The Goblin and the Empty Chair


Written by Mem Fox, Illustrated by Leo and Dianne Dillon

Beach Lane Book, 2009

In a time long past, in a land far away, there lived a goblin who had once seen himself reflected in a still pond.

Eek!  It’s a:  Goblin!

Is that his hair or a shrubbery?

Is that his hair or a shrubbery?

When the goblin sees himself in the pond, he is frightened by his own reflection and resolves to hide away from the world and keep his face covered.  He lives like this for years.  One day he sees a farmer stop his chores, seemingly overcome with grief.  That night, the goblin steps in and finishes the farmer’s chores for him.  He tries not to be seen, but the farmer is unable to sleep and sees him through the window.  Over the course of the next few days, he does the same for the farmer’s wife and daughter, when he sees them being sad.  In each case, he is seen helping the family, but no one speaks of it.  In the morning, the family is eating breakfast and all of them are looking at the empty chair at their table.  The wife sets a place in front of the chair, the farmer fills it with food and the daughter opens the door.  The goblin wants to join them, but stays away out of fear.  As the family is about to leave the table, the goblin appears at the door.  He joins the family and the girl removes the cloth that covers his face.  They all smile at each other and begin to eat.

Although that is a pretty long story summary, what really makes this story so exceptionally touching is something that goes unsaid.  When the farmer looks out of his window, you can see a picture on the wall of his family, including himself, his wife, his daughter and a son.  As the family is clearly grieving, we can presume the son has passed away.  The story tells us that the chair at the table had been empty all winter.  I feel that the family has not yet been ready to let anyone else into their lives, which makes them a good match for this goblin, who had also been hiding himself away from everyone.

Author Mem Fox has crafted a beautiful story and I really love the choices she has made about what to tell the reader and what to show them.  She tells us so much about these characters through their actions that we really don’t need her to spell out what they are feeling.  The illustrations, from Leo and Diane Dillon, share even more of the story and make us care deeper for these characters.  Each page features a panel of action drawings at the top and grotesque goblin faces at each side of the page.  We never see the story goblin’s face and I think that’s an excellent choice.  To really enjoy the story, visit Mem Fox’s website to hear her read it.  She’s an outstanding reader.  (She even has a page with tips for reading to children.)

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that the only way to fill a void in your life is to open yourself up to others.


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