From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

A changeling is a creature found in Western European folklore and folk religion. It is typically described as being the offspring of a fairy, troll, elf or other legendary creature that has been secretly left in the place of a human child. Sometimes the term is also used to refer to the child who was taken. The apparent changeling could also be a stock or fetch, an enchanted piece of wood that would soon appear to grow sick and die. The theme of the swapped child is common among medieval literature and reflects concern over infants afflicted by as-then unknown diseases, disorders, or mental retardation.

A human child might be taken due to many factors: to act as a servant, the love of a human child, or malice. Most often it was thought that fairies exchanged the children. Some Norwegian tales tell that the change was made to prevent inbreeding: to give trolls and humans new blood, humans were given children with enormous strength as a reward. In some rare cases, the very elderly of the Fairy people would be exchanged in the place of a human baby, and then the old fairy could live in comfort, being coddled by its human parents. Simple charms, such as an inverted coat or open iron scissors left where the child sleeps, were thought to ward them off; other measures included a constant watch over the child.

Perhaps the changeling myths of this time period reflect the feudal political structure, where inheritance is the only real way to gain personal or political power. A monarch gave the throne to his first surviving son at his own death. When there was any doubt to the legitimacy of the child, the power of the very state could be called into question and a fight for political power could arise. This inherent fear of war caused by political strife could have been mythologized.


In Nature

Parasitic cuckoo birds regularly practice brood parasitism, or non-reciprocal offspring-swapping. Rather than raising their young on their own, they will lay their egg in another's nest, leaving the burden on the unsuspecting parents which are of another species altogether. More often than not, the cuckoo chick hatches sooner than its "stepsiblings" and grows faster, eventually hogging most nourishment brought in and may actually "evict" the young of the host species by pushing them off their own nest.

Changelings in popular culture

Literary uses

The changeling theme has frequently appeared in literature, especially in the genres of fairy tale and fantasy. Notable appearances of changelings in literature include the following:

  • "In Scarlett, the sequel to Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind, Cat, Scarlett O'Hara's illegitimate daughter by Rhett, is thought to be a changeling.
  • The Stolen Child (1889) a poem by William Butler Yeats, is about a boy replaced by a changeling.
  • Bortbytingen (The Changeling) (1915) by Selma Lagerlöf. Modern translation by Sylvia Söderlind.
  • The Changeling (1916), poem by Charlotte Mew (1869–1928), written from the point of view of a changeling.
  • Pickman's Model (1927), short story by H.P. Lovecraft. The story alludes to Pickman being the descendant of a changeling from a subterranean race.
  • The Broken Sword (1954), novel by Poul Anderson. A mortal child, Skafloc, is captured by the elves and exchanged for a changeling named Valgard. Although near-identical in appearance to the original, the changeling is a moody loner prone to fits of the rage.
  • The Changeling (1970) by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Shy Martha befriends Ivy, a classmate from a no-account, criminal family. Ostracized at school and abused at home, Ivy distances herself from reality by convincing herself and Martha that she is a changeling.
  • Changeling (1981) by Roger Zelazny. The novel describing the adventures of both changelings, maladapted in their respective new worlds.
  • Outside Over There (1981) a children's story by Maurice Sendak, in which goblins replace Ida's baby sister with a changeling made of ice, which melts.
  • Faerie Tale by Raymond E. Feist (1988) The discovery of a fairie mound in upstate New York leads to dangerous contact between the human and fairie worlds, including a changeling exchange
  • The Iron Dragon's Daughter (1993) by Michael Swanwick. Jane, the heroine, is a changeling who was stolen by the fairies to work in a factory.
  • The Moorchild (1997) by Eloise McGraw. The protagonist of this Newbery Honor-winning novel is a fairy-born child who is forced to become a changeling.
  • Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (1999) by Gregory Maguire. Clara is believed to be a changeling.
  • Tithe : A Modern Faerie Tale (2002) by Holly Black. The protagonist, Kaye, discovers that she is a changeling who has been magically made to look like a human.
  • Low Red Moon (2003), "So Runs the World Away", "The Dead and the Moonstruck" (both in To Charles Fort, With Love, 2005), and Daughter of Hounds (2007) by Caitlín R. Kiernan. Changelings are referred to as the Children of the Cuckoo and are raised to serve a subterranean race of ghouls called the ghul or the Hounds of Cain.
  • The War of the Flowers (2003) by Tad Williams. Theo is revealed to be a changeling.
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (2004) by Susanna Clarke. The man with the thistle down hair, a fairy, switches Arabella Woodhope Strange with an enchanted moss-oak log made into a copy of her. The changeling copy dies three days later.
  • Stones Unturned (2006), third book in The Menagerie series by Christopher Golden and Thomas E. Sniegoski. Principal character Danny Ferrick is a changeling.
  • Faery Baby (2006) by Lin Spicer. The main character Faery Baby is swapped with a human child as she experiences 'failure to thrive'. Her name is later turned to Fae. Her parents were Titania and Oberon who reluctantly switched her.
  • Poison (2006) by Chris Wooding. The main character, Poison, sets out on a journey to find her little sister Azalea, who is swapped for a changeling.
  • Changeling (2006) by Delia Sherman Neef is a human changeling.
  • The Stolen Child (2006) by Keith Donohue. The main character, Henry, is taken by changelings and replaced by one. The novel bounces between Henry's and the changeling's stories every other chapter and is based on Yeats' poem by the same name.
  • In a field guide telling all of the creatures in the Spiderwick Chronicles universe, a changeling is mentioned as a fairy child disguised as the real child. Some distinguishing features are the massive appitite, odd way of speaking, and may even lure his "family" to his real family.
  • Bedtime Story for a Stolen Child (2010) by Anna Mayle. About Leinad, kidnapped by faeries as a child and a changeling, who replaced him in his life as Daniel.
  • The Replacement (2010) by Brenna Yovanoff. The main character Mackie Doyle is changeling who must face his supernatural origin and enter the underworld of the Slag Heaps in order to rescue his friend's baby sister.
  • In the Trylle Trilogy (2010), written by Amanda Hocking, the main character Wendy Everly finds out she was switched at birth, discovering a modern troll community in Minnesota.
  • In Julian May's "Saga of Pliocene Exile," aliens that landed on earth 6 million years ago (and interbred with humans from time to time) were responsible for all the human changeling and fairy-kind myths around the world.
  • Four grown changelings appear in Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files, especially the book Summer Knight. These are in essence half-and-half, part fairy and part human, nearing the age where they must choose to be either fully human or fully fae for the rest of their lives. By the end of Summer Knight two have chosen fairy and two human.
  • Patricia A. McKillip's The Changeling Sea is partly the tale of the changeling sons of an island king.


  • A Midsummer Night's Dream (1596?), play by William Shakespeare. Titania and Oberon, the fairy queen and king, fight over the possession of a human boy for whom a changeling had been exchanged, creating the basis for the dramatic conflict of the play.
  • The Winter's Tale (1611?), another play by William Shakespeare. A shepherd is told that he should be rich by the fairies, and tells his son to hurry up and open the bearing cloth of a baby he finds, assuming that the baby was "changeling" and there would be money in the bearing cloth.
  • The Silver Bough (2008), musical directed by Kath Burlinson in association with Youth Music Theatre: UK, inspired by Scottish traditions. Three mothers have their children exchanged for changelings as they turn their backs to hang up laundry in one scene
  • "Changeling", episode 12 of the 3rd season of the TV series So Weird. Annie and the boys are stuck babysitting a changeling.
  • "The Kids Are Alright", episode 2 of the 3rd season of the US TV series Supernatural. Sam and Dean discover that many of the neighborhood children are actually changelings, following several mysterious deaths in the neighborhood. In this episode the changelings are controlled by a mother changeling who feeds on the kidnapped children. Her children in turn feed on the mothers of the kids they replace, until Sam kills the mother by torching her, thereby killing her offspring.
  • In the UK TV series Merlin episode "Changeling", Arthur almost marries a princess who turns out to be a changeling, however, in this case, the changeling is the actual princess who has been possessed at birth by a fairy, not replaced by one. Merlin frees her by using a potion that forces the fairy from her, returning her to normal.
  • In Caryl Churchill's play The Skriker, main character Josie kills her baby because she was convinced it was a changeling - given that the title character is a fairy, this may in fact be true.
  • "Changeling" Shadowrun (1992), by Chris Kubasik, main character goblinizes into a troll.
  • The Daisy Chain

Comics and games

  • Hellboy: The Corpse, comic book short story by Mike Mignola. A changeling known as Gruagach swears revenge against Hellboy and becomes a recurring antagonist, determined to kill Hellboy by any means necessary and, through doing so, save his race from fading out of existence.
  • Changeling: the Lost (2007), role-playing game by White Wolf. Humans are stolen by malicious or inscrutable faerie lords, transformed into fae creatures, and then escaped back to our world. An earlier White Wolf game, Changeling: The Dreaming (1995), used a different definition of "changeling".
  • Magic: The Gathering, collectible card game. Changelings are childlike creatures that impulsively mimic creatures around them. They were introduced in the Lorwyn expansion block, which was notably inspired by European folklore. One of the cards is "Crib Swap" which depicts the replacement of a baby with a small changeling.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Changeling" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools