Author: Geraldine McCaughrean
Publication date: May 2000
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From the indicia.....
All the creatures, dangers, legends, and magics described in this book were, until very recently, accepted as real and true by ordinary people living and working in a civilized and Christian Europe.
The Stones are Hatching centers around Phelim Green, an eleven-year-old boy living alone with his much older sister Prudence in rural England in 1919, after The Great War. He is both an unlikely and yet apparently predestined choice for supernatural disruption to interfere in his quite ordinary and sometimes downright dreary life....
From Chapter One....
Phelim had always thought there must be more to magic than rabbits or handkerchiefs - that if it existed at all, it would be too large to palm or to hide up your sleeve. If it existed, it would be something too serious for just a laugh and a clap, too scary to carry about in a trunk. Sometimes, when the winter air turned to a puff of smoke in his mouth, or hail regraveled the garden path, he suspected there was magic at work. But there was no proving or disproving it.......
Phelim's often unwilling participation in a quest to conquer and kill a beast of myth and legend is triggered by one of his household spirits, a Domovoy who has been drinking the milk left out by the lonely boy for an imaginary cat. The Domovoy tells Phee that the end of the world is coming, in the form of the Stoor Worm, a creature whose bulk encompasses most of the landscape in that part of England.
When Phee protests that he is no hero, the household sprite calls him "Jack'o'Green" and forcibly locks him out of his sister's cottage. In his flight from his old life gone strange and suddenly magical, he meets Mad Sweeney, an old soldier from Napoleon's time whose wits seem completely addled but whose inner Knowledge proves invaluable, and Alexia, a girl without a shadow whose name means "help". The predestined party of Green Man, Maiden, Fool, and Horse is completed by a shambling construct of a creature magically animated, which calls itself the Obby Oss and is on occasion more hindrance than conveyance.
The Stones of the title are the Hatchlings, the children of the Stoor Worm. Mad Sweeney describes them and their coming back into power, at this point in history in 1919, this way......
It was the guns that waked her. Them big guns shook the ground - set the leaves trembling sixty miles off.... Mines and mortars.... shaking rock into slurry.....The sky light as day at midnight. Enough to wake the dead, let alone the living. And the Worm began to wake. All set to sleep away ten thousand year, but no, they had to go waking her with their guns. The sleeper is waking! Her body grows warm..... Maybe three months, maybe three years...Meantime, the rocks under her keep on hatching... hatching out things as haven't hatched for centuries, things folk have forgotten to fear, things folk don't even believe in no more! Time was, people paid their tributes - salt, corn, blood. Debts to the Old Magic. Not anymore..... Now the Hatchlings are coming, and what's to shield us from them?... bugganes and the dracs and barguests. Picktree Brag, the boas, the triton, the ushteys... Corn wives, the nuckelavee, the boobrie.. Redcaps! Merrows! Kobbolds! All of them! Your grandparents knew! Your great-grandparents! ... But people stopped listening. No respect for the Old Wisdom. Now the year turns about like a weathervane, any old how, and the glashans aren't fed, and the yew trees are grubbed up, and the witches sniggered into nothingness, and never a piece of iron put up on a door. Well, they can all come down on us now, can't they? The Hatchlings!
The physical action of this book often takes a backseat to the interior action. As the strange quartet travel across the countryside, they are accompanied by two others.... at least in Phelim's head. As vividly portrayed as though empirically present are his older sister Prudence, whose constant past verbal abuses serve in the present moment to echo every self-doubt he has about this quest; and his father, long absent, mysteriously "gone off" these many years past, a man named John, sometimes called Jack, for whom this quest was originally meant.
A strange juxtaposition of worlds and ways of thinking takes place throughout the book, often leading to tragic results. Alexia, because of her hodgepodge upbringing, knows such commonplace "hedgerow" magicks as feeding a well with silver pennies and acorns to get enough florins to pay for their journeying, but she also was sent when young to study The Black Arts from a German magician who sold his soul to the Devil. This mixture of Pagan and Christian tradition may seem jarring, but at the heart of the novel is the need to believe..... to change the everyday world into a place where all possibilities exist....
Mad Sweeney is a figure of tragedy in his disturbed search for his "lost soul," but is often given the resounding voice of common sense in this adventure. His charcter, more than any other in this book, shows the truth that Right and Good are not necessarily pleasant.
Literally over hill, under sea, and through the fire (there are a few scenes not for the prone-to-bad-dreams crowd) this book takes us, the enthralled readers. It's well worth picking up at the library, and keeping an eye on next year's anticipated paperback release. The author is a true folklorist who knows her Folk.
Reviewed by Sylph
Additional Books by Geraldine McCaughrean