The Girl Who Drank the Moon Summary & Study Guide

Kelly Barnhill
This Study Guide consists of approximately 102 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Girl Who Drank the Moon.
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The Girl Who Drank the Moon Summary & Study Guide Description

The Girl Who Drank the Moon Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill.

The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Barnhill, Kelly. The Girl Who Drank the Moon. Algonquin Readers, 2016.

This novel is written in the past tense and is narrated largely by a third-person omniscient narrator. Occasional chapters are related in the first-person in monologue form as an unnamed narrator tells her child stories about the Witch. The story takes place in a world filled with magic, and it shows readers how witches, dragons, swamp monsters, and townspeople can either separate themselves and suffer or work together and thrive. Barnhill’s 48 chapters in the novel take readers to different places in the world where the story takes place. The three main settings in this story are the sad Protectorate, the Free Cities, and the forest.

The novel opens with Chapter 1, “In Which a Story Is Told,” which is a flashback to an earlier time than when the action of the novel takes place. This flashback is told from the first-person perspective of an unnamed narrator who lives in the Protectorate, and the narrator is a mother telling her daughter a story of local folklore and legend. The mother tells the daughter that there is an evil Witch that lives in the forest and it demands a yearly sacrifice from the Protectorate or else she will destroy the city. This chapter is only two pages long, but it sets the scene for the rest of the novel. Readers are led to believe that an evil Witch that lives in a treacherous forest nearby controls the Protectorate. Chapter 2, “In Which an Unfortunate Woman Goes Quite Mad,” brings readers up to the present tense of the story when readers learn that something called the Day of Sacrifice has spanned from the past generation in Chapter 1 to the present generation in Chapter 2. Readers learn more about the city called the Protectorate. It is a city filled with sorrow. No one in the city can thrive because everything in the city is owned by a group of wealthy men referred to as the Council of Elders. These men are in control of everything in the city, including the homes where the townspeople live. The leader of the group is Grand Elder Gherland, who is described as a vain main who “Liked feeling special” (3). The Elders live a very comfortable life while the townspeople live sad and difficult lives harvesting something called Zirin, which grows in the Bog the Elders own. Each year, the Council demands that a baby be sacrificed to the evil Witch living in the forest.

The Elders enter a home in Chapter 2 and find a mother desperate to keep her child. She climbs to the rafters of her home and refuses to give her child as a sacrifice. But the woman is no match for the powerful Elders, who call in reinforcement soldiers to handle the situation. The soldiers are named Sisters of the Star and they are an elite group of females who keep order in the Protectorate. They remove the mother from the rafters and they take her baby away from her as they drag the madwoman into a Tower that hovers over the Protectorate. This Day of Sacrifice has been going on even before the unnamed narrator told the folklore story in Chapter 1, and the day brings much sorrow to the town.

But Chapter 3, “In Which a Witch Accidentally Enmagics an Infant,” tells readers a different side of the story when it comes to the Witch living in the forest. The Protectorate is correct in thinking there is a Witch in the forest but she is a good and kind Witch. In fact, Xan, the Witch, finds an abandoned baby in the forest every year, and it makes her so sad that she rescues the baby and takes it to village on the other side of the forest where a loving family is always eager to adopt the child. The perspective of the narrator remains the same in all present-tense chapters such as this one, and the all-knowing perspective allows readers to learn what is going on inside Xan’s head. For instance, the narrator teaches readers that the Protectorate seems like such a sad place to Xan that it had “Sorrow settling over the roofs of its houses like a cloud” (20). Xan visits the abandoned babies each year before gently carrying them on a long journey through a dangerous forest. There is a road in the forest but the Elders from the Protectorate believe that they own it and they are cruel to work with, so Xan takes the longer route to avoid the men. This year, Xan rescues a baby girl with a crescent moon birthmark on her forehead. She finds herself drawn to the baby, and Xan takes a much longer route than usual because she wants to spend time with the child and show her everything there is to see in the forest. The longer journey also means that the moon waxes and enlarges into a full moon. Xan is a good Witch that gathers her magic from starlight and moonlight. She usually collects a small amount of starlight and feeds the abandoned babies with it on their journey to the Free Cities where they will be adopted. However, this year, due to the longer journey with the baby and Xan’s growing interest in the child’s deep, black eyes, she accidentally feeds the baby with moonlight. The magic is much stronger than starlight, and Xan knows that she has accidentally given the baby magical powers. It will be very difficult for any regular humans to raise a magical baby, so Xan decides to adopt the child as her granddaughter. She names the baby Luna and carries the child back to her home in the middle of the forest.

Xan does not live alone in the forest. Her adopted family includes a swamp monster named Glerk, who often sleeps in the Bog, and a dragon named Fyrian, who is very tiny and extremely energetic. Glerk is doubtful about the child because he is a very old creature, the oldest creature on the planet in fact, and he is concerned that a baby with such strong magic will be dangerous. Eventually, everyone in Xan’s family grows to love Luna, whose personality leads her to be curious and filled with a zest for life.

Chapter 6, “In Which Antain Gets Himself Into Trouble” remains with the same narrator but takes place in the Protectorate and five years after Luna meets Xan. Here, Grand Elder Gherland’s nephew, Antain, is training to be a part of the Council. He does not fit in with the other Elders and he often questions the indifferent practices the Elders use to control the townspeople in the Protectorate. Antain was a new trainee the year that Luna was taken from her mother. He is haunted by the memory of the mad mother hanging from the rafters screaming out to save her baby. Antain cannot move past this sad memory, and he often wonders what the madwoman in the Tower is doing and what happened to the baby that was left in the woods all alone. Meanwhile, Luna has grown into a feisty five-year-old whose magic is accidentally seeping out of her. Luna is unaware of her strong magical powers, but Xan and Glerk understand the risk they are taking with Luna’s uncontrolled magic and they are fearful.

Chapter 8, “In Which a Story Contains a Hint of Truth” launches readers back to the unnamed, first-person narrator from the beginning of the novel. This narrator begins to speak for the Protectorate as a whole and provides readers with an understanding of the cultural beliefs in the city. She tells her daughter about a castle that used to be in the forest. This castle housed many Witches and sorcerers who practiced their magic. However, 500 years ago a furious Witch forced dragons to breathe their fire into the earth, causing a volcano to emerge from the ground. This volcano then erupted and destroyed most of the planet. Readers learn that this is how the Protectorate was established. It was created as a safe haven for people fleeing from the eruption and the townspeople were promised eternal protection from the evil Witch that wants to harm them. This begins the novel’s strong theme of how stories can manipulate the truth and lead to miscommunication that causes harm. The Protectorate believes all of these things about the Witch, and they never stop to question whether the folklore is true or not. Meanwhile, Xan avoids the Protectorate because she thinks it is a sad place yet she does not visit the area to learn more. Thus begins a huge divide between the Protectorate and everywhere else.

Back in the present narrative, Luna’s magic is causing much concern. Xan visits castle ruins, the same castle mentioned in the story from Chapter 8, and searches for answers about the past. Xan cannot remember anything from her past and she does not know why. She visits the castle ruins and remembers that it was her mentor, Zosimos, who stopped the volcanic eruption 500 years ago. Xan also discovers that Luna’s magic will suck Xan’s magic out of her, eventually taking Xan’s life. She locates a spell that will lock Luna’s magic away in her brain so that Xan can stay healthy enough to teach Luna all about magic and how to control it. This changes Luna’s personality. The spell locks her magic away but it also leaves Luna with memory problems. Each time she is exposed to any type of magic, Luna zones out and disconnects from the world for a bit.

While Luna loses some of her memories, her birth mother struggles to remember her daughter in the Tower of the Protectorate. Readers know that the madwoman has been living in the Tower since her daughter was taken from her. She is under the control and study of the Sisters of the Star, who torture her emotionally and starve her of affection. The woman does not feel mad, but she is scared that she is. She knows her daughter is still alive. She scribbles maps on paper with her daughter’s location marked. Unlike the rest of the Protectorate, the madwoman never gives up the hope that her child survived the Day of Sacrifice. Antain, still haunted by the madwoman’s screams, visits her in Chapter 13, “In Which Antain Pays a Visit.” Readers learn that the leader of the Sisters of the Star is named Sister Ignatia. She is a frightening woman who works alongside the Elders to ensure the Protectorate completes their sacrifices. But the madwoman knows much more about Sister Ignatia than the rest of the town. She acquires magic during her torturous stay in the Tower, and the madwoman learns that Sister Ignatia is a Witch that feeds off of the sorrows of others. She refers to Sister Ignatia as a Sorrow Eater and the madwoman works hard to bring her happy hope about her daughter in the forest to the forefront of her brain and to erase all of her sorrow. When she finally does this in Chapter 16, “In Which There is Ever So Much Paper,” the madwoman causes Sister Ignatia to cry out in pain (131) and leaves the Sister hungry for sorrow she can no longer reach.

Sister Ignatia is angry that the madwoman has figured her out, but she is also upset that a pupil of hers has quit the Sisters of the Star. This is the first time anyone has ever quit and she is very upset about losing a talented and ungrateful student. The name of the student is Ethyne. She went to school with Antain and both of them had crushes on one another yet never approached the other in their youth. Now that Ethyne is out, the two quickly reunite, get married, and have a baby. But the child will be the youngest in the Protectorate on the Day of Sacrifice, so they know their baby will be taken from them. This makes Antain very upset. He devises a plan to enter the forest and murder the Witch, which, he believes, will prevent any more sacrifices in town. He presents his proposal to the Elders in Chapter 24, “In Which Antain Presents a Solution,” but Gherland is very displeased that this journey may reveal the truth: there is no Witch and no reason to sacrifice a baby. This entire time, the Protectorate has believed a false story created by Sister Ignatia and the Council to control the townspeople. If the people believe they are being protected from terrible outside dangers, and if they are fed false stories that keep them filled with false beliefs, they will be easy to control and the Elders will all continue to live happy lives. This is another theme in Barnhill’s story, and the idea of oppression through lies and a lack of knowledge come up often in the Protectorate. This oppressive force is the only thing that gives Sister Ignatia power. The Sister determines that she must enter the forest and kill Antain so that the townspeople remain weak, fearful, and, most importantly, sorrowful.

The book finishes in the middle of the forest, where most of the major characters have converged for very different reasons. Xan is now weak but desperate to make it to the part of the forest where the babies are abandoned. Luna knows her grandmother has wandered into the forest alone and in poor health so she goes alone searching for Xan. This then leads Glerk and Fyrian to search for both Xan and Luna. Meanwhile, Antain is in the forest to murder the Witch he knows nothing about, and Sister Ignatia has followed him in order to kill him before he can return to the Protectorate. The final character in the woods is the slightly crazy yet forever-hopeful madwoman, who has used magic to escape from her cell and her enmagiced paper birds to carry her from the Tower to Luna’s home in the middle of the forest.

Chapters 28, “In Which Several People Go Into the Woods” through 44, “In Which There is a Change of Heart” take readers to the many different character perspectives as they all wander the forest on their own missions yet they are all eventually going to end up together in one place in the middle of the dangerous forest. All of them meet in Chapter 45, “In Which a Simply Enormous Dragon Makes a Simply Enormous Decision.” Antain quickly learns that the Elders and Sister Ignatia have been lying to the Protectorate for generations. Luna defeats the Sister by presenting her with nothing but hope, further proving that hope conquers sorrow, and she reveals the Sister’s cold pearl where a heart used to be. Much like Xan, Sister Ignatia swallowed her sadness down; but, very much unlike Xan, the Sister has chosen to gather her magic from sorrow whereas Xan gathers her magic from Mother Nature. Sister Ignatia is defeated. She is taken to the Tower half as a prisoner and half as a patient. She finds that the Protectorate is completely different. Ethyne inspired the townspeople while the Sister was away in the forest. She learned the truth about the Protectorate during her training, and Ethyne uses the greatest power of them all to rid the Protectorate of its sorrow: knowledge. Throughout Barnhill’s novel, the idea of knowledge as a superpower anyone can have is a strong theme, and the author ensures that the Protectorate’s oppression is lifted when Ethyne provides the people with truth and allows them access to knowledge.

At the end of the novel, the world is more connected. People know the truth and their access to books and learning allows them to feel hopeful and to stay strong against any controlling force. The Elders are imprisoned in the Tower for what they have done, and Luna’s family lives happily in their new home. The townspeople are slowly accepting magic as a benefit to their lives, and Luna is growing into her place as the resident helpful Witch. As expected, Xan’s health fails as Luna’s magic reaches its full potential. She dies “Loving everything” (379) in Chapter 46, “In Which Several Families Are Reunited” and Glerk takes her back to the Bog in Chapter 47, “In Which Glerk Goes on a Journey and Leaves a Poem Behind.” The Bog is where all life comes from and where all completed lives go. Glerk was the first creature born from the Bog and he feels a close connection to his maker. He takes Xan back to where they both came from but promises Luna that he will return one day.

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