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Before fairies went around granting wishes and bestowing Pimped Out Dresses to cinder maids, they spent a lot of time doing some serious mischief.

One favorite game of The Fair Folk was to abduct human infants and leave behind one of their own in exchange. This "change child" or changeling was just a ruse to conceal the theft: since it was actually a faerie, it would prove ungovernable and the parents would eventually have to get rid of it. The real baby, meanwhile, was taken to the Land of Faerie to serve as a conscript or slave.

According to most European fairy tales, baby boys and children with golden hair were in particular danger of being stolen by elves and possibly replaced by an unwanted child (often a Red-Headed Stepchild). Alternatively, the mother might be abducted, seduced, and impregnated by the Tuatha de Danaan (or local equivalent), resulting in a (possibly malevolent) fairy child. We know for a fact that Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe in any of these incidents was not to blame in absolutely any way. Compare Alien Abduction.

Meanwhile, the "changeling" tag served as a "Just So" Story to conveniently explain physical and/or behavioural peculiarities that have since been demythified as Science Marches On. Before modern medicine and genetics did in the wizard, so to speak, this trope was almost certainly one of the more common backstories used for members of The Freakshow, as well as a potential rationale for abuse or infanticide.

To deter fey folk, infant boys were often dressed as girls, and Cold Iron would be hung over cribs and doorways. Common items included horseshoes, bells, nails, scissors and steel files. (What Could Possibly Go Wrong?) Early baptism was also encouraged, and it was often cited as the reason why mothers could not work for some weeks after childbirth: they had to watch over the baby to prevent this.

Simple abduction by fairytale beings also counts under this trope. Due to the inscrutable nature of the Fair Folk Returns Policy, 1:1 replacement of your child is not guaranteed.

The earliest fairy tale versions are Older Than Print. Contrast Moses in the Bulrushes, where the parents do the switching. See also Foundling. Compare Persephone, Year Outside, Hour Inside, and its inverse Year Inside, Hour Outside.

Subtrope of Doppelgänger, The Fair Folk, Land of Faerie, Invasion of the Baby Snatchers, and very often Switched at Birth. Not to be confused with the Lighter and Softer Changeling Fantasy, which is a Rags to Riches/Cinderella Plot.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Berserk, a young girl named Rosine offers up her parents' lives to the Godhand to become a fairy (or rather, a demon that takes the form of a fairy). She then makes the same offer to other children, transforming them into insectile pseudodemons that can look like fairies (to the disgust of Puck, an actual elf). Her mistake is trying to make the same offer to her former best friend, Jill, because said friend happens to have just met series protagonist Guts, a former mercenary on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against all demonkind following the horrors of the Eclipse.
    • In-universe, there's a changeling story that inspired Rosine: the story of Pirkaf, a boy who looked like an elf. The people of his village didn't trust him, and so when he was old enough he went to the elves for answers. Pirkaf then learned that he was actually human - when he was a baby, he got sick, and his parents went to the elves for help. In exchange for their help, the elves made him look like one of them, so his parents would remember who they owed for his survival. On hearing this, Pirkaf returned to his village, only to find it gone - the elves, angry that their aid was forgotten, had magically replaced it with a forest. Pirkaf was left all alone in the world.
  • In The Ancient Magus' Bride, Shannon is a changeling who was swapped out with a human boy named Shanahan. As she explains most changelings are killed or abandon the human world when discovered, but hers were rather understanding and left her alive. She only discovered that she wasn't human when she stopped aging and Shanahan came to visit her, having become a fae himself after being in their realm for so long. She ended up marrying him and returning to the fae realm after her co-workers noticed her longevity.

    Card Games 

    Comic Books 
  • In the Hellboy short story "The Corpse", Hellboy exposes a fairy changeling, then he has to perform a task for the fairies to get the original child back.
  • Hilda: At the end of Hilda and the Stone Forest, Hilda and the troll child Baba are put through one of these that involves not just the two of them being switched, but fully transformed into the other species as well (Hilda becomes a Troll and Baba a human). They spend a large part of the next story, Hilda and the Mountain King, in their altered states and lives before the changeling spell was broken, and returned to their original forms.
  • In Suburban Glamour (pun intended) the teenage protagonist learns that she's a literal changeling, and is the daughter of Fae royalty. She's initially elated to have the chance to get out of her dull, miserable life in a small middle-of-nowhere English village, but soon comes to realize that her Fae family are controlling and distant, and that they did abandon her for seventeen years without any explanation and as such have no right to barge into her life and start making demands of her. She decides to remain with her human parents, who at least love and respect her even if they don't always understand her.
  • In Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things, Courtney encounters a genuine changeling, but decides the baby's parents deserve it and the kid is better off among the Night Things (a.k.a. fairies).
  • Referenced in Iron Man. As Malekith the Accursed hunts Tony Stark, he taunts him with the knowledge that he was adopted and compares him to changelings, saying that Tony has been one of Malekith's subjects his entire life.
  • In The Avengers Elseworld Avataars: Covenant of the Shield, those who develop strange powers in their childhood with no obvious cause are believed by the superstitious to have been "exchanged" for a fairy child, and are therefore known as X-Changelings.
  • Witch Doctor features "cuckoo faeries", but the guise is so horrifyingly unconvincing you almost wonder why they even bother. And no, they don't get less creepy as they age.
  • Estranged focuses on both a fairy prince, now being raised as "Edmund" and aware of his true nature,note  and his human counterpart, only called "the Childe" and treated as a sort of exotic pet. The two are forced to team up when the fairy king and queen are overthrown, putting them both in danger from the usurper's assassins.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: (Earth-One) Nubia was stolen by Ares rather than the fey, and not replaced, but her tale remains the same. Taken from her family and raised as something she's not, only to learn as an adult she's actually an Amazon and has a twin sister.

    Fairy Tales 
  • In German fairy-tales there are generally two possibilities to get rid of them: 1) treat them horribly (as described above), or 2) doing something really stupid (e.g. boiling water in egg shells), the changeling then would laugh at you (sometimes even taunt you with a rhyme), which broke the spell and forced the fairy to take the changeling back and return the real child.
  • "Childe Rowland": The protagonist's sister Burd Ellen is kidnapped by elves when she inadvertently runs around a church "widdershins" (i.e., counterclockwise to the sun's path).

    Fan Works 
  • Cuckoo Bird: Izuku is a half-puca, half-elf switched out with the "real" Izuku Midoriya. He uses his Animorphism to make up for not having a Quirk. Shinso is also revealed to be a changeling (apparently part siren). This fic also includes a dark twist in that changelings and their human counterparts are eventually forced to fight to the death.
  • The Crystal Court: Spring has a habit of collecting human babies to play with (usually till they die), and replaces them with fae babes that she felt were unfit for her court like in the case of Amethyst.
  • Into the Hedge starts off with one, with the Cutie Mark Crusaders being kidnapped and then replaced by fetches.
  • Karma Circle 02: The Changeling is an Invader Zim fic where Dib believes that he's a changeling, thus explaining why he has such a hard time relating to others. Based on the legends that trolls will reclaim a sufficiently abused child, he goads Gaz into beating him worse than usual. It turns out that she is a changeling, not him, and when her troll parents show up they leave a nicer, more Dib-like girl in her place.
  • Mirror's Image has Queen Chrysalis replace a stillborn Twilight Sparkle with her daughter in order to ensure she has a family to feed her with their love.
  • Spellbound (Lilafly): Felix meets a changeling at the Samhain revel. She was originally human, but made a bargain, and has been a servant to the fae ever since, with magic altering her body; she can shapeshift, but her native form has ladybug traits such as additional insectoid arms. She later impersonates Marinette, whom Chloe has taken into protective custody.
  • Star Wars: Galactic Folklore and Mythology: The egg-laying Rodians have a variant of this where unhatched eggs are said to have their hatchlings stolen by the diminutive thumbfolk, who take them to the Netherworld to raise as their own.
  • There's More Magic Out There: Sabrina replaced the human Sabrina as a infant. The knowledge of this is the source of a lot of her problems.

    Film — Animation 
  • Coraline (book and film) is a sort of inverted changeling tale, where a human child is lured into a paradisaical realm populated by inhuman but loving and attentive facsimiles of their parents and neighbors, in particular an Other Mother who controls the whole place.
  • Frozen: Kristoff and his reindeer sibling Sven were adopted by a group of trolls when they were children. In their case, they were presumed orphans and their adopted family took good care of them. Kristoff happens to fit the blond cliche, however there's no proof he was ever replaced with another kid.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Changeling (2008) is a modern version of the same ancient fear, with The Fair Folk replaced by society as the antagonist.
  • Pan's Labyrinth. Although Ofelia rather loves her human mother, and seems to have loved her long-dead father, it's presented as an unambiguously better thing to live in the underworld full of magic. Mostly because dad is dead, mom is very weak-willed, and new stepdad is a zealous fascist. Unlike most examples, Guillermo del Toro actually takes into account the implications of such a statement.
  • Labyrinth: "I wish the goblins would come and take you away... right now." Be Careful What You Wish For, Sarah...
  • The Magical Christmas Tree Buddy The Elfs Origin Story, wen they where taken and replaced when they a baby.
  • Djinn: It turns out that Sarah killed her own son because she subconsciously realized that the child was actually replaced with a baby djinni.
  • Us: Red, a.k.a. the original Adelaide, was kidnapped and replaced by her Tethered counterpart in 1986, and the Adelaide we've been following this whole time has actually been the replacement. Adelaide's parents raised the Tethered version of their daughter as their own and, though distressed by their child's seemingly sudden muteness, never suspected a thing. Interestingly enough, by the time the movie takes place, the Tethered Adelaide has started a family and has become a loving mother while Red has been driven insane, suggesting that Tethered are not inherently evil but are simply a product of the conditions they are raised in.
  • Referenced in Midwinter Night's Dream by the teacher at Jovana's special needs school, who tells Lazar that some people think autistics are changelings, as they don't seem to be of this world.
  • In The Daisy Chain, an autistic girl is the subject of neighborhood gossip, with people wondering if she's a fairy changeling. She is.

  • Changelings were one of the most universal folkloric beliefs in Europe. In nearly every culture in pre-Industrial Europe, there were myths of fairies or other creatures swapping a human infant with one of their own, and procedures to protect your infant. The symptoms of a changeling ranged from misbehavior, not learning to walk or talk, constant crying, and a large appetite. The reason for the near universality of this myth was because it was an explanation for various developmental disabilities and birth defects. The large appetite, researchers theorize, had to do with anxieties, in pre-industrial Europe, around family members that were not able to be productive.

    In folklore, there were several “solutions” for changelings and getting the “real” child back. While a couple were benign (like confusing the changeling into revealing itself), the vast majority, such as whipping the changeling child to sticking it in the oven, consisted of torturing or attempting to murder the child until its real fairy parents reveal themselves and return the human child. This belief was widespread. Martin Luther, the founder of the Protestant Reformation, was a large advocate for killing “changelings”. Keep in mind, while changelings were folklore, this folklore gave instructions on how to deal with a real phenomenon: children with disabilities, and these “solutions” were used in real life on real, innocent children. While there were a few incidents where adults were accused of being changelings and tortured or murdered (see Bridget Cleary example below) and these cases gained more attention, it was much more common for it to happen to children, particularly disabled children, who had little, if any, rights at that time.

    Court records from Europe from 1850-1900 have numerous incidents of cases where defendants were accused of murdering children they thought to be changelings. Prior to that time, such incidents would not have been recorded, but they are likely to be more numerous. However, it should be noted while this is one horrifying chapter in the history for people with disabilities, it is not the whole picture. There is concurrent archaeological evidence of children with disabilities who were well-cared for during this period.
  • Spare a thought for poor, doomed Bridget Cleary, who in 1895 was murdered by her husband because he believed her to be a fairy changeling. Already a topic of contention in her small village in County Tipperary (she was proudly of independent means and had had no children in the eight years she had been married to her husband) at the age of 26 she fell deathly ill — to the point when the priest was called in to perform the last rites. Relatives complained that the nearly-dead Bridget was "much changed" and "not herself" (apparently unfamiliar with the concept of delirium), and so her husband Michael became convinced she had been replaced by a weak and sickly changeling— psychiatrists today believe that Mr. Cleary had a mental disorder known as Capgras Syndrome, where the patient believes their loved ones were replaced by identical duplicants, note  and that as he convinced others that she was really replaced by a fairy, it slowly but surely became a shared psychosis.

    Regardless of the reasons, soon the whole village was surrounding the cottage, chanting, force-feeding her milk with herbs, pouring human urine on her (a popular fairy repellent, apparently), and eventually holding her over the fire and prodding her with a red-hot poker. Again and again she was asked if she was the wife of Michael Cleary, and again and again she said yes. She eventually disappeared, and the villagers naturally assumed she had gone off with the fairies. But no; her charred corpse was uncovered a few days later in a shallow grave. The coroner ruled that she had been burned alive, and Michael said that yes, he had burned her alive, but had not killed his wife; he had driven the fairy changeling away, and his real wife would be waiting by the fairy fort on a white horse. She never turned up and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. To this day, Irish children often chant, "Are you a witch or are you a fairy? Are you the wife of Michael Cleary?" There is, rather oddly, an Irish folk band called Burning Bridget Cleary.

  • While Faeries don't actually kidnap human children in the Artemis Fowl books, this trope is referenced in the painting The Faerie Thief, which Artemis steals from a bank vault during The Opal Deception. It depicts an elf trying to snatch a baby from its cradle.
  • In M.C.A. Hogarth's The Blood Ladders Trilogy, Morgan Locke discovers that he's the bastard son of elven royalty disguised as a human when he was a baby and dropped off in an orphanage. And his half-brother, the Prince, is dead and they need a replacement.
  • In Poul Anderson's fantasy novel The Broken Sword, the protagonist is taken by the elves and replaced with a changeling. It goes badly for everyone.
  • Margery Lawrence's supernatural detective stories featuring sleuth-mystic Miles Pennoyer include The Case of the Leannabh Sidhe, wherein Pennoyer undertakes an investigation of a child whose personality has suddenly shifted. The child, Patrick, turns out to be a changeling who was left in place of the real Patrick when his nurse left him sleeping in a fairy glen belonging to the "Shee" — the same fairy glen Patrick's father had clear-cut in an ill-advised bid to construct a nine-hole golf course on his Killeen estate. Knowing that the changeling will continue to wreak havoc in the human realm if left alone, Pennoyer enlists the help of the child's Aunt and her chauffeur to "exorcise" the changeling and demand the Shee return the real Patrick. When they succeed, the real Patrick is restored with no memory of his years spent amongst the fairies. It was published with Lawrence's other Miles Pennoyer stories in the 1945 collection Number Seven Queer Street.
  • Roger Zelazny's 1980 novel Changeling has its plot built on this trope, and its sequel, Madwand. It's a subversion of the typical "Changeling Fantasy" because Pol (né Daniel) acknowledges that the family that raised him was nothing but supportive, and openly admits that his real father was a terrible man when he went off the deep end.
  • "The Changeling" by Swedish author Selma Lagerlof — in her version of the myth, a human mother saves her own child from being mistreated by the trolls because she cares so well for the troll-child they left her. Her son later returns.
  • The title character of Zilpha Keatley Snyder's book The Changeling spends almost the entire book trying to convince herself and a friend that she is just that.
  • Mentioned in Christine. When recounting his family history to protagonist Dennis, George LeBay notes that his brother Roland was apparently a very nice baby once, but something happened and Roland grew up to be a violent, hateful piece of work who took pleasure in hurting George, to the point of giving young George a permanent scar and expressing precisely zero remorse about it. Otherwise, though, there's no implication that Roland is anything other than human before his death.
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black features one of these, with a twist. The mother immediately picked up on it and retrieved her own child from the fae, and then refused to give the changeling back, saying any mother who abandoned her child didn't deserve them. They consider each other brothers, and while it does cause some problems for the changeling due to his dual nature, he finds a way to make it work.
  • In Katherine Kerr's Deverry series, the Guardians (pretty much the Fair Folk, except there's already another species who are elves) are eventually reincarnated as human children. From the description of their behavior, this is an explanation for autism.
  • Diogenes Club series:
    • In "The Gypsies in the Wood", brother and sister Davey and Maeve are abducted by the fair folk, reappearing after a few days — but is it really them? Their mother rejects the boy as an impostor because of his obvious changes and accepts the girl, who is superficially the same but different in personality, as her daughter returned. This turns out to be the wrong way around: the girl is a changeling, but the boy is really Davey, who escaped before being replaced but with his memories so muddled that he couldn't explain what had happened. Later, the changeling tries to lure away Dickie, the son of Davey and Maeve's elder sister, to be taken in Davey's place, but Charles Beauregard and Kate Reed from the Diogenes Club intervene in time and not only rescue Dickie but negotiate a safe return of the real Maeve.
    • In "Angel Down, Sussex", a girl named Rose Farrar is abducted by Alien Fair Folk. A changeling shows up fifty years later, looking the same as Rose did when she disappeared, in what is first assumed to be a case of Year Inside, Hour Outside. The Diogenes Club is less successful in this case, and the original Rose's fate and the purpose for which she was taken remain a mystery.
  • Discworld: Lords and Ladies, being based on The Fair Folk legends, references this — elves are known to have a habit of stealing children, and while they aren't seen to do it in the book itself, the mere possibility is so infuriating to the usually laid-back Nanny Ogg that she actually (if half-jokingly) suggests Cold-Blooded Torture. Later, in The Wee Free Men, their child-stealing ways get actual page time.
  • A more mundane example in the web-novel Domina: The fey (who are just crazy women who think they're Celtic fairies) kidnap people, and subject them to Bio-Augmentation so horrible it destroys their memories. Those few who escape are returned to as close to human normal as possible and become the changelings, a culture of hackers fighting the fey.
  • In The Door In The Hedge by Robin McKinley, the Faerie folk regularly steal male infants and young girls from the inhabitants of the "Last Mortal Kingdom". They assume that the mortals won't mind so much since they can have more children — eventually they learn better.
  • In Andre Norton's Dread Companion, Bartare triumphantly recounts that although human lands have shaped her body, she is where she belongs when The Fair Folk take her.
  • In an early book of The Dresden Files, when Harry explains to the reader why Murphy's department exists, he mentions that people don't believe in (among other things) baby snatchings by the Fae, yet mysterious baby disappearances do happen, so they need someone to saddle with the investigation. And when they hire Dresden as consultant, they have a chance at finding the baby.
  • The Enchantment Emporium has Joe the Leprechaun. He lives in the human realm because his family wanted a mortal child "for entertainment". At the beginning of the book, Joe is taking a potion to prevent "fading away" — also known as "being called home" — since the Human side of the trade died and the potion keeps him anchored; he really doesn't want to go back to a family that abandoned him. (And the human may have died of old age. Even if that means Joe looks 30 and may be 80-90, he still has spent most of his life among people and not Leprechauns.)
  • The Faerie Queene contains stories of humans (like the Redcrosse Knight) who have grown up in Faerie Land because of this trope, aware of their race but not their true identity.
  • In Raymond E. Feist's Faerie Tale, the boy Patrick is taken away by "the shining man" and replaced by a changeling. The family takes the false child to the hospital, and there is a chilling description of the changeling's behavior, and how modern medicine attempts to explain it (that his brain was damaged by fever, that they don't understand how his brain could look like it does under an MRI).
  • In "Fairest of All," this is a common belief among humans, and although Siofra and Mahon really are their parents' biological children, they're subjected to horrific abuse as their parents try to get their "real" children back.
  • In Good Omens, the infant Antichrist is swapped for a normal human baby this way, with demons instead of fairies. Thanks to the incompetence of an order of Satanic nuns, though, he winds up in the wrong normal human family.
  • In Heir to Sevenwaters, Clodagh's baby brother is taken by The Fair Folk, and a glamoured Plant Person is left in his place. Clodagh must journey into the Land of Faerie to switch them back. This is part of a more complicated plot by Mac Dara of the Fair Folk to reclaim his half-human son Cathal, who was supposed to rejoin the Fair Folk on his seventh birthday but escaped.
  • These are apparently very common among human-folk in The Inheritance Cycle. Thus, when Elain is having a child in Inheritance, and Eragon asks Arya the elf to assist, she does so, but is very careful not to interfere too much because people fear her intentions. Then, when the child is born with a cleft lip, Eragon is called upon to heal the child. Before he takes the child away, he consents to allow the village healer Gertrude to accompany him into the tent where he goes to heal her, as he is mindful of Arya's warnings about fear of changelings. He knows that her presence will reassure the villagers.
  • Variants appear frequently in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell where fairies seem pretty fond of kidnaping in general, but usually don't bother with replacements or stick to children. It comes closest to being played straight with the Raven King who learns magic after being taken as a child, and Mrs.Strange who gets an actual replacement.
  • In Isaac Asimov's story "Kid Stuff", a member of the insectoid race which is the basis for the legends about fairies states that his people really like milk, and in the past, some have apparently used their mind control powers to get it fresh.
  • Several of Caitlin R. Kiernan's novels feature "the Changelings": human children who have been abducted from their birth families and inducted into a cabal of subterranean monsters as servants and soldiers. A few of the so-called "Children of the Cuckoo" express longing for normal, human lives.
  • The plot of Linda Haldeman's The Lastborn Of Elvinwood largely revolves around the whys and hows of making such an exchange to save The Fair Folk from extinction.
  • In Jack Vance's Lyonesse, Princess Madouc of Lyonesse is a changeling left by the fairies, although a relatively benign sort.
  • Laurell K. Hamilton being a stickler for mythological accuracy, this is mentioned in passing in the Merry Gentry series, but is not practiced by any of the Fey living in the United States, since it might interfere with the driving plot. Another reason the fey in the series might not kidnap people is because they don't want humans hating them. Their powers are failing. Or they were...
  • In The Midwich Cuckoos, Gordon Zellaby suggests that the Dayout babies, who resemble neither their mothers nor their fathers nor any known race, would have been undoubtedly identified as changelings in the past, though modern science has no word for them. He notes:
    "The idea of the changeling therefore, far from being novel is both old, and so widely distributed that it is unlikely to have arisen, or to have persisted, without cause, and occasional support. True, one has not encountered the idea of it taking place on such a scale as this, but quantity does not, in this case, affect the quality of the event; it simply confirms it."
  • Kaye from Holly Black's Modern Faerie Tales is a changeling, swapped as an infant for a human baby. She later meets the child she was switched with, who has aged only a few years in the Seelie Court.
  • The short story "Changeling" in the anthology The Modern Fae's Guide to Surviving Humanity is a Setting Update of the classic tale in modern-day Brooklyn. The Queen of the Fae poses as a nurse, passing off the stolen child as a stillborn, but the mother's midwife has seen such tricks before, and gives her the knowledge and tools to confront the Queen and take her child back.
  • This is the basis for The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw, who wrote it in response to the awful folktales about how to get rid of one. The half-Folk changeling, Saaski, was transformed into a baby and swapped with a human child because her limitations were a nuisance to the Folk, and she's unhappier about it than everyone else. Later on, she restores her foster parents' daughter to them.
  • The fairies from The Mortal Instruments also do it. It is difficult for them to multiply, so they depend on bringing human babies into their realm and replacing them with weaker fairy children. The shadowhunters accept that, but only because the only alternative is to lure adult humans into their realm until they've got offspring there with the fairies.
    • This trope plays a part in the backstory of the main character of The Infernal Devices. Tessa Gray's ostensibly mundane mother, Elizabeth Moore, was actually a Nephilim named Adele Starkweather, granddaughter of the head of the York Institute, Aloysius. Baby Adele was switched with the real Elizabeth Moore by fairies as punishment for Aloysius' misconduct towards Downworlders. Because she was a mundane, "Adele" did not have the aptitude to become a Nephilim and died when she received her runes. Meanwhile, Tessa inherited her mother's Nephilim powers even though she was not raised in the Shadowhunter world.
  • The Oddmire begins with a goblin named Kull doing this, in a ritual to restore magic to his horde. He puts the changeling in the bassinet, but gets distracted before he can take the human baby. When he turns back, the changeling has already shapeshifted into a copy of the human child, and Kull can't tell them apart. He leaves them both, and they grow up as a pair of "twins" named Cole and Tinn. If you're curious, Tinn is the changeling.
  • In the Paranormalcy series, Evie and Jack are these. Jack was stolen by the faeries at a young age, and Evie's mother is a human and her father is a faerie. Both of their stories bring some of the traditional mythos into it, with them both having blonde hair.
  • The narrator of H. P. Lovecraft's "Pickman's Model" is particularly disturbed by a painting depicting a ghoul changeling participating in family prayers with his unknowing human hosts. And also by the companion piece, a painting of the stolen human child being taught to feed like its ghoul "parents" do.
  • In Poison, the heroine's baby sister is kidnapped and replaced by a changeling, kicking off her quest. It's actually all part of the Hierophant's plan to recruit her as his heir, and her sister is actually returned as soon as she sets off — as the girl Poison passes on the boat.
  • In Brenna Yovanoff's debut The Replacement, the main character Mackie is a changeling (or a castoff, or a child left in someone else's bed... the Morrigan gives a lot of names). There is a rather sinister purpose to the child-switching here. The faeries (although they're never named as such) don't want a pet or anything nice like that. No, what they want is a child for the Lady to sacrifice. What's more, the fae kids who get switched into the human world usually don't survive, due to their weaksauce weaknesses of being allergic to iron and blood. Mackie only survived to high school because his older sister loved him so much. The kid who was switched with his girlfriend's little sister? Not so lucky. She does show up in the book, but as a revenant to be re-switched for Natalie.
  • Rivers of London: Played with in Foxglove Summer, in which two missing girls are found wandering in the forest, and one of them turns out to be a duplicate after they've been taken back to their families. The twist is that the replacement is actually the real biological daughter, who'd been swapped for a faerie changeling as an infant without anyone realizing it had happened. In a subversion of how parents usually react to this trope, her mother still wants the child she's been raising returned to her, and to hell with whether she's genetically related or not.
  • In Mercedes Lackey's SERRAted Edge 'verse, the fey specifically only do this when the children have Abusive Parents. The reason given is that as nigh-immortals, Elves have a very low birth rate and thus value children very highly.
  • The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue is all about this trope — from the viewpoints of the changeling as well as of the stolen child. And there's a kicker; it's an apparently endless cycle, each stolen child eventually becoming a changeling in turn, having to steal and replace someone else's child in order to return to the normal world: sort of an "Our Changelings Are Different" take on the concept.
  • Somewhat akin to this, in Touch (2017) the elves come into our world and try to kidnap people with strong magical powers/potential, generally focusing on kids. Also, it's eventually revealed that Sarah is an elf who was adopted by humans, growing up with vague memories of her origin.
  • In Ruth Frances Long's The Treachery of Beautiful Things, the servants of the Fairy Queen were all taken. Jack explains that the queen could not keep fairies as perfectly entrapped in delusion.
  • In the Trylle Trilogy, Wendy is a troll child that replaced the baby her mother actually had, a boy. Her mother somehow knows this and tries to kill her when she is 6. When she is in high school, a "tracker" named Finn finds her and brings her back to her mother, Queen Elora of the Trylle. She finds out that the Trylle (troll) society has done this for generations. They replace human babies from rich families with troll babies in order to acquire their trust funds. They then take the human babies, who are treated as second class citizens.
  • In The Twelfth Enchantment Lucy's niece is replaced by a strange demonic creature by one of the fairies of the book.
  • In Tad Williams' novel The War of the Flowers, it is revealed that Theo is actually a changeling baby that the fairies replaced his parents' real son with, while the human child is taken to the fairy world and becomes an Enfant Terrible.
  • What The Hell Did I Just Read: A Novel of Cosmic Horror: A particularly eldritch take. In addition to the missing children are all really Fuckroach Larvae in disguise, there were no missing children to begin with. The Larvae fully brainwashed the "parents" into believing that they're their children.
  • Triss in Cuckoo Song wonders why her family is acting so oddly. It's because Triss isn't Triss, she's a changeling mockup made out of branches and other odds and ends by the Besiders. The story actually follows the Triss-copy as she tries to both save herself before she falls apart, and rescue the original Triss.
  • The Five Black Swans by Sylvia Townsend Warner takes place at the fairy court of Elfhame, where Queen Tiphaine has adopted humans twins Morel and Amanita and allowed them to do whatever they pleased. They cause a terrible ruckus by killing the dying queen's pet monkey, and shortly after Tiphaine dies the other fairies strangle them and throw their bodies on the moor to be eaten by crows. The other stories by Townsend Warner taking place in Elfhame mention other changelings. They are treated as precious pets, kept as lovers by the queen and other fairies, and when they get old they are thrown out of Elfham, which leaves them confused and obsessed with the idea of going back there.
  • In InCryptid, Johrlac (also known as "cuckoos") leave their offspring as Doorstop Babies with human families, and their natural Backstory Invader powers make their Muggle Foster Parents believe that the cuckoo was their own child all along. They have no interest in taking human children, though.
  • "Fairest of All": Deconstructed and subverted. Mahon and Siofra are both thought to be changelings by their parents as a result of being autistic, with abuse because of it. Both initially believe this and live with (also abusive) fairy folk, but ultimately realize they are indeed human, just different from most. It's clear this is simply a way to explain autistic children by people who don't understand them (as some scholars posit that such tales were for autism and other conditions).

    Live-Action TV 
  • An episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has a piece on a woman with Capgras syndrome (see below). The suspect, a video game addict with a nasty boyfriend, kept her daughter under the stairwell and refused to believe she was real, but had been replaced with another — unless she only heard her daughter's voice. But the minute she saw her daughter, the delusion would set in again.
  • One of the mysteries of The Family is whether or not the youngest son whose disappearance altered his family's dynamic and whose reappearance almost ten years later is disrupting things again is really the same kid. One of the ads shows him watching a video of "his" birthday on repeat until he can mimic the kid on the screen; in the series the older brother points out that he likes eggs now when he hated them as a kid.
  • In the Supernatural episode "The Kids Are Alright"... they're not. They've been replaced by changelings, who kill their human fathers and feed on their mothers. Meanwhile, the Changeling mother feeds on the replaced children.
  • The Torchwood episode "Small Worlds" involves a girl who is a changeling (unbeknownst to her or her family), and the fairies come to get her back.
  • An episode of Merlin (2008) has a variation on this one, in which a princess is not replaced, but is possessed by a Sidhe in infancy, as part of a plot to put a Sidhe on the throne of Camelot. The princess doesn't know the Sidhe is inside her, although its presence makes her very clumsy and uncoordinated. The plot is that once she's married Prince Arthur the Sidhe will take her over completely.
  • Highlander has Duncan being called a changeling by people in his clan, as he was found as a baby after his parents' true child died at birth. There's no proof immortals were really changelings.
  • The Haunting Hour episode "Intruders". Eve is contacted by a fairy named Lyria, who explains that Eve is really a fairy that had been taken in by a human couple.
  • The Magicians (2016): In a variant, Fray turns out to not be Fen and Elliot's real daughter, who died at birth.
  • Rather early on in Fate: The Winx Saga, Aisha deduces that Bloom is a changeling who replaced her parents' stillborn biological daughter. Bloom decides to tell her parents that she's a changeling at the end of season 1.

  • Folk musician Alexander James Adams was once known as Heather Alexander. His stage reason for this is that Heather was the changeling left in his place, of late returned to Faerieland. This is pretty much in keeping with the themes of most of his songs.
  • While it certainly seems to be metaphorical, "Changeling" by The Doors drunkenly plays this trope out.
  • Heather Dale's Changeling Child is about this. An infertile woman asked the queen of the fairies for a child of her own however, being Literal-Minded, the fairies gave her a son who wouldn't grow.
  • The Waterboys set Yeats' "The Stolen Child" (under Poetry, below) to music.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Norse Mythology: Trolls in Scandinavia were fond of switching their own children for human babies. The way to get rid of the changeling, however, was to treat it horribly and beat it frequently. The changeling's true mother would see the way its child was being treated and rush to undo the swap.
  • Slavic Mythology features boginki (water spirits) and their children, odmience, with much the same MO.
  • In Iceland the Hidden People would steal infants and leave their elderly in stead of the child as a changeling. Much more sensible than leaving your own child, just get rid of senile old pops and get a pretty little young thing instead.

  • William Butler Yeats ' "The Stolen Child" discusses such a thing: "Come away, O human child! To the waters and the wild / With a faery, hand in hand, for the world's more full of weeping than you can understand..."

    Tabletop Games 
  • Changeling: The Lost is all about this. Of course, the faeries in this case don't stop at kids, and the "changelings" of the title are actually the humans they've taken. The Gentry usually just leave something made of detritus and a fragment of their captive's soul in their place. Tragically, such "fetches" not only look human, but often think they're human and have no idea of the truth.
  • Ars Magica. Faeries do the standard "kidnap children and replace them with changelings" routine. In one inset story, a villager talks about having killed the faerie creature that had been left in their baby's place — and a nearby wizened stranger disgustedly mutters that they would have traded the brat back if the humans had only asked.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: In 5th edition Hags reproduce by kidnapping babies, eating them, and then giving birth to a baby that initially looks identical to the eaten one. They then typically leave their child with the unknowing parents of their meal, until the kid turns into a Hag in their teens. Previous editions didn't have any official material on Hag reproduction, though Paizo published an article in Magazine/Dragon that stated Hags typically seduced human men and left the resulting children in their fathers' communities, a backstory they'd later reuse for Pathfinder.
  • In Warhammer:
    • The Wood Elves are not above this kind of thing, although they seldom leave anything behind as a replacement. They tend to steal away beautiful boys from the land of Bretonnia surrounding their forest home, who then become ageless servants at their feasts. It is possible that stolen girls are returned to Bretonnia as its damsel sorceresses.
    • There is also a daemon called The Changeling, with the ability to impersonate others flawlessly. Though it tends to impersonate full-grown and important people to cause mischief, rather than replacing babies.
  • In Pathfinder, changelings are the daughters of Hags, who copulate with (usually unwilling or bewitched) human men. As in classic versions of the legend, the changeling will be left on a doorstop or swapped for a regular child. In the latter case, Hags being irredeemably evil, it's probably best not to speculate what happens to the original baby. Changelings are Always Female, and generally grow up to be rather attractive, although there is always some physical abnormality that identifies them for what they are, most commonly heterochromia. They are not inherently evil like their mothers, nor are they all destined to become witches when they grow up, although if they do so they will likely have a natural aptitude for it. At some point in their young adulthood, changelings will experience a psychic call from their biological mothers. If they choose to heed this, they may decide to undergo a ritual in which they pledge themselves to the cause of evil and are transformed into Hags themselves. However, they are free to ignore or reject this summons and choose their own path in life, making them an appropriate race for player characters.
  • In Symbaroum, or at least its Dungeons & Dragons conversion, elves have been kidnapping human children and replacing them with elf-children for centuries. The Abducted, as the humans taken by the elves are known, are usually reared to serve as ambassadors to humankind or as warriors to supplement the dwindling ranks of the Iron Pact. The changelings proper are a miserable breed, cut off from the greater elven lifecycle and usually treated quite harshly by humans once their true origin comes out.
  • In Grim Hollow, the wechselkind race are sapient golems in the shape of human children which are created by the Fair Folk to act as decoys when the fey steal human children. Etharis being the kind of world it is, these Artificial Humans are hated and feared by humanity.

    Video Games 
  • The Interactive Fiction game The Warblers Nest is about a woman trying to figure out if her baby is a changeling or not. There are two possible endings to the game, but both leave it ambiguous as to whether the baby is truly a changeling or her mother is simply cracking under the stress of taking care of it.
  • In Tales of Symphonia Kilia is this. The party returns to Palmacosta only to discover that Governor-General Dorr has been working with the Desians in order to acquire a cure for his wife, who has been transformed into a monster prompting a "The Reason You Suck" Speech from Lloyd. Dorr is then stabbed in the back by Kilia, who reveals herself as a doppleganger. leading to his death after the ensuing boss fight. It turns out the real Kilia died some time ago, and the fake one replaced her in order to keep an eye on Dorr, and monitor the experiments at the ranch from behind the scenes.
  • In Tales of the Abyss, this happens to Luke Fon Fabre. He was kidnapped from his home, and replaced with a Replica copy. The copy is revealed to be he character the player knows as Luke. The original Luke never returns to his old life, becoming the God General Asch the Bloody.
  • In The Sims 3: Supernatural, the backstories for some of the families in the new Moonlight Falls neighborhood are variations this. The fairy Flora Goodfellow switched Linda Rodgers' adoption to that of a fairy baby and took the human baby she was supposed to adopt. Flora Goodfellow also accidentally turned the Hoppcraft toddler into a fairy.
  • In The Curse of Blackmoor Manor, one of the Penvellyn ancestors was rumored to be a fairy's child, foisted off on her presumptive father by means of this trope. She was actually a foundling whom the man had adopted on the quiet.
  • Something like this happens in BoxxyQuest: The Gathering Storm as part of a sidequest. Sleeping in a certain house causes the entire party (except Catie, for some reason) to be kidnapped by a tribe of shapeshifters who live in the basement. Catie must then save her friends by identifying the originals among the imposters.
  • In Kings Quest (2015) Episode 2, Graham discovers that the Goblins have modeled their entire society after fairy tale books they found, including one that details this specific practice. Later on he encounters a human raised by Goblins as a result of such a swap, who unfortunately has to put up with All of the Other Reindeer. This man eventually meets the Goblin with whom he was traded and they become surrogate brothers, eventually becoming Manannan and Mordack, the Big Bads of King's Quest III and King's Quest V respectively.
  • I Was a Teenage Exocolonist: A setting-appropriate version of the trope gets discussed a couple of times:
    • Dys runs into the notion of human babies getting replaced by beings of another species and comes to wonder if it could have happened to himself and his twin sister, Tang. Both of them are knowledge-craving introverts who have trouble connecting with their peers and also see a lot of appeal in the idea of discarding their human body to become an AI.
    • During their childhood, Nomi-Nomi thought that themself and Rex, who are the My Species Doth Protest Too Much members of the Heliopause, were changelings. Their active imagination went as far as getting Teleportation technology involved in their theory.

    Web Animation 
  • In the claymation short Foxed, a little girl is kidnapped by fox-like creatures and forced to work in a mine. She escapes and finds a one-way window into her house, where she sees that one of the foxes has replaced her.

  • In Whither, Emelind is a literal changeling, but she considers the universe where she was raised in to be her true home.
  • Several subverted changeling tales (the Erlkönig tried to steal Toby but the Jareth and Javert stopped him, Jareth babysat Lír but King Haggard sent the Red Bull after them etc.) appeared in Roommates, but you know it must be common if the token fair teammate (Jareth) refers to the practice as babysitting. And he never messed up so badly to kill anybody, his father was not this lucky.
  • Otherworldly is a subverted tale in this regard - the five leads are Fair Folk swapped with human infants and raised in the human world. However, none of their parents (human or magical) were in on this as it was done by a (currently) unknown third party, the Fair Folk parents were left to think their children were dead or gone forever, and the fate of the original human changelings is still up in the air.
  • NIMONA: A flashback to Nimona's past reveals that she was once a little girl who lived in a village, when it was attacked by raiders. Nimona seemingly inexplicably gained shapeshifting powers and killed all the raiders, but her parents feared her and no longer viewed her as their child, and so gave up to the sinister Institute for experimentation. Legends aboard about a shapeshifting creature that on occasion assumed the identity of those it killed, and it's left vague if Nimona was actually replaced by such a creature or became it or in some way merged with it.

    Web Original 
  • Both tropes are explored and played tragically straight in the short story "Changelings and Fairfolk" on Strange Stories About Sad people.
  • This trope is used interestingly in one of the illustrations of The Warden by DeviantArtist Keith Thompson, where the Fey Folk's custom of stealing away babies and replacing them with their own as a spiteful taunt to the oblivious parents BITES THEM BACK IN THE ASS HARD. The Warden was one of the fairy dopplegangers who, as a result of the constant patience, love and compassion given by his elderly human parents, turned on his own kind in bitter grief after their deaths with the intent to dish out the same sorrow the Fey Folk doled out so generously. He now spends the rest of his days capturing Fey Folk and strapping them to his body, savoring their pleas as they waste away.
  • Invoked quite darkly in Moonflowers: A traditionally-minded Irish town tries to kill the homosexual Owen by claiming that he's a fairy changeling. His friends state several times that nobody actually believed it: Owen was twenty years old, had never shown signs of actual Folk lineage like being burned by iron, and nobody even bothered testing him to confirm the claims. Owen has a massive head-scar from the assault (revealed in-story after some different homophobic people chop off his hair in a fight), plus he's quite bitter, snarky, and prone to violent bursts of anger.
  • The Vancouver Canucks hockey fan site Nucks Misconduct depicts injured Canucks players who have to be replaced in the lineup by (usually less skilled and/or experienced) AHL call-ups as being abducted and imprisoned by cartoon faeries.
  • The New Hansel And Gretel: In one of Mathair's books, it is mentioned that at some point, kidnapping human children became forbidden. Mathair gets around this by ensnaring and infantilizing adults and caring for them instead.
  • Looming Gaia: Changelings are a type of monster created by the divine Allmother that takes the form of a normal-looking child, which constantly cries without sleep and is always hungry, while the real child is taken away to be raised by Allmother and her followers. She only sends changelings to replace the children of abusive and neglectful parents to ensure that they never want to have children again.
  • A Tumblr prompt has a variant where the woman is presented with two babies, one her own and one a fairy, and told to choose between them. She takes them both and raises them as twins.

    Western Animation 
  • Happens to Bloom, the protagonist of Winx Club: First she learns that she's a fairy, and then is revealed that her parents aren't her real parents, and that she's a princess of another world.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic uses the term "Changeling" to describe a race of shape-shifting bug ponies that feed off of love. While they don't go around kidnapping children and replacing them with their young (as far as we know), they did kidnap Princess Cadence on her wedding day so they could replace her with a doppelganger.
  • Gargoyles:
    • Xanatos and Fox's newborn son, Alexander, is targeted for abduction by Oberon and Titania, who want to raise him on Avalon. It's a bit atypical, however, because they're neither replacing him nor doing it in secret; also, their motive is that he's Titania's grandson and thus one-quarter fairy himself. Interestingly, when Oberon first catches Titania holding Alexander he assumes that she's doing the usual version of this trope and tells her to stop. He goes along with it once he learns the spoilered info.
    • Word of God says that in this continuity, Morgana le Fay is a Changeling rather than Arthur's blood sister, and that Nimue is the human whom she was switched with. Arthur apparently does not know the truth yet.
  • Trollhunters has changelings as a troll species created by the evil Gumm-Gumms, capable of assuming human form by swapping with a human infant taken through a portal to the Darklands. The baby has to be alive for them to retain this ability, and they don't age while in the Gumm-Gumms' care. The changelings can assume their true form at will, which is notably more humanlike than most other trolls.
  • Frankelda's Book of Spooks has gnomes operating this way, offering their services to children in exchange for their names as a front to steal their identities and turn them into new gnomes. Though everyone perceives the gnome as the child it replaced and concept art shown in the credits shows this clearly, the victim child and viewers only see the gnome in a Paper-Thin Disguise, which carries over into cameos in later episodes.
  • The second season finale of Hilda Hilda is changed by a trolls offspring after apparently drinking a magical berverage made by a mother Troll which at first seemed to be helping them.
  • The World of David the Gnome: Ends up biting a troll mother in the butt. She switches her baby with that of a farmer (because it smells better and is quieter), taking the human back to her cave to raise. however the farmer discovers the ruse and trails the troll back home, stealing his baby but not returning hers. He instead places the troll baby on a rock in the middle of a roaring river. Since trolls can't swim, the mother is powerless to save her baby. David agrees to save the infant, but only after getting her to promise never to try such a stupid trick again.
  • The Owl House: As Luz spends her summer on the Boiling Isles instead of at summer camp like she was supposed to, someone kept up the charade by writing letters to her mother Camila, and after camp ended, took on Luz's form to continue tricking Camila into thinking they were her daughter. This ultimately turns out to be far less sinister than it appears at first glace. The Doppelgänger (a shapeshifting basilisk by the name of Vee) was on the run from the Emperor's Coven, snuck through Eda's portal a few minutes after Luz first came through, took on Luz's form due to her having been the only human she had seen up to this point, and was immediately mistaken as the real Luz by Camila. The only reason she continued keeping up the charade for so long is because Camila was the first person to show her kindness. Camila is understandably shocked when she learns the truth, but after she gets over it, she tells Vee that she's free to stay as long as she'd like, and by the end of the series has officially adopter her as a second daughter.