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Forests of the Heart

by Charles de Lint

Ottawa writer Charles de Lint is one of Canada’s best-kept literary secrets, one of our most accomplished writers despite an undeserved lack of mainstream recognition. His work defies easy categorization: it’s marketed as fantasy, but far removed from clichéd swordplay and sorcery. It’s not quite magic realism, and a step above standard urban fantasy – de Lint prefers the term “mythic fiction” to describe his writing, in which supernatural worlds overlap with contemporary society.

If there is any justice, Forests of the Heart, de Lint’s latest novel, should vault him from cult favourite to mainstream success. The novel involves the Gentry, displaced Irish spirits of the land who accompanied the earliest Irish immigrants to North America, only to find the New World already occupied by spirits of its own. The Gentry have a plan to take power, to find themselves a home, using an innocent sculptress and the archetypal force known as the Green Man. (Be warned – as is usually the case with de Lint, a brief summary does little justice to the power of his storytelling.) The novel is set both in the artistic and musical communities of Newford – the urban, northeastern setting of much of de Lint’s writing – and in a parallel dreamtime reality, “la epoca del mito.”

De Lint’s greatest strength as a writer is not his impressive imagination, nor his ability to seamlessly integrate the folklore traditions and beliefs of the Irish, native Canadians, and natives of the Southwestern desert. Rather, de Lint’s greatest skill is his human focus – the mythic elements never overshadow his intimate study of character. De Lint is a romantic, a believer in human potential, and his fiction is populated not only with creatures of myth, but with artists and social workers, musicians and runaways, all creating intentional communities based on hope and dreams and mutual belief in the magic of the world around us. To read de Lint is to fall under the spell of a master storyteller, to be reminded of the greatness of life, of the beauty and majesty lurking in shadows and empty doorways.