to climb a cliff and reach the Stoor Worm. When he arrives at her mouth, he sees the worm's soul wandering out of her mouth as she dreams; he attacks it and throws into the sea, finally killing the Worm.

Phelim restores Sweeney's sanity by giving him a magical gem that Sweeney has been looking for since he went mad. They submerge Alexia's bones in a cauldron; combined with the use of her bones as a ladder, this resurrects her, now with a shadow again. It turns out that the gem was not the real one Sweeney had been looking for; Phelim lied to him, but his sanity came back again because of the placebo effect. Feeling that she has changed, he changes Alexia's name to Aisling, meaning 'dream'.

Phelim returns home, and confronts Prudence. He discovers that his father didn't die, as she had always told him; he was a dreamer, which she hated, so when their mother died, she sent him to an asylum. Angry, Phelim summons the ushtey, and tricks his sister into riding it; it carries her away to the ocean and presumably drowns her. Phelim and Aisling go the asylum, to find that his father is the gardener there, as the book ends.


Phelim Green[edit]

The protagonist of the story. An otherwise normal boy who lives at the start of the story with his sister Prudence, he is the son of Jack O'Green, and must stand in his father's role when the latter is absent. He is at first reluctant, but gradually grows in confidence as the book goes on.

Mad Sweeney[edit]

The madman of Sweeney's Wood. He lost his wits at the battle of Waterloo, which left him with great knowledge of all things supernatural, but also means that he spends most of his times in the trees or on roofs, and dislikes touching the ground. He is Phelim's Fool.

Alexia Jones[edit]

A half-trained witch who fled her studies in Germany after an encounter with the Devil which left her without a shadow and reflection and helps Phelim on his way to the Stoor Worm; the niece of Murdo Jones, who secretly hates her for her knowledge of the dark arts. Alexia is Phelim's Maiden and his protector, as supported by the translation of her name as "Help". Alexia is killed shortly before the encounter with the Stoor Worm in Storidge when she is set fire by a burning hay bale during a Pagan ritual and is thereafter revived by Phelim. He changes her name to Aisling, which means "dream."

Obby Oss[edit]

A two-legged, black, conical, dancing cloth figure. He is Phelim's Horse. Provides little aid except advice.

Mr. Pringle[edit]

The librarian of Storridge. In reaction to the havoc caused by the Stoor Worm's offspring, he revives Celtic sacrifice rituals, in which Phelim narrowly escapes being a participant. His actions result in Alexia's death, for which he is remorseful.

Murdo Jones[edit]

Uncle of Alexia. He is a sailor and a fisherman, distrusts magic, and desires to have his wish granted by the fairies of Hy Brasil; to tell him the location of their gold so he can be wish. He has visited the island every time it rose since he was a young man, but hasn't ever been able to understand their response to his question. He has his soul stolen by the Merrows to prevent him from aiding in Phelim's quest, but Phelim manages to retrieve it. He pretends to be saving Phelim from the hatchlings, but he actually is just using him; he knows that Phelim will be able to understand the language of the fairies, and translate for him. When he and Phelim visit the said island, Murdo learns, to his shock, that the faeries have no interest in helping him and seek only to obtain human brides. He and the others flee the island, but the invading fairies catch up to them. In the resulting battle, he is killed by a fairy arrow.

Prudence Green[edit]

Phelim's older sister, who paints lead figurines for a living. She mentally and verbally abuses Phelim, and is responsible for his lack of confidence. It is revealed towards the end of the book that she had her own father committed to an asylum for being a 'dreamer'; in revenge, Phelim tricks her into being dragged away to the ocean by a shapeshifting hatchling.

Jack O'Green[edit]

Phelim's and Prundence's father, for whom the task of halting the Stoor Worm was designated. However, due to his dreaminess and constant talk about mythology, which Prudence interpreted as him being a alcoholic she had him sent to a lunatic asylum, and told Phelim that he disappeared. After discovering this, Phelim and Aisling go to the asylum to find that he is the gardener there, and perfectly happy.

Stoor Worm[edit]

A figure resembling Jormungand of Norse mythology. The Stoor Worm is a continent-sized serpent whose offspring are all the monsters of localized English folklore, who has been asleep for millennia after a hero named Assipattle fought her. When she wakes, her eggs hatch, and her "Hatchlings" begin to wreak havoc on the world. Only by certain magic (much forgotten by Phelim's time) is effective in repelling them. If the Stoor Worm gains her freedom, she would destroy everything she encountered. She is a mouth breeder, as shown when Phelim enters her mouth to break the remaining eggs and slay her. He is therefore the last Jack O'Green, whose predecessors had merely restored the Stoor Worm to her sleep.