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Tapping the Dream Tree

by Charles de Lint

Waifs and Strays

by Charles de Lint

Readers of Ottawa fantasy writer Charles de Lint are facing an embarrassment of riches this fall. Tor Books continues its ongoing trade paperback reissue campaign, which has brought back to print books that have been missing since their original publication nearly two decades ago, while Subterranean Press continues its series of limited edition de Lint works, some reprints, some original, some illustrated. Finally, there are two new de Lint titles, Waifs and Strays and Tapping the Dream Tree. While both are collections of de Lint’s short stories, they offer two very distinctive perspectives on his work.

Despite shifts in setting and treatment of fantasy elements, a de Lint story is recognizable through its attention and devotion to human characters. While de Lint may delight in exploring the other worlds at the ends of alleys, or just around city corners – be they dreaming, the world of fairy, or the afterlife – his stories are always resolutely character-based, focused on the magic between individuals rather than magic from without. Even stripped of their fantasy trappings, de Lint’s stories would be just as compelling, his characters just as memorable and vividly human.

Waifs and Strays is ostensibly a collection of previously published stories for young adult readers, though all of de Lint’s writing can and should be read by young adult readers, who will find a sympathetic and understanding voice in the work. The collection spans 20 years, focussing on stories with adolescents and young adults in key roles.

Opening with a Tamson House story (a sequel of sorts to his novel Moonheart), the volume includes a section set in Ottawa and its environs, two stories from the seminal Bordertown series (a multi-author project, overseen by de Lint’s long-time editor Terri Windling, exploring a city where the human and fairy worlds co-exist), and a sampling of stories set in Newford, the invented city in which de Lint has set the bulk of his fiction over the past decade.

Tapping the Dream Tree is the latest volume of Newford stories. The stories in the Newford mythos add texture and context to the novels, but they also function as fulfilling and rewarding visits to the fictional land in their own right.

Many familiar characters are here – old favourites like Jilly Coppercorn, Professor Dapple, and Christy Riddle, along with such enigmatic figures as Christy’s companion Saskia (born in the Wordwood), and Meran and Cerin Kelledy, musicians and, perhaps, members of the fairy court. Locales return as well: the artsy ghetto of Lower Crowsea, the Tree of Tales and the Tombs, and Newford’s own urban blight all make appearances, their effectiveness heightened by the reader’s familiarity.

De Lint uses these familiar elements as backdrops for winning and unique stories. There’s a contest with the devil that might answer the question of what happened to fabled bluesman Robert Johnson, an invasion by online pixies, and a heartbreaking attempt to make a dog speak so that he and his owner might mourn together the loss of their one true love.

The final stories in both books are pieces of an ongoing saga of a young girl, Lily, and her family, who become involved with the otherworld. Set outside of Newford in the hill country (it becomes second nature to refer to the geography of Newford as if it actually exists), “Somewhere in My Mind There Is a Painting Box” and “Seven Wild Sisters” find de Lint exploring a pastoral milieu tied to the rhythms of the days and seasons that complements his more urban explorations.

There are, as always, journeys into the dreaming, into the otherworlds, but you get the idea: Waifs and Strays and Tapping the Dream Tree are collections of wonders, every story a discovery, a small piece of de Lint’s literary magic that the reader cannot help but share.