Wed 18 Feb 2009
Charles de Lint — one of my favorite authors, if you hadn’t guessed, and one I’ve reviewed quite a few books by (here’s one) — has been slowly but steadily publishing his hard-to-find back catalog of short stories in four volumes, all wonderfully done by Subterranean Press. I pre-order these months in advance, and am never disappointed. He is, first and foremost, a short-storyist; his collections of Newford stories (those set in his invented North American town) have won awards upon awards, and have sold many copies. This volume of short stories is the last in the Sub Press series of his early works.
The seventeen stories in this volume range from early (published) pastiches, to the stories that later turned into two early novels (Into the Green, and The Harp of the Grey Rose), to folk-ballad retellings (“Thomas the Rhymer,” “Cruel Sister,” and “Gipsy Davey”). A few are just straight-up secondary-world fantasy — the Dennet and Willie tales, which I had never even heard of. A few more are just miscellaneous tales. One, almost the last story in the book (“The Graceless Child”), Mr. de Lint still considers one of the best stories he’s ever written.
I do have to admit: the early pastiches didn’t appeal to me that much. The language is overly ornate, and the stories are not in a world of which I have been much enamored. However, most of them are fairly short — three or four pages — and for those who appreciate Mr. de Lint’s works but also like an older style of fantasy, these will be at the very least interesting. Frankly, they were even interesting for me — to see what he was writing in the late 1970s, before any of his novels had been published. This glimpse of, essentially, pre-Moonheart CdL was interesting and edifying, and might even be comforting to younger unpublished authors.
My favorite tales are the ballad retellings; I’ve always enjoyed the tale of Thomas the Rhymer. (Novel versions include Ellen Kushner’s volume of the same name, and Diana Wynne Jones’s Fire and Hemlock, which weaves together Thomas the Rhymer and Tam Lin.) Including him in other ballads as either the nameless bard or a not-so-innocent bystander adds to the interest for me. “The Graceless Child,” mentioned above, I also enjoyed quite a bit; I’d read the factoid that Mr. de Lint still counted the story among his best before I read it, and once I’d finished the story, I could see why. It’s a bittersweet tale about finding one’s place and trust.
Obviously times and styles have changed quite a bit — these days, it seems that New York is publishing either epic fantasy or urban fantasy, and not the short, non-epic secondary-world fantasies that Mr. de Lint did so often in the early part of his career. However, I still very much enjoy these kinds of tales, especially in short-story length, and it’s always a great treat to read those by an author I enjoy very much. Overall, while I find this volume a little less appealing than the mammoth Triskell Tales, it’s a must for the de Lint collector, those who enjoy high fantasy stories, and anyone who is quite interested in his early works. 4/5 stars.