Charles de Lint treats folklore, mythology and personal magic with the kind of serious respect that give his stories a deep enchantment. His new book, Muse and Reverie, is a collection of thirteen stories set around the city of Newford.
Despite the fantastical elements of de Lint's stories, his characters and the lives they lead elicit a bond of kinship with the reader. Irish and folk music, art, and nature — all things that he has a personal interest in — feature prominently in de Lint's Newford stories, and so their inclusion does not feel pretentious. de Lint is part of a very active artistic community, and that passion is apparent in every tale told.
Still, after last year's disappointment with de Lint's novel The Mystery of Grace I was unusually reticent to go back to his work. Which was, of course, quite silly because I consider de Lint one of my favorites in the realm of mythic fiction (a term he coined with artist Terri Windling). Everything I had read from him up to that point I had enjoyed immensely. So when I saw that a new short story collection was being released late last year, set in the mythical town of Newford, I knew that, come March, I had the perfect springboard to get back into the delightful mind of Charles de Lint.
Whether they be light confectionery or more substantial fare, this collection is filled with satisfying morsels:
Somewhere in My Mind There is a Painting Box (4.25/5 stars)
Young Lily is on a ramble in the woods when she finds, hidden amongst the roots and leaves of an old tree, a painter's box filled with completed works and the tools of the trade. Her joy is increased when she discovers just whose painting box this is, a seemingly impossible revelation that leads to one of the most difficult choices she has ever faced. Reading this reminded me of every day dream I had as a child when I played in the woods near our home. A truly enchanting story that will leave you aching for a nature walk.
Refinerytown (3.75/5 stars)
A fun, almost too silly story of a pair of comic book collaborators and what happens when they find out that their brilliant idea might not have been so brilliant after all. For those who have read Onion Girl, Widdershins, or a number of other de Lint stories, this one features fan-favorite Jilly Coppercorn.
A Crow Girls' Christmas (4.25/5 stars)
This is light confectionery, a candy cane. This is the kind of story that reads best as part of a collection like this because, while a joy to read, by itself it is a little slight. But I loved it! It features my personal favorite de Lint characters (besides Jilly, of course), the Crow Girls, and it accomplishes exactly what Charles de Lint set out for it to do: tell a fun Christmas story. Though currently out of season, it will still make you smile.
Dark Eyes, Faith, and Devotion (4/5 stars)
Ex-con Billy Joe is driving his cab through the town's red light district when he picks up an attractive fare who asks for more than just a ride home…she needs help rescuing her cat. She's pretty, and it sounds easy enough. In Newford, nothing is what it seems.
Riding Shotgun (4.5/5 stars)
An excellent, sometimes disturbing, story about cause and effect, about grief and loss and life after tragedy…and life after death. It's a Wonderful Life is given the de Lint treatment in this strong addition to this collection.
Sweet Forget-Me-Not (5/5 stars)
I count among my favorites stories that are about young love, told from the point of view of an easy-to-relate-to young male. Why? Because I was there once myself, and I so clearly remember those tumultuous times, and the pleasure and pain that go along with the journey. This is a wonderfully told tale of a boy who falls in love with a fairy, one who in turn loves him. And while the reader and the protagonist are made aware that heartache is sure to accompany such a situation, the manner in which the young man chooses to grow from this experience, and the bond he forms with one of the older, forgotten members of the community, makes this the stand out story in this collection. This story reminded me of Ray Bradbury's novel, Dandelion Wine.
That Was Radio Clash (4/5 stars)
A story of the giving of, and receiving of, second chances. I really like the characters in this story and it works fairly well. For some reason inexplicable to me, the story conjured up images of Hob Gadling and Morpheus in Neil Gaiman's Sandman. Don't be surprised if you cannot get "Should I stay or should I go" out of your mind after reading this.
The Butter Spirit's Tithe (4.25/5 stars)
Speaking of Neil Gaiman, there are elements of this story that remind me of some of the vignettes in American Gods. The benefits of paying homage to the unseen, and the price that might be enacted when one forgets, play out in this slice of our protagonist's life. There was a small element of romance here that appealed to me.
Da Slockit Light (4/5 stars)
Though he has probably mentioned it before in other stories, this was my first introduction to the Old City, a portion of Newford that was swallowed up in an earthquake a century ago, yet remains relatively intact under the ground. The Old City has become the place for the unwanted to find community and a sense of belonging, but at what price? An interesting story about assumptions, presumptions, and seeing things from another's point of view.
The Hour Before Dawn (4.5/5 stars)
Private dick John "Jack" Daniels sees dead people, a phenomenon that hasn't really done much to help him over the years. Just when it looks like things cannot get worse, the cantankerous sister-in-law of his ex-wife dies and begins visiting him during the witching hour.
Newford Spook Squad (3.75/5 stars)
It is likely that I am being a little harder on this story for two reasons: one, I have read a lot of really good Hellboy stories, and two, I think this story would have worked better had I read it in the Odder Jobs collection, where it was first published, as it really stands out as not quite fitting in with this overall collection. That being said, Charles de Lint does do a fair job of presenting an entry-level Hellboy story. I am so fond of the characters–the big red guy and Liz Sherman being prominent in this tale–that I did enjoy it, it is just not comparable to the quality that de Lint produces when writing his own characters.
In Sight (4/5 stars)
A random act of kindness can open up surprising doors, even in a world where magic is real…especially in a world where magic is real.
The World in a Box (4/5 stars)
A man finds a box with the world inside it that only he can see. It has been said that with great power comes great responsibility. Charles de Lint closes this collection on this high note with a story about where true power lies.
As with my previous experience with the short story collections of Charles de Lint, this one provided a rich tapestry of entertaining stories that perfectly dovetailed with the beginnings of spring fever. Inspired by this experience, I visited my local library to add a few more de Lint books to my pending Once Upon a Time Challenge pile! Now that I have whet my appetite, I want more!
Artist John Jude Palencar, creator of many eye-catching cover illustrations for Charles de Lint books, has recently won the Society of Illustrators' Hamilton King Award for the cover for this book.