Henry Day is 7 years old when he runs away into the woods near his home. He's kidnapped by the fairies who live in the woods, and a fairy “changeling” is put in his place. Henry is newly named “Aniday” by the fairies, and the changeling is successful in convincing all but his new father that he is “Henry.”
The fairies or “hobgoblins” are essentially a feral band of orphans living by whatever they can find edible in the woods, and stealing from the town. Aniday longs to go back to his life and his family, but he does not clearly remember who or where they are. The fairies discourage remembering because there is no going back. In fact, Aniday is severely beaten when he by chance, comes face to face with his actual father. His life as a fairy is made bearable by trips to the library at night. The fairies snitch books, and read them in the library's crawl space. He works to maintain his writing skills with stolen bits of paper and pencils. He writes down all he can remember of his former life, and what is happening to him now. He grows close to Speck, a girl fairy.
The changeling Henry Day's family is surprised when he suddenly has musical ability. His mother strongly encourages this while it makes his father suspicious. Still, Henry is provided with music lessons, and then a piano. It's an ever present effort to act the way the real Henry would, and to force his body to grow and age. Henry is racked by guilt about the child stolen away so that he could have a chance to be human again. Now that he has a human life, he is fearful of running into the fairies that he now loathes. He strives to remember the child he was over 100 years earlier when he was first stolen by the fairies. He recalls snatches of German, the voice of his father, and a piano in a Victorian parlor. He eventually marries, and longs to tell his wife who he really is, but he is too afraid she will reject him. They have a little boy named Edward. Henry lives in fear that his own child will be in turn stolen by the fairies.
Henry with his investigating, eventually finds out the details of who he was before he was first stolen. It makes him even more confused about the right and wrong of the fairies' stealing of children in order to get a human life of their own. Aniday and Henry both feel a need to sort out their feelings, Henry through a symphony for his wife, and Aniday through a book for Speck who has left the fairy community. The two characters are both drawn and repelled by the proximity of the other..
This book was inspired by the poem the Stolen Child by Yeats. In this book, the human world and the fairy world are both “full of weeping,” however both main characters find the way to make sense of their experience.
This report prepared by Susan Coffey