Charles De Lint is the most rare of authors within the fantasy genre…he is unique. In style, in language, in plot, in the very fabric of his tales which straddle Ottawa and the faerie realm. For this reviewer his pages always bring nostalgic memories of Enid Blyton’s ‘Far Away Tree’; he taps directly into the feather soft ballads of Celtic mythology, nods to the tales of animal magic and familiars that are so expertly rendered in the likes of James Herbert’s ‘The Magic Cottage’. It is a blend to which he has added the key ingredient of oral tradition resulting in a fantasy that is delivered in a style more bardic than prosaic.
It is only fitting after such a long time that this tome brings together his best works. Herein are a set of pages where those who love his work will demand to know why certain fables are left out, why others have been included. Such is the lamentable task of an editor with a finite print run and a wealth of stories to choose from.
I am not going to attempt to look at each story, rather delve into a few that stand out in this collection. Starting with ‘In Which We Meet Jilly Coppercorn’, De Lint tells us that “first you have to know what it is that you’re looking for – before you can find it, you see”. It is a short opening tale, an introduction of sorts where the matter-of-fact language of De Lint meshes us completely in a twilight world where goblins and humans interact in a symbiotic relationship based almost on a client system. “Coyote Stories reflects that “you and me, everybody, we’re a set of stories, and what those stories are is what makes us what we are.” It is this tenet that is at the core of De Lint myths and tales, drawing directly on celtic oral tradition, on bardic fireside histories. His stories are Ottawa’s version of The Mabinogion. As Yocky John puts it: “Harp magic’s heady stuff.”
“Laughter in the Leaves” is a particular favourite of mine. There is something oddly comforting about it. The unshakeable relationship of Meran and Cerin, the depthless wisdom they both possess based on great age and experience reaches right into the child core in us all and reassures us that we DO have parents still; those parents are there to keep us safe from goblins, bogeymen, dark magicks, mischievous faerie-folk. At the same time they exude that Canadian ethos of welcoming everyone into their home from the icy winter snows outside. The entire story is one enormous roaring fire in a cabin on the edge of a lake where thick sweaters and joy strengthens the warmth and security.
Another story that grabs the reader is “Merlin Dream in the Mondream Wood” – the story of Sara Kendall and her reawakening girlish awareness of all she has forgotten as an adult. At the heart of this love story is the statement that in order to experience one must first believe. De Lint is gently steering us back to our childhood delights and wonder, even as adults we can return with him to our own secret gardens and breathe life into our own Merlin, free him, and let the magicks of our childish certainty roar through us again. Even if “when legend and myth meet…everything gets tangled” it doesn’t matter because the symbolism of the endless knot in Celtic mythology is a guide to the paths that can exist if we choose to indulge in these stories. The aim, ultimately is to have “magic come awake in the night…[to] creep from its secret hidden places”.
“In the House of My Enemy”, a story with the message that “dignity was almost as hard to recover as innocence”, we smile at the familiar character of Jilly Coppercorn. We watch her as a sadly experienced observer in ‘Timeskip’ – a short, ghostly story that would please the likes of M.R.James. In ‘Freewheeling, insanity is given credence as freedom, where “you could only make art by setting it free. Anything else was just a memory, no matter how you stored it.”
Lastly, the story in ‘Old Man Crow’ gives us a conclusion, a revealing of the pathways of faerie that De Lint walks, of the people to whom he talks, realising at the very end that he’s “always got one foot in the otherworld.” It is this foot that allows the author to act as a bridge for his readers, drawing us kindly from reality into the possibility that the otherworld of Ottawa is also true, also accessible, also pervasive. We need to understand, De Lint tells us, that the real message is, as Merlin laments: “The forest is crying. It remembers the old heroes who lived under its branches, the heroes and magicians, all lost and gone now.” It is Charles De Lint, a fantasy author who has left the same mark on the genre of myth and legend much as the likes of Sir Thomas Malory, Christian Anderson, Grimm, who has found them hiding away in Ottawa’s twilight, turned oral tradition into words on a page and allowed us to remember them all again.
Categories: Charles De Lint