She hadn’t meant to fall asleep, but she was a bit like a cat herself, forever wandering in the woods, chasing after squirrels and rabbits as fast as her skinny legs could take her when the fancy struck, climbing trees like a possum, able to doze in the sun at a moment’s notice. And sometimes with no notice at all. — Charles de Lint’s The Cats of Tanglewood Forest
Let me turn down that lovely music that I’m playing here in the Green Man Pub on yhis quiet summer afternoon. It’s Zahatar’s The Little Country recording based off the music that Charles de Lint composed in his Little Country novel.
If you’ve not encountered The Cats of Tanglewood Forest which is illustrated by Charles Vess whose lovely art book, Drawing Down the Moon: The Art of Charles Vess, was reviewed by the author who wrote this book, I’m going to recommend that you go read it now.
I’m re-reading it this summer as it’s a very summery novel in my feeling. It’s about a girl named Lillian who may or may not have been turned into a kitten though her reflection in water is still human though everyone else says she’s a kitten, the odyssey she undertakes she takes in the ancient forest near her home and the magical creatures she meets. It’s absoulutely charming.
The hardcover edition is readily available and I strongly recommend that you purchase that version of it as it is quite stellar. The various online booksellers have it available at reasonable prices.
It has a sort of prequel in A Circle of Cats. Though that was intended to be the prequel to the de Lint/Vess Subterranean Press collaboration Seven Wild Sisters, it can also be considered a prequel to this work in my view. It gets complicated. Really. It does. Some of the characters will that show up in Seven Wild Sisters will be in Medicine Road. And that is a remarkable work indeed.
Okay, let’s just talk about de Lint work this time. Now this is not all inclusive as that would be a really long section, so I’m limiting to a baker’s dozen or so. Well, maybe.
Cat picks his favorite novel by de Lint: ‘A truly great novel has interesting characters, a well-thought-out setting, and a memorable plot. Forests of the Heart has all three. One reviewer said that ‘there’s nothing here that de Lint hasn’t done before. A satisfying but not significant book.’ I will passionately disagree with that statement, as this novel is in all of the aspects that I noted above (plot, setting, story line) a classic in the genre of urban fantasy. If you somehow have missed reading de Lint to date, this novel’s a most excellent place to start — though connected in many ways to the sprawling Newford saga, it is a novel that can be appreciated without having read extensively in that saga.’
A rather unusual novel by him also gets reviewed by this reviewer: ‘It was a typical winter afternoon as I sat down to read The Mystery of Grace — cold, wet, and a driving sleet falling hard, so it was no wonder that a good novel was in order! This is the first novel in nearly fifteen years from this writer which is not set in his city of Newford. Newford is a setting which has, for the most part, dominated his writing since Memory & Dream, which was published in 1994. Over the dozen years that followed the publication of that novel, another six novels, several novellas and myriad short stories that were also set primarily in Newford would follow, along with one work in the desert Southwest USA, Medicine Road. It is worth stressing before we get into this review that my favorite Newford novel, Forests of The Heart, which I re-read every few years, is also set partly in the desert Southwest USA. So I had great hopes for this novel.Were my hopes cruelly dashed? No, not at all as it’s a cracking good outing by him!‘
Grey gave us a reason to listen to this novel: ‘Charles de Lint dedicates The Little Country to “…all those traditional musicians who, wittingly or unwittingly, but with great good skill, still seek to recapture that first music.” A traditional Celtic musician himself, de Lint has peopled The Little Country with musicians and filled it with music. All of the chapter titles are titles of (mostly) traditional tunes, and there is an appendix of tunes written by Janey Little, the book’s main character — tunes actually written by de Lint himself. (‘Tinker’s Own’ on their Old Enough to Know Better CD recorded de Lint’s “The Tinker’s Black Kettle,” one of the tunes in this novel.) Any readers who are at all musically inclined may find themselves itching to reach for their instruments and try out the tunes.’
She also this novel a lot: ‘Medicine Road is one of a series of shorter novels by Charles de Lint, illustrated by Charles Vess and published by Subterranean Press. Seven Wild Sisters, in which we first met Bess and Laurel, was another. The book stands nicely on its own as a complete story, but longtime readers of de Lint will find the story enriched by former characters, bringing the flavor of their pasts with them: Laurel and Bess, obviously, but also Bettina from Forests of the Heart. De Lint also draws on imagery and myth from Terri Windling’s lovely novel, The Wood Wife, incorporating it into his own Arizonan landscape. It’s a delight to meet the “aunts and uncles” again, to feel their watching presence from the saguaro and other ancient rooted beings here.’
A warning here. She’s looking at the first edition of this book. I read it myself and it’s quite wonderful that way. You can find on American Book Exchange and the like. She says of it that: ‘As I was reading The Wild Wood today, I found the imprint of a shape pressed onto the words on the page in front of me. I was puzzled until I turned back one page and saw the same shape, inked in black: one of Brian Froud’s symbolic drawings. I felt then a strange connection to whoever it was who had taken this book out of the library before me, who had traced Froud’s shape for him or herself, pressing hard enough to leave an indentation on the following page. I shared that unknown former reader’s fascination with the shape. Was it a leaf? A feather? A spearhead?’
Her last review looks at an early Ottawa novel of his: ‘As with much of de Lint’s early work, Yarrow‘s fantastic elements are rooted in the Old World, particularly the folklore of the British Isles. The reader can see de Lint’s emerging ability, rough though it still is around the edges, to draw together the vivid, stylized characters who step out of folk lore’s vast tapestry and the harder, visceral immediacy of characters living in the modern world. Yarrow may be a fantasy, but it is also a fast-paced mystery thriller and a thoughtful character study. De Lint holds all of these elements together skillfully, but he does sacrifice some depth to do so. Yarrow lacks the multi-layered character development, for example, of some of his later books, such as Some Place to Be Flying. Yet, by the end of the novel, Cat’s Otherworld feels like a real place, a place with enough inner reality, enough substance, that it will continue to exist, in or out of dreams.’
Jayme Lynne hones in what make this author so unique in his review of Memory & Dream: ‘If there is an inherent flaw within the sub-genre of urban fantasy, it lies in the fact that many writers rely too heavily on established mythology. The familiar fantasy becomes a crutch, and holds the story back from fulfilling its true potential. The punk-rocker elf has become a cliché, as has the dragon living in the sewer. In Memory & Dream, Canadian fantasist Charles de Lint avoids this pitfall, and in doing so, sets himself apart from the crowd with his most complex, engaging and artistically challenging novel to date’
Laurie looks at another novel set in Newford: ‘With Someplace To Be Flying, de Lint returns to the fictional city of Newford, the setting of the novel Memory and Dream and the short story collections Dreams Underfoot and The Ivory and the Horn. With an ensemble cast of strong characters, some human, some not so human, Someplace to be Flying is a liberal mix of Native American folklore and a dash of Celtic mythology. As in much of de Lint’s work, the reader is reminded that magic lurks just beneath the surface of our everyday world, and once we have seen it, we can never again look at the world in quite the same manner. With Someplace To Be Flying is an enchanting addition to the Newford saga, and highly recommended.’
Naomi looks at The Riddle of The Wren, a high fantasy by him: ‘ Even in this, his first novel published in North America, there are overtones of what he is to become with time — a master, or perhaps the master of urban fantasy. I admire his ability to find magic within the mundane and to share it with an appreciative and ever-growing audience. I have yet to be disappointed by a de Lint work.’
Lest we forget, he writes stellar short stories and Robert looks at one of his best collections: ‘Dreams Underfoot is another collection of Newford stories, rather different in feel than those in The Ivory and the Horn. While that collection leaned more toward the “ghost stories” category, this one is much more inclined toward what we’ve come to know as de Lint’s own brand of fantasy: urban, contemporary, drawing on mythic traditions from both Europe and North America, and not quite like anything anyone else is writing. These stories are also what I’ve come to think of as “mature de Lint”: the boundaries between the worlds have become not only intangible, but largely irrelevant, the here-and-now is not irrevocably here or now, and magic is where you find it – if it doesn’t find you first.’
Before he created Newford, he set most of his novels in Ottawa where he lives and Robert looks at two of those works: ‘Charles de Lint is known as “the godfather of urban fantasy,” and indeed, it’s in that genre that he’s made his mark – he’s never been a writer of heroic fantasy: in a better than thirty year career, very few buckles get swashed, although the two short novels included in Jack of Kinrowan — Jack the Giant Killer and Drink Down the Moon — come close, something of a romp a la Dumas pere — by way of Harold Lloyd, perhaps. Both concern the adventures of Jacky Rowan and Kate Hazel, best friends who find themselves enmeshed in the doings of the land of Faerie that coexists with modern-day Ottawa.’
Next this reviewer looks at his best known work: ‘Moonheart may very well be the first novel by Charles de Lint that I ever read. I can’t really say for sure — it’s been awhile. It certainly is one that I reread periodically, a fixture on my “reread often” list. It contains, in an early form, all the magic that keeps us coming back to de Lint. (And be reminded that Charles de Lint may very well be the creator of what we call “urban fantasy” — he was certainly one of the first to combine contemporary life and the stuff of myth.)’
Sarah has one of those intertwined novels I mentioned previously: ‘’Seven Wild Sisters advertises itself as a modern fairy tale. Including the seven sisters, it certainly has all the trappings: an old woman who may be a witch, an enchanted forest, a stolen princess. But Sisters is not just borrowing the clothes of fairy tale. It sings with the true voice of fairy tale: capricious, wild, and not entirely safe, but rich and enchanting.’
Zina has our final, and shortest review quote, fitting given she’s reviewing, What the Mouse Found and Other Stories: ‘ Ah — two of my favorite things, paired in one slim volume. (Sorry, I’ve always wanted to use the phrase “slim volume” somewhere.) Fairy tales and Charles de Lint. The postman dropped the package through the door this afternoon. Just a bit later, here I am at my computer. I couldn’t not read it right away, could I?’
Take a number of well-known musicians, toss in fans and a camera crew, put all on a train traversing Canada. That was the intent of the Festival Express. Sound intriguing? David thought so: ‘It opens with a faded map of north Ontario, Kapuskasing dead centre. Then the camera pulls back and from the middle of the screen comes a train — an old Canadian National engine — and tracks, lots of tracks. This is a movie about that train and the people who rode on it, and the places it stopped, and what happened one week in 1970 when this train went from Toronto to Calgary … with a cargo of rock’n’rollers and all their paraphernalia. What a summer.’
Nothing says Summer Solstice like a barbecue! Jennifer’s annual pig roast went virtual years ago (in case you used to get invited and have been feeling miffed that you don’t any more) and you can still get your pig on here. She realizes that she has failed to mention the side dishes. “Side dishes? What side dishes? You’re supplying a freakin’ pig! It’s a pot luck with pig. Side dishes – and beer – and those re-gifted oddball wine coolers – start showing up early and continue until you shovel everyone out the door.”
Our graphic novel not surprisingly is by de Lint. Remember that prequel to The Cats of Tanglewood Forest I mentioned that was actually the prequel to something else? Well Mia reviews it: ‘A Circle of Cats is intended to be the prequel to the de Lint/Vess collaboration Seven Wild Sisters. Since I’ve been thwarted in every attempt to procure a copy of Sisters, and haven’t had a chance to read the story sans Vess artwork in Tapping the Dream Tree collection, I have no idea how A Circle of Cats stands in relation to that rare release. In relation to de Lint’s body of work as a whole, and indeed to the field of modern fantasy and fairy tale overall, this piece is simply outstanding.’ Yes it was intended to be for children but any lover of folklore and felines will love it!
David was lukewarm about Canadian folk singer Tom Lewis’s album 360 Degrees: All Points of the Compass. ‘Tom Lewis is a former sailor, a submariner, who came ashore to play his own brand of folk music a few years ago. As he sings in “Port of Call,” “No sixty year old sailor is wanted on the sea …” Indeed, I saw what happens to a sailor without a hobby, when my father was forced to retire. It’s not a pretty sight. Fortunately the retirement date for folk singers hasn’t been set yet!’
Gary reviews what sounds like a smashing set of folk music by various artists from the German label CPL-Music. ‘Folk and Great Tunes From Siberia and Far East is a double CD by various artists from many of the remote Russian republics in Siberia and the Far East. Each of the two discs contains well over an hour of music in a wide variety of styles: unaccompanied polyphonic singing, solo or duo singers of old songs accompanied by traditional acoustic instruments, psychedelic folk rock, and of course lots of overtone singing from Tuva and other republics and regions. It’s a daunting but welcome task to review such a collection.’
Gary also reviews a new release by a Sudanese band called Noori & His Dorpa Band, making unique music with a unique instrument that combines a tambour and an electric guitar. ‘Beja Power! is beautiful and powerful instrumental music of cross-cultural appeal. I love that the catchiest tune here is called “Hope,” because sometimes music like this is one of the few rays of hope I can see.
Michael interviewed Cara Dillon on the occasion of her visit to Australia for WOMADelaide in 2003, and she discussed her musical background, among other topics. ‘I sort of grew up sitting in the back room of pubs listening to music all over the summer and learning songs, even at an age when I didn’t even actually know what the words of the songs, the content meant. It was just a fantastic way to be brought up. It’s kind of a way of life, music.’
Peter had very little to say that wasn’t positive about Cara Dillon’s self-titled debut album. ‘This is the debut album for Cara Dillon. Why we have had to wait so long to hear from her beats me. For the uninitiated who have never heard of Cara, she is 27 years old and a tasteful singer with a rare and beautiful voice. She comes from Dungiven, Co. Derry, Ireland, where at the age of 14 won the All Ireland singing trophy.’
Peter also enjoyed Cara’s After the Morning. ‘On previous albums Cara has established her self as a fine singer of traditional songs, bringing a flair and colour to them that is her own. On this recording, she moves forward with 12 songs, of which only four are traditional, arranged by Cara and partner Sam Lakeman. On the rest of the album Cara takes on a more contemporary mode with five songs co-written with Sam Lakeman, who also recorded and produced the album.’
Richard was nonplussed by Tales of a Summer Past, an album described by its creator Nick Davis as ‘classical crossover or New Age classical music.’ Richard notes that it was created entirely by using what’s known as MIDI samples of instruments, not live instruments themselves. ‘Personally, I would incline to a description involving the word “pastiche,” since Davis seems to be striving to create something that sounds like classical music without quite being it.’
Today’s What Not is a short story “Lideric” from Jennifer. She is indebted to Valya Lupescu and Madeline Carol Matz for introduction to their notions of house spirit. She took some liberties with their idea, blended them with a Roumanian sex demon, stirred, popped it all in the oven, and ended up with a Roumanian-American house spirit doing daycare.
That’s Chicago’s ‘Saturday in the Park’ that you’re hearing. It’s an upbeat, feel good summer song much like ‘Love Shack’ by the B-52s. This version was recorded on 6th of August 1982 at the Park West in Chicago. It was released officially on Chicago V fifty years ago and peaked on the Billboard carts at number three which is bloody impressive. It was lovely enough that I ever get tired of hearing it.