The Thief Lord Summary
The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke is a novel about a group of orphaned children in Venice, Italy, who are being pursued by a private detective.
- The children are led by Scipio, a boy who calls himself the Thief Lord, and survive by selling stolen items to an antiques dealer named Barbarossa.
- The group is hired to steal a treasured wooden wing from a local woman, but they are caught in the act. The woman, Ida, reveals that the wing is part of a magical merry-go-round that can turn a child into an adult or an adult into a child.
- The group visits the merry-go-round, where Scipio becomes an adult and decides to work with the detective, Victor. Barbarossa, meanwhile, becomes a child.
Prosper and Bo are two brothers who have run away from their Aunt Esther who wants to separate them. Aust Esther wants to keep the younger, cuter Bo as her own but wants to send Prosper away to boarding school. The boys run to Venice; Aunt Esther and Uncle Max Hartlieb have followed them there. Esther hires a private detective, Victor Getz, to track down the boys.
The boys are living in an abandoned movie theater with three other children, Hornet, Riccio, and Mosca. The children are led by a very mysterious boy called the Thief Lord. They live in a movie theater, which they fondly call the Star-Palace.
The children get a visit from the Thief Lord, Scipio. He brings the children the goods from his most recent raid and tells them to sell the items for cash. The only person who will buy stolen items from children is Ernesto Barbarossa, a fat, shady man with an antiques shop and a large red beard, earning him the nickname “Redbeard” among the children. Prosper begrudgingly agrees to haggle with Barbarossa for a good price.
At Barbarossa’s shop, Prosper gets the desired price, and Barbarossa tells them of a job proposition for the Thief Lord. Prosper and Riccio leave the shop, talking so intently that Prosper runs into a man. It is Victor, the detective, who recognizes Prosper and follows the children. They lose him, but Victor decides to wait in St. Mark’s Square until the boys wander through.
Back at the Star-Palace, Scipio agrees to take the job, and Prosper tells Hornet about the detective who is tracking them. She convinces him that the detective will not find him. The next morning, the boys tell Barbarossa that the Thief Lord accepts, and they go to meet the Conte in St. Mark’s Basilica for further instructions.
At St. Mark’s, Prosper leaves Bo outside with Hornet and goes into the church to meet the Conte, who tells them to steal a wooden wing from Signora Ida Spavento. Outside, in the square, Victor has spotted Bo, and questions him under the pretense of showing him how to feed pigeons. Prosper exits the church and sees Bo speaking with Victor. He grabs Bo, and Victor begins trailing them. Hornet causes a scene, allowing the boys to leave undetected.
Victor searches for the movie theater that Bo had mentioned in their conversation. He finds the owner, Dottore Massimo, who tells his son to get Victor a key. The son is Scipio! Victor recognizes him from the square. Scipio runs to warn his friends.
The children capture Victor and tie him up. During captivity, Victor gets to know Prosper and Bo, and begins to like them. Meanwhile, the children go to stake out Ida Spavento’s house where they will steal the wing.
Back at the hideout, Victor tells them that Scipio is not who they think he is, and sends them to the Massimo’s house where they discover Scipio is the son of Dottore Massimo. Meanwhile, Victor sneaks out, leaving a note promising not to tell the Hartliebs.
The children decide to attempt the break-in without Scipio. At the house, they discover Scipio already there, and confront him about his lies.
Ida Spavento comes home and catches them. When the children confess to what they are there to steal, Signora Spavento tells them the story of the lost wing and a magical merry-go-round.
A long time ago, a merchant gave the gift of a merry-go-round to an orphanage. The merry-go-round had a wooden winged lion on it, which is the wing that the children are seeking. The merry-go-round is...
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magical, turning adults into children and children into adults. The merry-go-round was stolen one night, except for the lion’s wooden wing, which had broken off. Ida was an orphan who lived in the orphanage, and the wing was given to her by one of the nuns.
Ida and the children conclude that the merry-go-round cannot work without the wing, so the Conte wants to steal it. Ida makes a deal with the children that they can give him the wing if they let her follow the Conte to the merry-go-round.
The children argue over taking the offer, and when Scipio intervenes, they tell him that they no longer want anything to do with him. Scipio wants to ride the merry-go-round and become a man, saying, “I’m going to find that merry-go-round so nobody can treat me like a stupid pet animal ever again." After his outburst, they agree to the deal. Prosper realizes that Scipio is scared of his father, and that is why he has acted the way he has.
Meanwhile, Victor goes to meet the Hartliebs and tells them the boys have left the city, but Esther does not believe him. She says she is putting up wanted posters everywhere to find them. Victor decides to warn the boys.
The children leave to meet the Conte after Bo falls asleep. They deliver the wing, get the money, and, with Ida, secretly follow the Conte’s boat to Isola Segreta, the secret island. They now know where the merry-go-round is kept. Back at the Star-Palace, Hornet and Bo are missing, having left a note that police came.
Scipio returns home to find policemen with Hornet in custody. Bo has been returned to his aunt.
The children go to Victor and tell him everything that happened. He looks at their money from the theft and determines that it is counterfeit. The children are devastated that everything has gone so badly. They go to stay at Ida’s house. Ida springs Hornet from the orphanage.
Prosper tries to trail Bo and his aunt throughout Venice, but comes no closer to a plan. One night, he goes out behind Ida’s house and sits by the canal. Scipio pulls up in a boat and says he is going to Isola Segreta to ride the merry-go-round and become an adult.
They sneak onto the island and are discovered by a young girl with two large dogs. Meanwhile, Victor gets a call that Bo has run away from his aunt, and Esther does not want him back because he was badly behaved. Victor picks up Bo from the Star-Palace and takes him to Ida’s, but they find that Prosper is gone.
Back on the island, the boys realize that the Conte and his sister have ridden the merry-go-round and have turned into children. Scipio rides the merry-go-round and becomes an adult. Barbarossa arrives and rides the merry-go-round as well, but he turns into a little child, in the process accidentally breaking off the wing.
They return home, with a child Barbarossa and a grown up Scipio, much to the surprise of the others. Bo and Prosper are reunited, and Ida offers to let the children live with her. Riccio and Mosca decide to stay on their own, and Scipio works for Victor as a detective. Aunt Esther wanted a child who acted like an adult but was cute, so Ida arranges for Esther to adopt Barbarossa. A year or so later, Scipio and Prosper visit Isola Segreta, but there is no sign of the merry-go-round. It will forever remain a mystery.