This reading group guide for The Book of Lost Things includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
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High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the loss of his mother. He is angry and he is alone, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness, and as he takes refuge in the myths and fairy tales so beloved of his dead mother, he finds that the real world and his fantasy world have begun to meld. As war rages across Europe, David is violently propelled into a land that is both of a construct of his imagination yet frighteningly real, a strange reflection of his own world, composed of myths and stories, populated by wolves, woodsmen, knights, and castles and ruled over by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious, legendary book, The Book of Lost Things
. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Throughout the time that David lives in the imaginary world, his dreams are influenced by fairy tales, as well as the real-world personal and cultural tragedies that he came from. While David’s dead mother certainly plays a large role, which aspects of his life have a great impact on his dream world? Discuss the interaction of the real world and the imagined. What conflicts arise and how does David’s dream deal with these conflicts?
2. Roland says that life is filled with threats and danger. “We face those that we have to face, and there will be time when we must make the choice to act for a greater good, even at risk to ourselves, but we do not lay down our lives needlessly. Each of us has only one life to live, and one life to give. There is no glory in throwing it away where there is no hope” (page 175). What does Roland mean by “the greater good”? Does the greater good have different meanings in David’s imaginary land and the real world? Do you agree with Roland’s thinking on this subject? Why or why not?
3. David asks Roland what he believes in and the knight replies, “I believe in those whom I love and trust. All else is foolishness. This god is as empty as his church. His followers choose to attribute all of their good fortune to him, but when hi ignores their pleas or leaves them to suffer, they say only that he is beyond their understanding and abandon themselves to his will. What kind of god is that?” (page 177) .Why does Roland have this view? How does this conversation impact David’s thinking and the story? What role does religion play in the book?
4. Who is the most influential fairy-tale character David meets? Why? Which character causes the greatest change in David?
5. Comrade Brother Number One says, “Do we look happy? There’s no happily ever after for us. Miserably ever after, more like” (page 128). Does “happily ever after” exist? In this story? In David’s real life?
6. Roland claims himself to be only a soldier, but David thought that he “seemed more like a leader… a natural captain of men, yet he was riding alone” (page 206). What about Roland made David believe him to be a leader? What traits differentiate a leader from a follower? Can Roland be a leader without any followers?
7. David feels responsible for the beast that attacks the village. Moreover, David thought that “the Beast was familiar to him, that there was a corner of his imagination where the creature had found an echo of herself” (page 218). What does he mean by this? Why does he feel this? Is David responsible? Why or why not?
8. When David finds Roland’s body the book describes an important transformation. His “anger overcame fear, and his rage overcame any thoughts of flight. In that moment, he became more man than boy, and his passage into adulthood began in earnest” (page 251). Is this the moment truly when David’s growth began or was it earlier, or later? If it was not, then when? What does this part of David’s transformation say about the differences between adults and children?
9. There is much evil in this story, the crooked man perhaps the most evil of all. What is most evil about the crooked man? What does he represent in the real world? Is the crooked man the most evil character in the book? Why or why not?
10. David finds that the crooked man has been keeping the “essence of children” (page 315) in jars. What is the essence of children?
11. The crooked man offers David pointed advice, “truth about the world to which he so desperately wants to return.” He says that the world is a horrible place and that the life David left behind “is no life at all” (page 318). Is David’s fantasy world truly a better place than the real world? Does David have a life in either world? Why or why not?
12. Throughout the book many well-known children’s fairy tales were altered. Which story did you find the most changed for the better or for the worse? How did these changes impact the moral or the essence of that particular story? Many of the stories are significantly more violent; how does this change their reading? What does violence add to the fairy tales?
13. “Those whom you care about--lovers, children--will fall by the wayside, and your love will not be enough to save them” (page 335). Death is a theme that runs throughout The Book of Lost Things
. Is the quote of the crooked man the book’s central message about death? If not, what is? Is the crooked man right?
14. What is the book of lost things? In this context, what does it mean to be lost? Is David lost? Enhance Your Book Club
1. The first edition of Grimm’s Fairytales was published in Germany in 1812 and contained eighty-six stories. The second volume of seventy stories followed two years later. Read more of the original fairy tales by checking out The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales
. New York: Pantheon Books, 1944.
2. The London Blitz, as it was called, was Nazi Germany’s bombing of British cities in later 1940 through the spring of 1941. Although London was the central target, many other cities with munitions factories and storage facilities were also targeted. Learn more about the Blitz by visiting http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/britain_wwtwo/blitz_01.shtml .
3. Watch John Connelly talk about his books at www.JohnConnelly.bookvideos.tv.