“I do believe in an everyday sort of magic — the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of synchronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we’re alone.”-Charles de Lint
I grew up reading fantasy stories, and I was fortunate enough to discover the wondrous worlds of Canadian author Charles de Lint. Known as one of the pioneers of the urban fantasy genre, de Lint is best known for his stories that take place in the fictional town of Newford. I decided to start reading one of his earlier works and ended up reading three in a row! I am always in awe of the incredible writing and the ease in which de Lint brings you into his stories.
32. The Riddle of the Wren
This is the first work de Lint actually wrote (but was published second). It is an absorbing fantasy read with clear Tolkien elements in place. It is an all-too familiar tale about coming of age as an ordinary person discovers that she is needed to vanquish an ancient evil.
Although the story is very formulaic, I loved how the protagonist was a young woman. De Lint always incorporates very strong female leads into his writing. What I loved best about the character of Minda is that she is portrayed very realistically. She views the worlds and beings she encounters with wonder and struggles as her powers grow rather than being just an all-powerful hero. De Lint is great at creating these flawed characters. The writing itself is very compelling and draws you into the story immediately. A common theme in his works is the survival of abuse. At the beginning, Minda suffers from physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her guardian. Where de Lint truly shines is in his ability to explore traumatic relationships and how characters find the strengths inside themselves to move beyond them.
My only criticism of the novel lies in its ending. After so much building up, the final confrontation is handled rather quickly in a matter of a couple of pages. Despite the rather rushed final fight, I enjoyed this immensely as it was a competently written story.
33. The Wild Wood
This book is actually in the vein of urban fantasy that would become de Lint’s trademark. Eithne is a talented young artist who is suffering from a creative block brought on by a tragedy that occurred some time back. Returning to a cabin in the deep woods of Canada, bizarre events begin to unfold. Magical beings emerge from her work as the world of Faerie reaches out to Eithne as she may be their only hope for survival.
The Wild Wood was the result of a unique collaboration between De Lint and real life artist Brian Froud. Over the course of a few months in 1991, Froud created several paintings, inspired by the magic of the world around him. Then he met with four authors, including De Lint, who selected the painting they liked the best and penned a story around the illustration. Unfortunately, only two of the four were published as part of the series.
I really liked this one a lot as De Lint crafted another intriguing story with a strong but realistic protagonist. De Lint explored the theme of loss and survival through the use of the magical land of Fairie. This would be a skill that De Lint strengthens in his later works set in the Newford universe. Another theme covered in this book is how mankind is harming the environment. The threat of the destruction of the beings of Fairie represent the harm we are causing to the natural world. Again, this is a beautifully written work.
34. Wolf Moon
Since discovering he can change into a wolf, Kern has been shunned by his loved ones his entire life. Now he is being hunted by a harper who wants to add his pelt to his collection. After nearly getting killed during his last encounter with the harper, Kern ends up being taken in by a small family who own an inn. Although trying to avoid becoming attached, Kern falls in love and grows close to the family. Will everything change once they discover his secret? As the harper gets closer, Kern fears for his own life as well as the lives of his newly discovered family.
I loved the reversal of roles with the wolf being the hero and the hunter was the actual villain. The small setting and reduced cast of characters work together beautifully. As most high fantasy novels are all about epic quests with the fate of the world at stake, this novel is an intimate affair that uses the fantasy tropes to explore human relationships, specifically prejudice against those that are different. Human lives and the ability to overcome adversity and trauma are the real stories that matter.
Charles De Lint is a master storyteller in the fantasy genre. He has a rare gift for looking upon the world with this magical wonder that translates so well into his stories. He is an inspiration to me as I hope I can bring some of his magic into my own writing. Next week, I will be getting back to the 1001 list with a review of a classic by the incomparable Charles Dickens.
“The most important lesson he had learned after leaving his parents’ holding, was that he world was wide beyond his imagining and held a vast wealth of knowledge and experience, that the small corner he’d known all his short life, was but the barest scrapings of it. He’d had only one objective in his life then, and that was to learn and experience as much of the world’s wonder as he could in the years still left to him. Not to garner wisdom as a bee might honey, or to miser his gold. But simply to realize it. The greatest crime of all, to his way of thinking, was to turn one’s back on those wonders.”–Wolf Moon