October 2010

Colleen Mondor

fiction

The Very Best of Charles de Lint and Muse and Reverie by Charles de Lint

Author and musician Charles de Lint is considered the pioneer of urban fantasy, the one who brought readers the very notion that the real world could brush up against another more mysterious one on average city streets. His most complex creation is the city of Newford, a Canadian anytown that is populated with artists and writers (many of them students at the local college) who find themselves immersed in adventures large and small that all involve ghosts, goblins, fairies, and a variety of other woodland creatures and animal spirits. He is also well known for the level of grittiness his stories possess, often focusing on the abused and abandoned, and sparing readers little as he writes of sorrow and grace in the same sentence. In other words, Disney does not live in de Lint’s world, nor does pointless romance, staged drama, or false terror. His is fantasy deeply ingrained in the real world, and his words have a lot more staying power than most. When he is at his best, he can be quietly devastating, and his two most recent collections are an excellent way to enter his world and discover what this author is capable of. 

The Very Best of Charles de Lint, new this summer from Tachyon, is comprised primarily of fan-selected stories. They reach back more than two decades, introducing many of de Lint’s most popular and enduring characters, while also providing examples of his non-Newforld fiction. Jilly Coppercorn and Geordie Riddell, whose friendship culminates in the recent novel The Onion Girl, are both represented here, in the goblin tale “The Stone Drum” and the saddest time travel story ever, “Timeskip.” Jilly’s friends are also present, including Sophie, with the classic “Mr. Truepenny’s Book Emporium and Gallery,” a story about the place I wish I visited in my dreams (along with every other bibliophile in the world); the candy-addicted, frenetic, and wild crow girls in a story named for them (think powerful animal spirits with ADHD); and the introspective writer Christy Riddell, who loves writing about Newford and his girlfriend Saskia, and is smart enough to know that neither will ever be anything other than magic. “The Fields Beyond the Fields” is a writer’s tale, first and foremost, and that makes it a forever favorite of mine. 

There are tales that move beyond Newford, including the brush against high fantasy of “Into the Green”; the Ottawa-based “Merlin Dreams in the Mondream Wood,” which is set in Tamson House, the magical home that stretches a city block from de Lint’s classic novel Moonheart; and a series of stories sharing the backstory of Meran and Cerin, who ultimately live in Newford, but in these instances, are present in much older environments. (Meran in particular goes waaaaaay back, but the not-being-human thing helps with longevity.) 

Last year, Tor released in paperback a strictly Newford collection, Muse and Reverie. This includes stories previously published in a variety of anthologies or as limited edition chapbooks. Although few familiar faces appear in this title, it does feature several stories that should not be missed. “Refinerytown” includes references to real writer Nina Kiriki Hoffman and editor Sharyn November (the only time, de Lint admits in the introduction, he has ever done this), as it chronicles the creative process behind returning character Sophie’s new comic book. It would all be very writerly in the best geeky way, if it didn’t include some oil town fairies with serious opinions about how they should be portrayed in print. Sometimes our inspirations really do become impossible to control -- ask any writer who has ever seen a plot turn take a sudden and bizarre turn, and the whole fairy thing won’t seem so fantastic. 

“Dark Eyes, Faith and Devotion” is an interesting tale of cats and ownership (not what you think), and in “Sweet Forget-Me-Not,” a teen takes a chance on wild romance and ends up with something he never expected, even though he saw it coming from the very beginning.

In a salute to Joe Strummer (to whom de Lint dedicates the collection, along with Johnny Cash), “That Was Radio Clash” is about making the right choices, taking chances, and a little bit of wish fulfillment -- but you have to work for it, too. (This story is found in the Very Best collection as well.) “The Butter Spirit’s Tithe” is about being very careful if you should meet someone from the other worlds, and “Da Slockit Light” (which includes Meran and Cerin) is about going to said other worlds, and how very scary getting back can be. De Lint also throws in a contribution to a Hellboy anthology with “Newford Spook Squad,” which is flat-out fun -- as long as you avoid the big creepy thing in the sewer. (If there’s one thing I learned from Stephen King, it is that one should never go unprepared into underground tunnels; de Lint has only reinforced that with these stories.) 

The standout for me, though, is “Riding Shotgun,” which should just be about the long-held guilt of a brother who was with his sibling in a tragic car accident, but becomes a ride into the past, and then an alternate future that reveals things that turn any preconceived notions you have completely on their heads. De Lint surprises with “Riding Shotgun,” and adds a sense of urgency to a tale that seems destined for cliché, and instead becomes a shocker. Good stuff. 

Combined, these collections are a most enjoyable way to get a taste of de Lint’s style, and set readers well on the path to understanding the people and places that inspire this unusual author. If I had to choose one, I would go with the Very Best collection, as it is larger and broader in content. I would sorely miss “Riding Shotgun,” though, and really, the best bet is to go for both and then move forward from there to the vast backlist that de Lint has waiting for you to discover. 

The Very Best of Charles de Lint
Tachyon
ISBN: 1892391961
432 Pages 

Muse and Reverie: A Newford Collection by Charles de Lint
Tor
ISBN: 0765323400
352 Pages