Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s children’s novel, The Moorchild
1996, follows the life of Moql, a half-human and half-Folk girl who is banished from the magical fae community and forced to live as a human child. An outsider in both worlds, Moql, now known by her human name Saaski, struggles to cope with her alienation and to build her own identity. McGraw dedicates the book “to all children who have ever felt different
.” The Moorchild
won a Newbery Honor Award in 1997.
Moql is one of the fairy-like Moorfolk who live beneath the moors—wide, open tracts of uncultivated land—close to the village of Torskaal. No youngling of the Folk knows his or her mother, and time moves differently in the Mound where they live. Theirs is a life “without yesterdays or tomorrows.” Younglings like Moql leave the Nursery and move to the Schooling House where they learn their work: gathering tufts of wool, or cobwebs, or wild fruits, or playing pranks on humans, such as tangling the manes of horses.
One day, when Moql is out with the younglings and their instructor, Pittittiskin, the group encounters a human. Everyone except Moql manages to change shape or turn invisible to avoid being noticed. The shepherd sees Moql and catches her. She tricks him and escapes, but Pittittiskin returns her to the Mound to see the Prince. The Prince realizes that Moql is half-human, the daughter of a Folk woman and a human fisherman who was lured into the Mound. The prince muses that Moql is “neither one thing nor yet quite t’other. Pity, but there ‘tis.” Moql’s inability to shape-shift or vanish endangers the rest of the Folk. The Prince tells her that half-humans never work out amongst the Folk. Angry and scared, Moql worries what will happen if she doesn’t work out amongst the humans, but the Prince’s mind is made up. The Folk steal a human baby to use as a slave and replace her with Moql.
Yanno the blacksmith and his wife, Anwara, are puzzled when their formerly content newborn suddenly begins shrieking and crying nonstop. Old Bess, Anwara’s mother and the village Wise Woman, is suspicious that the baby, Saaski, is a changeling. She notices that the child fears the smell of iron that lingers around Yanno, and only quiets when given spoonfuls of honey. Old Bess tells her concerns to Yanno and Anwara, who refuse to listen. Meanwhile, Saaski continues to howl “her bitter lonely anger at her exile from all she knew and understood—her homeland, the Folk.” As Saaski gets older, her memories of her life as Moql fade to “dream pictures” that she feels closest to when roaming the moors.
Saaski is not like the other children in the village. She finds their games stupid and their company tiresome. Saaski has difficulty understanding human emotions, and her physical appearance also sets her apart from the other children. She has brownish skin, a pale fluff of hair, eyes that change color with her mood, and unusually long hands and feet. Saaski is full of energy and has trouble sitting still. Following Yanno and Anwara’s rules and village conventions makes her feel as though she is “living in fetters.” The village children fear Saaski and treat her like an outsider. They taunt her and call her names, getting physically violent with her. Saaski endures daily “pinpricks of malice.”
Saaski finds comfort in her friendship with Tam, an orphaned goatherd about her own age who is an outsider like her. Tam lives with Bruman, a drunken shepherd. Together Tam and Saaski explore the moors. Saaski takes her bagpipes along to play for him. On their walks, Saaski occasionally catches glimpses of the Folk and memories of her past life begin to return. Saaski also becomes close to Old Bess, who has come to care deeply for Saaski despite her initial fears. Old Bess teaches Saaski to read.
When gypsies come to town and Saaski tries to join in a ring dance with the other village children, they mob and maul her, leaving her with painful bruises. After the gypsies leave, the village children become sick with headaches and fevers. The villagers notice that Saaski is the only healthy child, and whisper that she has cursed the other children. Old Bess stands up for Saaski, saying that a visiting gypsy boy had the illness and likely passed it to the other kids, but the villagers don’t believe her.
After an encounter with more of the Folk, Saaski’s memories return fully and she recognizes her mixed heritage. She talks to Old Bess and plans to leave the village after telling Yanno and Anwara the truth. Saaski is miserable and angry, feeling that she doesn’t belong anywhere. On the way home, she is met by an angry mob of villagers who attack her with iron tools, salt, and rowan. Yanno saves her, but Saaski flees that night.
Saaski vows to rescue Yanno and Anwara’s human child from her servitude in the Mound. She visits her human fisherman father, Fergil, but he cannot help her. Together with Tam and Tinkwa, one of the Folk, they sneak into the Mound. Tam is overcome by the wonders and beauty around him until Saaski slips an ointment into one of his eyes that reveals the truth behind the magical glamours. They find the enchanted child and sneak her out of the Mound. Tam takes the girl to Old Bess, and he and Saaski leave Torskaal forever. Saaski is sure that she belongs with Tam, observing that he belongs nowhere, like her, and that he seems to like it that way.
The villagers begin to forget about Saaski. Yanno and Anwara love their daughter, Leoran, who is beautiful and delicate and thrives under their care. But Yanno and Anwara have fleeting memories of a familiar figure with a fluff of pale hair. Sometimes they even fancy they can hear bagpipes playing wild tunes on the moor.