“We’re all made of stories. When they finally put us underground, the stories are what will go on. Not forever, perhaps, but for a time. It’s a kind of immortality, I suppose, bounded by limits, it’s true, but then so’s everything.”
Over the last three weeks I’ve been highlighting the three authors who fill my heart with joy. Beginning with Roald Dahl, whom I was introduced to in my childhood, I moved onto George Mackay Brown, a poet whose words filled my backpacking years with wonder. Today, we have one of the founding figures (alongside Terri Windling and John Crowley) of my favourite genre: urban fantasy.
It was Deborah who introduced me to the world of wonder and magic that is Charles de Lint. During one of our many late night hostel conversations his name was dropped as an author I should look out for, and given our similar tastes, look out for him I did.
Late one afternoon I popped into a charity shop in Inverness and happened upon a copy of Memory and Dream for fifty pence. From the very beginning I was hooked, and have been ever since. For years I trawled second-hand bookstores, eBay and charity shops as I worked toward building a complete collection of his bibliography – and if it weren’t for the breakdown, I would have succeeded.
This event cost me this collection, along with everything else, but his words have remained in my soul ever since.
So today I present to you the magic of Charles de Lint; my favourite author of all time.
~ 8 ~
The Little Country
For some reason it took me months to read this book after picking it up in a second-hand bookstore in Flinders Street. A stand alone novel taking place in Cornwall and – along with several other de Lint books – starring a female character (Janey Little) that I fell head over heels for. I went into this book blind (there was no blurb on my copy) and, after a slow start, grew to absolutely cherish and adore the story, which combines two of my favourite things in the world; books and folk music.
“Why did men worship in churches, locking themselves away in the dark, when the world lay beyond its doors in all its real glory?”
~ 7 ~
The Onion Girl
One of the few de Lint books I love/hate in equal measure (and anyone who knows me, knows how much I cherish this reaction). For the first time de Lint told Jilly Copporcorn’s story – a character who had flitted in and out of almost all the Newford novels written to this point. A story involving child abuse, recovery, art, dreaming and the past coming back to haunt us.
Although filled with interesting ideas and beautiful imagery, there was something about this book that rubbed me the wrong way. I’ve read it four times now and each time the reaction is the same. No matter how much I love it (for Jilly is one of the great Newford characters) there is something off that I’ve never been able to put my finger on. Perhaps one day I will.
But don’t let my love/hate relationship with this book put you off. As with all de Lint, it is a magical read full of beautiful characters, interesting ideas and magical description.
“People who’ve never read fairy tales, the professor said, have a harder time coping in life than the people who have. They don’t have access to all the lessons that can be learned from the journeys through the dark woods and the kindness of strangers treated decently, the knowledge that can be gained from the company and example of Donkeyskins and cats wearing boots and steadfast tin soldiers. I’m not talking about in-your-face lessons, but more subtle ones. The kind that seep up from your subconscious and give you moral and humane structures for your life. That teach you how to prevail, and trust. And maybe even love.”
~ 6 ~
Someplace to be Flying
As with all de Lint books this is about the people and their strengths, rather than the underlying magic of the fantasy world the author has created. Combining crow girls, photojournalists, Animal People, imminent danger and an awkward romance this was the last de Lint book that I read, a few weeks before I became homeless in 2009.
“When we understand each other’s stories, we understand everything a little better–even ourselves.”
~ 5 ~
November 2006, my 28th birthday.
Wrapped in shiny paper and carried across the world by my parents was a first edition hardback copy of, at the time, de Lint’s most recent work. It was birthday present from my brother (thank you) and I guarded it with my life until the great sell off of Addy’s possessions, when it became resident of the Grub Street bookstore in Melbourne.
Widdershins is (allegedly) the last book to feature Newford regular Jilly Copporcorn in a central role. Following on from the events of The Onion Girl (so best read that first) it continues the story of Jilly & Geordie and throws in a potential war between Fairies and Cousins to boot. In all honesty, it is a spectacular piece of writing :)
“What do they say about meeting a bear in the woods? Oh right, you shouldn’t. And to make sure you don’t, you should make a lot of noise so that they will know where you are and keep their distance because, supposedly, they’re as nervous of us as we are of them. Which is all goo, except this bear doesn’t seem the least bit nervous. He’s giving me a look like I’m Goldilocks, ate his porridge, broke his chair, slept in his bed, and now it’s payback time.”
~ 4 ~
After lending this book to my would-be-abuser her only comments upon finishing it were:
(1) It was okay, though I preferred reading The Da Vinci Code (a book she knew I hated with a passion)
(2) So this is who you stole the phrase ‘home is where the heart is’ from. I knew you didn’t come up with it by yourself.
After reading one of the founding books of the urban fantasy genre all she could do was use it to attack me (seriously, isn’t ‘home is where the heart is’ one of the most famous quotes ever? How could anyone think I came up with it myself?) and then compare it to one of the most annoying books ever written.
For those who have never read Moonheart I heartily recommend you do. Set in Ottawa during the 1980s it combines antique stores, houses the size of city blocks, wizards, evil forces and a magnificent bikie names Blue. Full of love, mystery, action, and magic, this book has all the makings of modern fantasy that Charles de Lint is so well-known for; in fact, it would be the book I would recommend as an introduction to de Lint’s world.
“Remember the quiet wonders. The world has more need of them than it has for warriors.”
~ 3 ~
Forest of the Heart
One of my favourite times to go shopping in Melbourne was Cup Day. On the first Tuesday of November the entire population of Melbourne crams into the Flemington Racecourse to watch some horses run around a semi-circle. Well, almost the entire population of Melbourne, for shops remain open and thus need to be staffed – so I, driven by social anxiety, can shop in absolute empty bliss.
In 2003, I did just this. I purchased some CDs from JB Hi-Fi, a couple of T-Shirts from Myer and a pair of shoes from Colorado. After buying my girlfriend a present (some boots) I perused Dymocks bookstore and happened upon a brand spanking new de Lint book that I had yet to read: Forest of the Heart.
Combining elements of the Green Man folklore this tightly plotted story may come apart slightly in the last act but I literally fell head over heels in love with one of the female characters that I fear I may never meet anyone so awesome in real life. Some people compare their dates to rom-com actors and Sex in the City one night stands, I compare them to de Lint’s female characters!
“But, even those of us with less extraordinary origins – aren’t we all pieces of those who came before us? We carry the bloodlines of our ancestors and we form our beliefs from what we learn from others as much as from what we experience ourselves. What is important is who we become – despite our origins as much as because of them.”
~ 2 ~
Tapping the Dream Tree
One of the finest short story collections of the 21st century. I cherish almost every syllable of this collection so much that it pains me to not have it at my fingertips. I adore the cover art. I adore the characters. I adore everything about this book. Urban fantasy at its best.
“We end up stumbling our way through the forest, never seeing all the unexpected and wonderful possibilities and potentials because we’re looking for the idea of a tree, instead of appreciating the actual trees in front of us.”
~ 1 ~
Memory and Dream
What can I say about this book that I haven’t already said? I’ve written about it here, and here, and so many times over the last five years that if I were to link to them all I’d be here night clearing the pingbacks from my notifications.
First read in 2001, and on countless times over the last eleven years I couldn’t even estimate a number. This is the benchmark I measure every urban fantasy book I read. It was a major inspiration – along with de Lint’s work in general – for the novel I had begun to plan and whenever any friend asked me to recommend them a de Lint I would never give them this one, because if they hadn’t liked it, our friendship would have ended instantaneously amidst the grandest literary centered argument Australia would ever have seen.
These days, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
“I finally figured out that I’m solitary by nature, but at the same time I know so many people; so many people think they own a piece of me. They shift and move under my skin, like a parade of memories that simply won’t go away. It doesn’t matter where I am, or how alone–I always have such a crowded head.”
~ All quotes © Charles de Lint ~
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