the Dream Tree by
Charles de Lint
Tor, Hardcover: ISBN 0312874014 PubDate November 2002
Review by Victoria McManus
544 pages List price $26.95
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Known particularly for his urban fantasy, Canadian author Charles de Lint has also written traditional "high" fantasy (The Riddle Of The Wren) and science fiction (Svaha). Tapping The Dream Tree is the latest installment of de Lint's collected Newford stories, set, he informs us in an author's note, prior to the events of his recent novel The Onion Girl.
The stories are contemporary fantasy set in what might be a Canadian city that's filled with Celtic musicians, homeless people with tales to tell, hobs, elves, and pixies. There's one new story ("The Witching Hour") and an assortment of others previously seen only in limited editions or chapbooks. It's a fine collection for De Lint fans who missed out on his small press publications.
The collection is notable throughout for experimentation with narrative and point of view. "Ten for the Devil," "Forest of Stone" and "Masking Indian," for example, mix first and third person. The most experimental work in the collection, "Sign Here," is told entirely in dialogue.
"Ten for the Devil" is fairly typical of de Lint in that its heroine, Staley, is a petite fiddler with big green eyes; my one quarrel with his work is that these elf-like women seem to exist on every corner. However, the story is redeemed with a guest appearance by an immortal who just might be blues guitarist Robert Johnson and by Staley's contest with the Devil, which didn't go at all as I had expected.
"Wingless Angels" features a first person present narrator. It's a hard-edged story with an interesting idea about the angels of the title, but the climax of the story, to me, did not match the setup's potential. "The Words That Remain" is a slightly predictable ghost story that's enlivened by glimpses of what it's like to be a writer on a book tour. "Many Worlds Are Born Tonight" had an interesting metatextual approach. "Forest of Stone" had some wonderful images associated with death and pigeons, and a homeless man who might have been a refugee from the Arthurian saga.
In "Second Chances," the narrator gets a helping hand from Meran Kelledy, a recurring Newford character. Meran also has roles in "Big City Littles," "The Buffalo Man," and "Pixel Pixies."
Like "Pixel Pixies," "Embracing the Mystery" dealt with fantastic happenings and the Internet. I wouldn't mind visiting the funky oracular website de Lint describes. "Trading Hearts at the Half Kaffee Café" shows how dating can be complicated for a werewolf.
"Granny Weather" continues the story of Sophie, who can live in her dreams. It's one of the most traditional approaches in the book, but one of the best stories as far as structure and distinctive folkloric detail is concerned. The gift loaves in particular intrigued me.
I found "Masking Indian," which involved a woman named Marley being haunted by a Mardi Gras costume, to be a captivating story about creative energy. It's one of my favorites in the collection along with the new story, "The Witching Hour," a creepy ghost tale with some unusual twists.
"Making a Noise in This World," "Sign Here," and "Freak" take the grim side of fantasy.
"Seven Wild Sisters" comprises about a quarter of the book. It has a sense of fairy-tale timelessness that is a little different from most Newford stories. Regardless, those fans of de Lint who weren't able to purchase the original limited edition will be glad to see it reprinted here.
Overall, de Lint fans should enjoy this collection and new readers should be able to get a fair picture of the range of his work.