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?
Long-term, and even short-term, readers of Green Man will probably already have a pretty firm grasp on the general collective opinion of de Lint on these e-pages: luminous (if not numinous) language, life-changing messages, a complicated and wide-ranging mythology to draw from, spine-tingling darkness to deal with, an ultimately celebratory view of life, and, oh yes — a hell of a good story.
Here we have five short stories (six, if you’ve got the limited edition), three previously unpublished, all written for children that de Lint has loved and cherished enough to write a story for. All but one (my advance uncorrected proof did not include the limited edition ‘The Songs of Timothy Tomtit’, so I can’t speak to that one) include a photograph of the doll that MaryAnn Harris, de Lint’s artist wife, made and that each story is centered round.
Since I’m working off of an advanced uncorrected proof, I can’t really speak to the physical book, but the small illustrations by de Lint are charming, as are the photos of sculptures by Harris. The fonts used here are not as clear as they could be for easy reading aloud, being somewhat antique/classic in nature.
In his introduction, de Lint is kind enough to provide an explanation of why fairy tales are so important for children to read and to have read to them. “Fairy tales,” he writes, “prepare the reader for the world as it is, not how we’d like it to be, and offer some guideposts to take us through the worst of the real world’s dark forests and lonely stretches of desolate lands.” As he further explains, fairy tales also provide moral compass and an idea of the sorts of dangers the world has to offer in a way that allows us to prepare for them before we meet them.
Classically, the best fairy tales also provide a sort of if-then formula, which means that examination of the fairy tales of any given time provides a sort of snapshot of what that society finds valuable in its members. (This is true of most fiction, actually, which is what gives writers their power.) If I am friendly and generous to this gnome, the story ‘Gnomin’ in the Gloamin’ seems to tell us, then my friendliness and generosity will be returned to me in ways I may not have expected. If I can accept and care for beings as and who they are, ‘Oakey Bedokey’ shows us, then they will find the freedom, life and joy of being exactly who they are, rather than what they are, and I will be able share that with them.
And perhaps in these modern times the most important functions of fairy tales and stories are to show us that the world is full of wonder, if only we will look, and that real stories and pretend stories can be the same thing, as ‘Tip & the Lion’ demonstrates beautifully.
Although de Lint is occasionally tagged with crossing the line into “preachy”, that tendency works for him in the scope of the classic fairy tale, which always needs a moral summary of some sort, whether underlined or not.
As with all the best fairy tales, though, de Lint’s lyrical storytelling, his unique and tapestried voice, and his understanding of what it is to be human means that this collection can be enjoyed just as much by the adult doing the reading as by the child who is being read to.
(Subterranean Press, 2008)