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Literature / The Gypsies in the Wood

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My mother said
I never should
Play with the gypsies in the wood...

"The Gypsies in the Wood" is a novella in the Diogenes Club series by Kim Newman. It is set in the 1890s and features Charles Beauregard and Kate Reed.

In a prologue, Charles Beauregard is called to investigate after two children, Maeve and Davey Harvill, go missing without a trace in a wood only a few feet across — or, more precisely, after Davey comes back... different. The case is closed when Maeve also reappears, but Charles has a feeling that it's not over.

Eight years later, Davey Harvill has become an artist whose illustrations of fairy lands have been parlayed by a hard-nosed publisher into an empire of twee faerie-themed children's books and toys, with construction underway on a Faerie Aerie theme park — which is plagued by accidents that are whispered to be acts of sabotage perpetrated by actual goblins. Charles and Kate investigate, and find that The Fair Folk haven't finished with the Harvill family.

"The Gypsies in the Wood" contains examples of:

  • Ambiguously Human: Maeve. Or rather, the thing that came out of the woods all those years ago, which happens to look like her. Also members of the Undertaking, whose smoked eyeglasses are hinted to conceal something... disturbing.
  • Amusement Park of Doom: The publishers behind Uncle Satt's Faerie Stories open up a (intentionally anachronistic) fun park that's seemingly a way for The Fair Folk to snatch children from our world.
  • Animorphism: One of the characters in Uncle Satt's Faerie stories is Sir Boris de Bruin, an anthropic bear wearing a cuirass and helmet whose backstory is that he was a knight transformed by the Witch-Queen Coelacanth.
  • Another Dimension: The Fair Folk come from another world where the rules are different and time runs strangely. The characters don't think of it in terms of dimensions, but there's a hint of it when the changelings return home at the end, and are described as seeming to get flatter as they approach an entrance that looks like a narrow crack.
  • Anvilicious: In-universe, Uncle Satt's Faerie stories wrap Davey's haunting artwork around banal stories with obvious morals for children, mostly involving the supreme importance of being tidy and well-behaved and obedient to one's elders and social betters.
  • Blessed with Suck: David has a real gift for drawing. His illustrations support his entire family. Too bad to get them, he had to suffer some untold torture that cost him 30 years of his life and his mental stability.
  • Call-Forward: Charles mentions similarities between the disappearance of Maeve and Davey and another unsolved case, a girl named Rose Farrar who disappeared in Sussex. "Angel Down, Sussex", written before this story but set a few decades later, has the Diogenes Club revisting the Farrar case.
  • Changeling Tale: Two children disappear in the wood and return a few days later, strangely altered. Davey, the most obviously different, is rejected as an impostor by their mother, while Maeve, superficially the same but different in personality from before, is accepted. This turns out to be the wrong way around: Maeve has been replaced by a fairy duplicate, but Davey escaped before being replaced, although with his memory so muddled that he can't explain what happened. At the climax of the story, the changeling tries to abduct Davey's nephew Dickie to fill Davey's place in whatever plan is being enacted; Charles and Kate intervene in time and not only rescue Dickie but the real Maeve as well.
  • Character Overlap:
    • Charles Beauregard and Kate Reed were major characters in Newman's Alternate History novel Anno Dracula, in which they investigated that history's version of Jack the Ripper. This is Kate's first appearance in the Diogenes Club series, and Charles's first as a main character, so the story includes brief accounts of their character histories (much the same as in Anno Dracula except without the vampires) and an explanation of how they first met in this timeline.
    • Billy Quinn, the publicist running public relations for the Faerie Aerie, and Inspector Mist, the police officer assisting Charles and Kate in their investigation, originated in Newman's non-series story "A Drug on the Market", in which Quinn was involved in marketing a recreational drug derived from Dr Jekyll's formula and Mist was investigating the consortium Quinn worked for.
    • Becky d'Arbanvilliers is revealed, in the author's notes at the back of the collection, to be the future aunt of "Clever Dick" Cleaver from "Clubland Heroes", "Cold Snap" and The Haunting of Drearcliff Grange School.
  • Creepy Child: The Maeve changeling has an arrogant personality and something of a cruel streak and is even creepier when Charles meets her again after eight years and she hasn't aged a day.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: An unexplained association between The Fair Folk and the constellation Ursa Major. Several of the Diogenes Club stories reference the constellation as part of some kind of ongoing background event, the Duel of the Seven Stars, that's never explicitly explained.
  • Death by Childbirth: Charles is haunted by the death of his wife Pamela in childbirth. The child, their first, also died.
  • Elmuh Fudd Syndwome: A minor character is a stuck-up little girl named Becky d'Arbanvilliers, who has trouble with her Rs. The Maeve changeling comments mockingly that it must be hard to be named Rebecca "and yet pwevented by nature fwom pwonouncing it properly".
  • Exorcist Head: Near the end of the story, the protagonists encounter a freshly-formed changeling standing by to step into a child's life. One of the characters walks around it, examining it, and it turns its head to follow the movement all the way around.
  • The Fair Folk: The antagonists are the beings behind the legends, who live in some other world that runs on different rules and occasionally crosses over into ours.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Charles realizes that David's drawings accurately depict things that will happen in the future. Like, a few seconds in the future.
  • Goofy Suit: In the course of the investigation, Charles spends a day undercover in a character suit representing Sir Boris de Bruin, an anthropic bear character from Uncle Satt's Faerie books. It's hot and heavy and uncomfortable, and he tells Kate afterward that after an hour he was so miserable he was repressing urges to maim any small child that came within reach.
  • Griping About Gremlins: The "goblins" that are said to be interfering with the construction of the Faerie Aerie seem related. Many of the incidents attributed to them involve the building's machinery or electrical systems malfunctioning.
  • Ground by Gears: Uncle Satt's chief clerk Steadman dies when he pushed into the main dynamo powering the Gift and is ground up by the workings.
  • Hypothetical Fight Debate: Parodied. Uncle Satt's Faerie stories have an insanely complicated class structure as an essential part of the text, leading to kids having similar arguments about orders of precedence.
  • Immortal Immaturity: Near the end of the story, Charles reflects that in his experience the Fair Folk aren't much different from children in some ways, selfish and given to extremes of emotion, "prone to spasms of joy and long rainy afternoon sulks", aptly called the little people.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Kate Reed.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: "My mother said I never should play with the gypsies in the wood. If I did, then she would say 'Naughty girl to disobey!'" Davey has this as a Madness Mantra after his time in the woods. Charles notes that the "gypsies" in the rhyme might represent something else.
  • Kid Detective: Dickie Riddle, Special Detective. At this point just a little boy with big daydreams whose biggest triumph was the Case of the Vanishing Currant Bun (the fat kid from down the street nicked it when the baker wasn't looking) and the real glories of his career still ahead of him.
  • Leprechaun: One of the characters in Uncle Satt's Faerie books is a stereotypical leprechaun named Seamus O'Short.
  • Locked into Strangeness: Played with. After Kate realises that Charles has changed the way he trims his facial hair since she last saw him, and correctly guesses that he did it to hide the fact that his beard is starting to collect white hairs, she jokingly comments that it's a surprise the strange things he's seen haven't already turned his hair completely white. At the end of the story, Maeve has a skunk stripe as a memento of her strange experience.
  • The Men in Black: Two men dressed in black suits and dark-tinted spectacles are sometimes seen in the vicinity of otherworldly events. Charles identifies the two who take an interest in the Faerie Aerie as "Mr Hay" and "Mr Effe", from a covert organisation called the Undertaking.
  • Mister Strangenoun: The agents of the Undertaking that Charles knows of include Mr Hay, Mr Bee, Mr Sea, Mr Dee, Mr Effe, "all the way to" Mr Eggs, Miss Why, and Mr Zed.
  • Mr. Alt Disney: Satterthwaite Bulge, "Uncle Satt", the impresario behind the Faerie publishing empire, has echoes of Walt Disney, most obviously regarding the pioneering theme park. A conversation about what actually Uncle Satt contributes to Uncle Satt's Faerie stories, given that Davey does all the artwork and hired writers do all the words, echoes an anecdote Disney used to tell about about being asked by a small child what he did.
  • Mythology Gag: There's a scene where Kate worries about getting sunburnt when she has to wait outside on a hot, sunny day; her redheaded Irish genes make her susceptible and current fashions for women rule out practical hats and sunshades. It also serves as a tip of the hat to her earlier appearances in the Anno Dracula series: that timeline's Kate really had to worry about sun exposure because, in addition to the already mentioned factors, she was a vampire.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: We never actually see any of the "gypsies". The closest we get is the Maeve-changeling, and she's hinted to be more of a construct.
  • Oireland: The press tour of Faerie Aerie is led by Billy Quinn, an Irish American from Boston, dressed as the leprechaun Seamus O'Short and laying on the Oirish mannerisms with a trowel, adding extra heapings on account of Kate's Irish heritage. Kate, an urban Protestant whose family didn't resemble any of the stereotypes, is not impressed.
  • Our Banshees Are Louder: One of the characters in Uncle Satt's Faerie books is Brenda Banshee, who works as a housemaid for a leprechaun in stories where the Every Episode Ending is Brenda howling with distress after being punished for misbehaviour.
  • Phantasy Spelling: Uncle Satt's Faerie books, including The Aerie Faerie Annual, suffer from this, because the writer who set the house style was "the sort of poet, alas, who rhymed 'pixie' with 'tipsy' and 'faerie' with 'hurry'". Charles rhetorically asks what's wrong with the word "fairy".
  • Roguish Romani: Several times, Beauregard ruminates on xenophobic urban legends about shifty, baby-snatching foreigners — gypsies, red Indians, even sinister Welshmen. He considers the possibility that this paranoia might have evolved from tales of something much more "foreign".
  • Shackle Seat Trap: Charles half expects this trope to apply when he sits down in the examination chair at Dr. Rud's office. No straps appear to tie him down, but it's strongly implied that this has happened to him on prior cases.
  • Something Only They Would Say: Sairey is absolutely certain that the strange old man is her younger brother Davey, because he knows all about the fairy tales their dad used to tell them. "Maeve", however, does not.
  • Souvenir Land: The Faerie Aerie is going to be one of these, built inside a serial-numbers-filed-off version of London's Crystal Palace. The main attraction seems to be rooms recreating locations from the books and inhabited by costumed actors portraying the characters; if there are any rides, they're not active yet.
  • Stock Unsolved Mysteries: Charles mentions the case of Benjamin Bathurst as a disappearance that even the Diogenes never found an explanation of. Kate follows up by mentioning the Mary Celeste, and Charles says the Diogenes does know what happened there, but is keeping quiet about it to avoid an international diplomatic incident.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Charles has a moment of sympathy for the Maeve changeling near the end, noting that in service of a plan that ultimately came to nothing she's been stuck for years in what is, to her, an alien world. "I can imagine it has been utterly strange."
  • That One Case: Beauregard has ruminated on the Harvill case for eight years, knowing that something was "wrong" about Maeve but unable to prove it. Adding to his suspicions is that the Harvills' mother died under mysterious circumstances not long after he reunited her with "Maeve".
  • They Would Cut You Up: Charles warns the Maeve changeling that this will be her fate if the Undertaking get their hands on her.
  • This Is My Name on Foreign: The artist behind Uncle Satt's Faerie stories is credited publicly as "B. Loved", which was probably the idea of the same person who originated the Phantasy Spelling. When Charles lets Kate in on Davey's life story, she spots that "beloved" is the English translation of "David".
  • Twisted Ankle: Invoked by the Maeve changeling, who fakes a twisted ankle as an excuse to stop behind while Dickie goes on alone into a trap.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: Davey reappears a few days after he and Maeve disappeared looking twenty-five years older, complete with signs of malnutrition and long-term rough living and old scars that he didn't have before. In a weird twist, the doctor who examines him notes a lost tooth growing back, which would be normal in a boy the age Davey was but is unheard-of in a man the age he is now. He doesn't have any clear memories of the time he was away, so can't elaborate on what happened beyond that it's "been so long". Maeve comes back looking no older, but that's because it isn't really Maeve. When they get the real Maeve back at the end of the story, she's aged a similar amount to Davey.