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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Monday, January 05, 2004

Forests of the Heart by Charles de Lint. New York: Forge, 2000. ISBN: 0312865198

Charles de Lint writes what some refer to as "urban fantasy," much of it set in a fictional city named Newford. De Lint himself calls his writing "mythic fantasy," because it is based on elements taken from myth and folktales. Newford is a fictional city that definitely has the flavor of the NorthEast, but according to the author, is not directly modeled on any one city, but has elements of his hometown, Ottowa, as well as American cities from New England.

But although the stories de Lint writes often begin, at least, in a gritty, urban setting, the main events, the magical happenings that make up the fantasy element in the stories, often occur in the woods, the desert, or other non-urban settings. Sometimes these appropriately wild locates are not reached by traditional modes of travel, but rather through a journey of the mind, or by stepping through into some other, magical or mythical reality.

In this particular story, elements of Southwest Native American mythology are blended with Irish and English folklore to create a unique and powerful tale of magic run amok. But none of this theoretical and abstract discussion provides even the faintest appreciation of the book itself or of the author's craft. Part of what makes de Lint's stories so powerful is the detailed and convincing character portraits he draws. Real people, living real lives, often with an appealing creative or artistic bent: people that you instantly care about, appreciate and want to get to know better.

Prior to reading Forests of the Heart, I worked my way through two of the author's short story collections, Moonlight and Vines, and Tapping the Dream Tree. Some of the same characters appear over and over again in de Lint's stories, but often only in peripheral roles, as acquaintances of the major players, but the effect is to create a milieu in which reading each new tale feels like returning to a comfortable, familiar place. It is a pleasant feeling to have only recently discovered a writer such as Charles de Lint, and to realize that there are many more volumes of his work, just waiting for me!

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