Thursday, July 07, 2011

The Very Best of Charles de Lint - A Discussion of the Book and the Author

The Very Best of Charles de Lint

Completion Date: June 19, 2011
Reason for Reading: Buddy Read with Carl for the Once Upon a Time challenge.
At turns whimsical, dark, and mystical, this extraordinary collection of retold fairy tales and new, modern myths redefine the boundaries of magic. Compiling favored stories suggested by the author and his fans, this delightful treasury contains the most esteemed and beloved selections that de Lint has to offer. Innovative characters in unexpected places are the key to each plot: playful Crow Girls who sneak into the homes of their sleeping neighbors; a graffiti artist who risks everything to expose a long-standing conspiracy; a half-human girl who must choose between her village and her strange birthright; and an unrepentant trickster who throws one last party to reveal a folkloric tradition. Showcasing some of the finest offerings within the realms of urban fantasy and magical realism, this essential compendium of timeless tales will charm and inspire.
Over the last few months I have been reading this book with Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings. We finished it up in June, but we thought we should do a bit of a wrap-up. The post that follows is the first part of a discussion of both the book and the author. You can read the second half on Carl's Blog. Enjoy!

1. Like me, you’ve read several of Charles de Lint’s short story collections. How do you feel this one stacks up to the others you have read?

K: I would love to say that this is the best because it collects all of what other people consider his best stories in one place, but I think Dreams Underfoot worked better for me as a collection. This collection had a random assortment, while Dreams Underfoot was centred around the common theme of being introduced to Newford and meeting the characters that you would know and love. With de Lint, I always find I can read anything by him and not be lost, but I am not sure I would suggest this as a first glimpse at him. Yes, it gives a varied view of what he is capable of, but I felt like something was lacking. I think it is mainly that I really only read his Newford series, so when I pick a book by him it is to visit with those characters and visit that place.

What do you think?

C: I am having a hard time choosing exactly which collection of his I like best. Moonlight and Vines or The Ivory and the Horn would probably be my ultimate pick. There are some true gems in The Very Best of Charles de Lint and other than a few stories I felt like they were all worth reading. The reason I don’t consider it his very best collection is largely because of the fan involvement in this one. Previous de Lint collections seem to have a subtle, subconscious thematic element to them. It isn’t generally one I can put my finger on but you can feel it there. This one feels a bit hodgepodge and the ordering of the stories was a bit off at times.

2. Are there any stories that were not included in this Best Of collection that you believe should have been present?

C: “Sweet Forget-Me-Not” from the Muse and Reverie collection is one that I think should have made its way into this book. “The Forest is Crying” and “The Pochade Box” from The Ivory and the Horn are ones I would have also liked to see included. I think they are standout stories in these collections and were better than some of the ones from these collections that made it into this volume. Of course that is the beauty of opening the Table of Contents up to public opinion as we all have stories that touch us in different ways. How about you?

K: Well, this is a hard question. Short stories do not stick in my head as well as novels, so I can’t necessary remember the names of anything. I think I would have preferred if this was a collection of Newford stories and then he had another collection that represented the rest of his writing and wad divided into sections. I really felt this collection was missing something by being a random assortment of stories. Sometimes you would read two stories in a row and the second story would chronological take place before the first story. I know that I enjoyed the three stories you mentioned. I think in order to correctly answer this question I would need to reread his short story collections with this question in mind.

3. Addressing something that I said above, do you think you typically enjoy de Lint’s short story collections or do you prefer his novels?

C: That is a difficult question for me to answer with any degree of “expertise” because I’ve only read two of Charles de Lint’s novels: Widdershins, which was my first de Lint experience and one I was blown away by, and The Mystery of Grace which disappointed me something fierce. I like short stories, period, and Charles de Lint is masterful at telling them. If more of his novels are like Widdershins then count me a fan of those as well.

As you mentioned above, the random nature of this collection works against it to some degree. We have both discussed how three of the Jilly stories in a row would have been better if they had actually been placed in chronological order. Even though putting the books in sections would have just been an artificial division, I believe that having that division would have made the book feel more structured and purposeful.

In thinking about your short stories vs. novels question I suddenly started wishing that Charles de Lint would write a “novel” in the tradition of what Gaiman did with The Graveyard Book--a series of short stories interconnected into an overall narrative. And maybe he has done that and I am just unaware of it. He has so many wonderful Newford stories that would work well if collected that way, and I would also like to read a novel like that about Meran.

What about you, do you prefer the short story collections or the novels?

K: Oh, yes, more Meran would be wonderful! I love Jilly, but the last couple things I have read lately by de Lint have had some glimpses of Meran, so I am rather curious about more about her. Jilly is a ‘regular’ person with an interesting personality, but Meran has a very interesting backstory that I would love to see explored more. So, yes, I am very interested in a story like The Graveyard Book about Meran. That’s a great idea!

Anyway, I have read a few more of de Lint’s novels than you have, but still not everything. The very first novel I ever read by de Lint I hated and then it was years and years before I got my nose out of joint and FINALLY read him again. This time I chose The Onion Girl and I LOVED it! Suddenly I was very excited to see what else there was to offer from him. I have read several of his young adult books, but only a couple of his adult books, so I suppose I am still like you and have read more of his short story collections than novels. I am not normally a short story person. I like novels because I enjoy the details that short stories cannot provide, but de Lint is something special and I read three short story collections by him for the Once Upon a Time challenge. I didn’t really answer the question, but it’s a hard question!

4. Since we were both not HUGELY excited about the arrangement of this collection, what would you consider a good representation of Charles de Lint so far? Do you have a favourite, or is it hard to decide?

C: I’m sort of leaning two directions here. On one hand I think this collection could be a great introductory representation of de Lint’s work if you did the following:

Start with Meran’s tales and read:

1. “Laughter in the Leaves”
2. “The Badger in the Bag”
3. “And the Rafters were Ringing”
4. “Merlin Dreams in the Moondream”

Then read the Jilly/Sophie stories in this order:

5. “The Moon is Drowning While I Sleep”
6. “In the House of My Enemy”
7. “Mr Truepenny’s Book Emporium and Gallery”

And perhaps finish up with:

8. “The Crow Girls”
9. “Pixel Pixies” (as it is a book lover’s story)
10. “The Winter Was Hard” (ending with a Jilly/Geordie story)

That, given my tastes and opinions of de Lint’s short story telling abilities, would be a perfect collection of stories.

Given that, this might be the best collection of Charles de Lint depending on what you read and how you read it. As for the collections as a whole as they already exist, I would probably lean towards The Ivory and the Horn. But I have enjoyed all of his short story collections thus far and the difference between them has been negligible for me.

Going back to your previous answer it reminds me of what I like to tell new-to-de Lint readers and that is not to go back and try to read his novels in the order they were written. I’ve heard enough mixed reviews about his earlier stuff in comparison to later works and I would hate to see anyone have an experience where they read something and choose to write off a man who is a truly gifted author and wonderful weaver of enchanting stories.

What about you, do you have a favorite collection that you think best represents the work of Charles de Lint.


5. We both have some favorite de Lint characters. What about those characters makes them stand out in your mind/imagination?

K: I started de Lint for real with a novel, The Onion Girl. I thought it was a very good start to reading him and it probably remains my favourite book by him. I know that you haven’t read it, but you have read Widdershins, the sequel. I think both books stand very well on their own. I tend to read de Lint as the books come available to me. When I first finished The Onion Girl I thought I would go back and start from the beginning, but I have yet to actually do so. I haven’t found reading them out of order has taken away from the reading experience for me as of yet. As for the short story collections, I didn’t love Muse & Reverie as much as The Ivory and the Horn and Dreams Underfoot. I think Dreams Underfoot best represents Newford, but The Ivory and the Horn is a good representation of his overall writing style. I will agree with you there.

I love de Lint’s characters. The two that stand out for me the most are Jilly Coppercorn and Meran. I think a lot of Jilly for me is because she is a free-spirit and doesn’t let things get her down. Sometimes I wish I could be more like her, actually. I respect her as a person and enjoy every opportunity to explore her character further. I also love that she has a wonderful imagination. It inspires my own imagination. Meran, on the other hand, is not a character that has been explored a lot so far. I have read short stories that feature her, but as far as I know there is not novel that features her in depth. I am curious about her. She has a fascinating backstory that I would love to see played out more. There are many other characters I enjoy, too, though. These two are just my favourite.

What about you?

C: Jilly Coppercorn is one of my all time favorites. The fact that she is an artist is very appealing to me. Her willingness to believe in things outside of the realm of “reality” is of course another because that is what leads her to so many adventurous interactions with folklorish, fairy tale creatures. She is one of the kindest characters in all of fantasy fiction and when you learn her background story she becomes such a multi-dimensional, authentic character. And I like her cute, pixie-ish description. I picture her as looking like Magdalene Veen, former singer in the band Abney Park:{%22ImageId%22%3A1713572}

Although I had read at least one Meran story before, I only vaguely remembered it and Meran became a HUGE favorite after reading this collection. I started reading this book hot on the heels of Patrick Rothfuss’ novel, The Name of the Wind, and I enjoyed his description of Kvothe’s people, the Edema Ruh. I couldn’t help but picture Meran and her husband as being a part of that same people. There is something very romantic about nomadic artistic people, “gypsies”, as some would call them. While the reality is/was no doubt not always as romantic, even today I admire people who do that and get a bit wistful thinking about them. For a time artist Rima Stains ( ), a folk artist I admire, traveled around in a caravan and I loved reading about her adventures. I’m holding out hope for more Meran stories and a Meran collection. And perhaps someone can convince Charles de Lint to do the Meran collection ala The Graveyard Book as mentioned before, a series of short stories interconnected by an overarching theme into a novel format.

Finally I really connect with Christopher Dennison. He is a social worker and I have a social work degree and work in that field, so I completely relate to him as a character and to his frustrations in trying to help people. There are some really good Dennison stories in The Ivory and The Horn.

Remember, to read the second half of this post head over to Carl's blog!

Previous Weeks:


  1. I said it in our discussion but wanted to say it again, I truly enjoy these de Lint reads/discussions with you and I appreciate your being willing to do it and appreciate you for suggesting it in the first place. It was fun.

    As I watched your vlog and saw you hold up the de Lint book I sort of had that sad feeling, wishing we were back at the beginning of the Once Upon a Time Challenge.

    But, we have Dune and our soon to start buddy read of Enchanted Night: A Novella, so there is more fun on the horizon.

  2. **Carl: It was a lot of fun, Carl. I look forward to Dune and Enchanted Night, but hopefully we can do something in-depth again soon.

    I wish Once Upon a Time was starting over again, too, but I am looking forward to RIP. I think we chose a book all ready...

  3. Change of topic: I just saw your comment about Chime on Jenclair's blog. It hasn't been that long since I read it. Maybe a month or two, I'd say. You could probably still easily page back to find my review. I kinda gushed. :) Anyway, I do believe it's right up your alley.

  4. Thanks for stopping by, Nancy! I will check it out!

  5. Short stories take more work in regards to blogging reviews, don't you think? I want to mention each one but then I get overwhelmed.

    Glad you had fun with your readalong. I have yet to read any DeLint!

  6. **Care: I know what you mean. I feel like I am not doing a short story collection justice if I talk about it overall and don't concentrate on each story... It's complicated! :)


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