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Literature / The Book of Lost Things

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The Book of Lost Things is a 2006 novel written by John Connolly.

After the death of his mother, twelve-year old David struggles to deal with his father remarrying and the birth of a new child. Feeling alone, he goes to his books for company. Soon he is propelled into a world that is both imaginary and real, a strange reflection of his own world composed of myths and stories, populated by wolves and worse-than-wolves, and ruled over by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a legendary book... The Book of Lost Things.

The novel contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Abomination: The Crooked Man is eventually revealed to be Rumpelstiltskin, here portrayed not as a Depraved Dwarf with a connection to the Fair Folk, but as a Humanoid Abomination that simply came into being with the dawn of humanity and has been sustaining his existence through horribly sadistic "stories." Another John Connolly short story - The Hollow King - takes this even further by speculating that the Crooked Man might be the Fetus Terrible result of a union between an old god and a human woman or even something that was born from "the dark stuff of the universe."
  • Age Without Youth: Jonathan Tulvey.
  • And I Must Scream: The fate of many of the Crooked Man's victims, not the least of which the children sold out by the monarchs of the fairy-tale land, whose souls are trapped in jars and used to fuel the Crooked Man's life force.
  • Batman Gambit: David pulls up an epic one against the Huntress, while strapped to an operating table: he tells her about centaurs, who were great hunters, and convinces her to become a centaur, fusing her torso to a horse's legs, bargaining for a map back to the right path in the process. Though she anticipates David betraying her, keeping a knife handy and still tying him to the operating table, David uses the knife she gave him to pin her to the table and cut his own ropes. He was only planning to run and get a headstart, but all her still-living victims then return.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: A greedy and gluttonous man requests that the Crooked Man pay him in gold the weight of everything that he has eaten at a buffet. The Crooked Man pouring molten gold down his throat.
  • Become a Real Boy: Leroi is becoming more and more human as the story progresses, and takes pains to act like a man with dignity, refusing to devour the bodies of Roland and Raphael as he feels an animal would do.
  • Berserk Button: Leroi really doesn't like being reminded that he's an animal. The Crooked Man loses it when David defies him.
  • Bittersweet Ending: David manages to defeat the Crooked Man and return to his own world, but the costs of war and reality eventually hit him. At the end of his life, he rejoins his dead wife and child in the fairy tale land, along with the Woodsman.
  • Body Horror: Many examples abound but the Huntress' "creations" and the Crooked Man's body falling apart come to mind.
  • Bury Your Gays: The knight Roland, who is trying to find out what happened to his lost lover, Raphael. He is, of course, dead. Roland ends up dying as well, once he finds out what happened.
  • Coming of Age Story: And a big one for David, who matures from a sullen, grieving twelve-year old to a precocious, appreciate Guile Hero.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Jonathan Tulvey, a distant relative of Rose's, is mentioned to have vanished many years ago - along with his sister. It turns out that Jonathan is actually the current king of the fairy-tale land, having sacrificed his sister to the Crooked Man in exchange for the throne.
  • Disney Death: The Woodsman, who returns safe and sound at the end after apparently being killed by the Loups early on.
  • Deal with the Devil: The Crooked Man loves making bargains, as per his identity as Rumpelstiltskin; anyone accepting one of his offers will get everything that they wanted - but at horrific price that will leave the victim regretting it for the rest of their lives... assuming they live that long.
  • Desperate Plea for Home: Getting dragged underground by the Crooked Man and being taunted about the fact that his family will eventually move on without him leaves David at the end of his psychological tether; by the time he finally returns to the surface, he's in tears and crying that he wants to go home.
  • Down the Rabbit Hole: David comes into the unnamed fairy-tale land via a cracked hole in the garden wall on his side, and a hollow tree on the fantasy land side.
  • Driven to Madness: A common result of the Crooked Man's tortures, usually after being Forced to Watch.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Beast, which is an enormous, spider-eyed, bear-like monstrosity who easily takes down a troup of trained soldiers.
  • Extradimensional Emergency Exit: David is lured out into the garden by the voice of his dead mother, only to find himself right in the path of a crash-landing German bomber. With nowhere else to go before the plane hits him, he climbs into a crack in the garden wall, escaping into the Crooked Man's Magic Land with the bomber's wreckage hot on his tail.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The Crooked Man and the Loups both want David for their own reasons.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: The Crooked Man can't figure out why David won't give him Georgie and just assumes the stakes aren't high enough yet.
  • Fisher King: The king of the land is weakening, which is why the Loups are able to gather into their armies and pose any kind of threat and why new monsters are roaming the land. Beyond that, it's revealed that this world changes with the fears and wills of the children doomed to rule it. In particular, the Loups themselves were created by Jonathan's fear of wolves.
  • Forced to Watch: The Crooked Man's favorite method of torture. he even has a special room with pools of water showing different parts of the kingdom so that whoever he's tormenting can watch as all their family members are hunted down at the same time.
  • Fractured Fairy Tale: Much of the book fits under this. Some warped characters we meet include Snow White, while some are introduced in the history of the land like the gender-swapped The Goose Girl.
    • Little Red Riding Hood is notable for having two equally horrifying versions; the book David finds in Rose's home tells how the Huntsman who saved Red also kept her and forced their sons to find and kidnap other women, while in the history of the fairy-tale land, Red bedded a wolf, then later lured women to be raped and eaten by her children.
  • From Bad to Worse: David and his stepmother, Rose, become increasingly resentful of one another; David's father is away more during the war, leaving Rose to care for the baby Georgie as well as David, who is open about his dislike for Rose. The two then have an out-and-out argument where Rose backhands him for saying that his father will never love her. She immediately regrets it, but the damage is done. The same night, after his father lambasts him for his behavior, David is taken into the fantasy land— just as a German bomber crashes into the family's garden. Rose and David's father panic looking for him, and when they do find him, he's in a coma. For a long while, they think their last interaction with him had been them yelling at him. Rose is shown to be so overcome by grief and guilt that she'd spent nearly every moment by his hospital bedside, reading him books.
  • Guile Hero: David finds himself becoming one as he crosses the paths of crooked and twisted fairy tales.
  • Humanity Ensues: By the end of the book, Leroi has become more human than wolf, and he can no longer howl, and the Crooked Man hints that his own pack might turn against him.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Though the Crooked Man is heavily implied to be Rumpelstiltskin, the later chapters reveal that he came into existence alongside humanity with no precise origin and no defined source of his powers, and David observes that his almost-human appearance looks distinctly wrong. The Hollow King - another story set in the saem universe, takes this even further by speculating that the Crooked Man might be the child of an old god and a human woman or even something born from "the dark stuff of the universe."
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: The Huntress surgically combines children with animals to heighten the thrill of the hunt.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Jonathan Tulvey, who wants to die but can only grow progressively older.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: At the end, it states that the book you're reading is the one David wrote. It then gets confusing because things happen in the end that don't happen until after he wrote it and published. So you're reading things in his book that the character says he wrote but couldn't have despite actually happening.
  • I Miss Mom: David's entire motivation for going to, and searching through, the fantasy land. He believes he hears his mother's voice calling him, saying that she's still alive and trapped. it isn't true.
  • Jackass Genie: The Crooked Man functions as this, offering victims their wildest dreams with a horrifically malicious sting in the tail; see Be Careful What You Wish For.
  • Little Red Riding Hood: In this version, Red Riding Hood seduces The Big Bad Wolf and later gives birth to the first Loup. She later has other woman couple with wolves, some willingly and some by force.
  • Karmic Death: The Huntress gets killed by the children she combined with animals.
  • The Man Behind the Curtain: the King is nothing but a feeble old man who was once another victim of the Crooked Man, and his supposedly magical book of lost things is just a scrap book of memories from his old life.
  • Moving Beyond Bereavement: The novel begins with the death of David's mother following a long period of illness; as a child, he doesn't know how to cope with the loss, and even less with his father eventually remarrying. Consequently, David spends most of the early chapters consumed with depression and resentment for his stepmother - and later, his stepbrother. This emotional turmoil proves to be exactly what the Crooked Man needs to lure David into his Magic Land, namely by mimicking the voice of his mother and beckoning him towards the portal. As such, the bulk of David's Character Development involves him developing the maturity to overcome his grief, accept his stepmother and stepbrother, and face the real world - however horrible it might be.
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: David and the Woodsman mark the tree though which David arrives with a string. The Crooked Man, rather than simply remove the string, ties strings to all of the trees in the area.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: One could rationally explain David's adventures as Adventures in Comaland after the plane crash injured him. It still doesn't explain how, as he reaches the end of his life, that he's able to go back to that world.
  • Parental Substitute: The Woodsman and Roland are both men in the fairy-tale land who come to care for, and take care of, David. The Woodsman in particular is revealed at the end to be some kind of expy of David's actual father. They're clearly not the same person, but they are somehow connected and both love David.
  • Parting-Words Regret: David and Rose both suffer this after their fight, namely in that David during the events of the book is also in a coma. Rose spends days by David's bedside until he awakens David realizes that he can't wish for his mother to come back or resent innocent Georgie for coming along during a bad time.
  • Shout-Out: Aside from the more blatant references to fairy tales and myths, David reads a book about a knight going to a tower, though the knight is called a "childe". Later, he meets a soldier named Roland who is also heading to a tower, all of which are a reference to Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.
  • Soul Jar: A literal example. The Crooked Man's life is sustained via the soul of a child that he keeps in a jar.
  • Sssssnaketalk: The witch posing as Rose speaks like this after undergoing Glamour Failure.
  • Stay on the Path: David is warned to stay off the road; when he strays to pick an apple, he is captured by a hunter.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: The Loups, wolf/man hybrids that come from the coupling of wolves and women.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The Crooked Man essentially tears himself in half in impotent rage after being thwarted by David.
  • Villainous Rescue: The Crooked Man is in the habit of killing Loup scouts that might pose a threat to David, as he needs David alive to participate in his latest scheme.
  • When You Coming Home, Dad?: part of the reason David comes to resent Rose and Georgie is because he feels they take his father's attention from him. Then, his father becomes even more involved in the war, meaning he's hardly home at all to begin with.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: The fate of Jonathan Tulvey; doomed to live to extreme old age, consumed with regret over what he did to become king, unable to change the world for the better, and unable to die until the Crooked Man needs him to.
  • The Worm That Walks: Sort of. When the Crooked Man tears himself apart, he has no internal organs, only a mass of insects and invertebrates.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The Crooked Man, the Loups, the harpies, the Huntress, the Beast, the Witch in the Fortress of Thorns, even the brigands who try to rob David late in the book... All in all, there are very few people in this world who wouldn't hurt a child - to the point that one of the most common flowers in the forest is one said to grow exclusively where children were murdered.
  • Wolf Man: Leroi and his Loups, drived from Jonathan Tulvey's fear of wolves.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Much of the world is derived from David's and Jonathan's fears. The Loups were created from the latter, so when Leroi finally kills Jonathan, he (as well as the rest of the Loups), falls apart and ceases to exist. It is implied that, though he isn't particularly afraid of them, David's knowledge of the harpies of Greek Mythology caused them to exist in the fairy-tale land.
    David: I've seen them in my book of Greek myths. For some reason, I don't think they belong in this story, yet here they are.