If you like fantasy, fairy tales and quest stories, The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly is for you. Even if you don’t think you like this type of book, you might still be absorbed by the themes of loss and grief in children. The book was nominated for the 2007 Irish Novel of the Year and received a 2007 Alex Award, which honors adult books that appeal to teen readers.
I honestly cannot remember exactly who recommended this book to me. It must have been one of the geeky-cute twenty-somethings working in the auditorium desk at Montreat. We had a long discussion about fantasy novels one night this summer. All I know is a week later I was at Malaprops in Asheville, North Carolina (another one of my favorite bookstores) and I found this book title written in my notes in my iPhone. I looked for it and decided I needed a fantasy novel this summer. The Book of Lost Things did not disappoint.
As soon as twelve-year-old David loses his mother at the start of the novel, I realized I was entering the realm of fairy tales and Disney movies. This was not going to be the typical fantasy novel. Connelly manages to weave in many well-known fairy tales throughout the novel. The familiar tales are told with unfamiliar twists. This is definitely an adult novel. The malevolent Crooked Man is hideously evil and the child David witnesses horrifying sights in the strange world he enters in search of his mother. Yes, we have portals, woods, even a Woodsman, dwarfs, trolls, wolves, evil princesses, and much more. I am a sucker for books like this one.
And the best part of all, David’s mother taught him to love books, especially fiction. She “would often tell him that stories were alive.” She told her son that stories could “take root in the imagination and transform the reader. ‘Stories wanted to be alive,’ she would whisper in his ear.”
So, of course, after her death, David’s beloved books did begin to talk to him and he was transported into another world where, indeed, his familiar fairy tales came to life and not usually with a happily-ever-after. In the course of this amazing journey, we see the often-petulant child David mature into a wise young man who develops empathy and understanding. He learns that everything one could want to know about life is found in books. Don’t you agree?
John Connolly ends the novel with a 120 page section subtitled, “Some Notes on The Book of Lost Things.” This is a scholarly treatise on the fairy tales mentioned in the book and each one’s origins. Each story is re-told in its original or most popular form. These are stories like Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Billy Goats Gruff, Beauty and the Beast and more. To me, this made the book even more interesting. Check it out and see for yourself.