Charles de Lint (writer) and Charles Vess (artist),
Very often, re-reading a novel I enjoyed some years ago is not the most rewarding experience. When I read Tolkien's sprawling trilogy some decades ago, I loved every page of it, but when I tried re-reading it a few years ago, it was not nearly as good as I remembered it being. Had it changed itself? Obviously not, but I had, as we all do, with time. On the other hand, there are certain novels, such as Moonheart, which I find better with each reading. Certainly I am not the only reader who believes Moonheart along with The Little Country are the finest of the many novels that de Lint has written. I'm not sure precisely how many works he's done but I have some forty chapbooks, novellas, collections, and novels by him in the fiction area of our library. I like him enough that I re-read one of his novels every few months, and I believe that Moonheart has been good for at least a half dozen readings in the last twenty years. So it was with a great deal of delight that I opened a package from Subterranean Press recently to find the advance review copy of Moonheart -- the 20th Anniversary Edition!
Now I am not going to review Moonheart as a novel, as that has already been done quite well for us by Robert M. Tilendis --
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.
All I will add is that there are ideas in here, such as Tamson House, a sprawling Ottawa house that straddles two worlds, that are so memorable that the novel will remain in your mind long after you finish it. Now, understand that I collect books about the same way that I collect music -- obsessively would be a mild way of describing what I do. So after reading the novel in trade paper as released on Orb over ten years ago as I write this in late winter of 2005, I went looking for the hardcover edition. Ouch. I found out that the only hardcover edition was a British edition done by Pan in 1990 that even then cost nearly three hundred dollars, and which now costs at least double that, if you can find a copy! Now I've paid a lot for a novel I want in hardcover -- the most costly by far being Robert Holdstock's Merlin's Wood -- but I was not willing to spend that much!
Fast forward to several years ago when Subterranean Press announced their intent to release a new hardcover edition of Moonheart. On the advance order page for this title, they noted it would be available in three editions --
Limited Hardcover -- This edition will feature a cloth binding, black-and-white illustrations and page decorations by Charles Vess, and six full-color, full page plates tipped into each copy. The Limited Hardcover edition will be signed by Charles de Lint.
Deluxe Limited Edition -- In addition to the features of the Limited Hardcover Edition, this edition will be bound in leather and cloth, slip cased, and will have two additional, full-color, full page illustrations, full-color end sheets, an illustrated signature page, plus an extra section of working sketches by Charles Vess. The Deluxe Limited Edition will be strictly limited to 400 numbered copies signed by both the author and artist.
Lettered Edition -- Limited to only 52 signed leather bound copies, housed in a handcrafted tray case.
What the publisher sent Green Man was the Limited Hardcover. It is the cheapest of the three editions, but don't let that fool you into thinking that it is not as good as the other two editions -- this is simply the best designed novel I have seen ever. If it had a slipcase as the Deluxe Limited Edition has, it would be the equal of the Hill House edition of Neil Gaiman's American Gods, which cost much more than this publication. It is even better designed than the two James Stoddard Evenmere novels that SoulWave published, and it boasts text freshly edited by the author himself.
I've seen far too many limited edition publications to recall all of them, but this easily the best designed one I've seen. Let's discuss the illustrations first. In my opinion, illustrations, if well-done, add to the pleasure of reading a novel. But how does an artist, even one as brilliant as Vess is, illustrate a novel like de Lint's when so many readers have created their own beloved conception of what the characters and the settings look like? Let's ask him --
I produced 12 color pieces for Moonheart. The cover, an endpaper design and 8 interior illustrations. The 'regular' edition will only have 6 of these interior plates. Then there are approx. 15 b/w pieces including a title page design. It should look right pretty.
Since so many readers had read and reread the book over the last 20 years I tried at first to not show the characters' faces. Knowing that however I drew them it would never match up with their already established mental pictures of them. However after a while this approach became too obvious and / or gimmicky so I heaved a sigh and started drawing the other Charles' splendid set of characters. One thing I knew I was not going to draw was a complete portrait of Tamson House. Such an evocative concept should never be embedded on paper. Let is grow and morph in the pure pastures of the readers imagination I say.
I felt like Gollum in Tolkien's The Hobbit when I opened up the reviewer's copy and found eight (!) plates of his art for Moonheart therein. It would be hard to say which I like the best, as all are simply awesome. I think I like the conceptualization of the Merry Dancers Old Book and Antique Emporium, with Sara sitting at a desk best, but the scene with the motorcyclist ('The Glade of the Bear Clan') would be do justice to my vision of what Windling intended for her Bordertown series where magic and technology have a very uneasy coexistence! (It won't surprise any of you that de Lint wrote several short stories in what is affectionately known as the B-Town series.) Each of the plates here will enhance your appreciation of the novel, as they give one artist's conception of what the text is saying. Whether or not you agree with these conceptions, you will find all of the color plates here to be fascinating!
I asked Vess about the design process which went into this edition --
Hmmm... well as always I take my ideal book design template from all those gorgeous turn-of-last-century illustrated books by Arthur Rackham, W. H. Robinson, etc. So I'll want a fairly elaborate title page design, an illustrated endpaper and if at all possible a foil stamping on the cover. I also like to develop an original, hand drawn font for all the titles used in a particular book.
After Bill told me how many color illustrations the book was budgeted for I carefully read through the book (for possibly the 4th or 5th time) looking for primary images. That is, visual images that both stimulate my desire to make art and that were also separated by enough text to set up a pleasing type-to-art rhythm. As a simple design rule you don't want too many illustrations grouped close together and thus leave too many long stretches with just text . In a book as long as Moonheart is there are plenty of lovely visual scenes to pick and choose from and the only problem is how to limit yourself to only those that fit the budget and the deadline given.
The book itself was broken into four sections so I designed an individual b/w vignette to punctuate each of those sections. I then produced four b/w images that could be repeated at the beginning of each chapter as they ran throughout each separate section. That is, one chapter heading illustration used repeatedly in each of those four separate sections. Having these small, but important, vignettes at the head of each chapter again plays to that notion of establishing a rhythm to the relationship between the text and the art. Then I developed a number of miscellaneous b/w vignettes that could be used throughout the entire book. These images are more iconic than illustrative and so can be used and reused at various points within the book to punctuate the text. For the placement of these spot illustrations I knew that I was in the very capable hands of Gail Cross who works as the hands on designer for Subterranean Press. She has impeccable taste and I completely trust her judgment when it comes to placing all these images.
This is, without doubt, the finest designed novel I've ever had the pleasure to hold and admire. (Mine, all mine! Errr, never mind. Gollum will go away if you ignore him.) Please understand I do not say this without a great deal of consideration as to why I hold this belief. First is the text itself, which is arguably the finest urban fantasy ever written, and possibly the first true urban fantasy novel ever written. Moonheart is that rare creature -- a novel which has a terrific plot, well-crafted characters that you want to believe in as real flesh and blood folk, and a setting that is so interesting that you, the reader, as I do every time I read it, want to visit. Now, the urban setting of Ottawa where Tamson House is situated is, I admit, less interesting than Newford, where much of his later fiction is set, but Tamson House, the immense structure that straddles multiple realities, makes up for that.
Another consideration is that it's a true hardcover. Not a cheap, quickly produced, and soon to be remaindered hardcover that'll be worth a few bucks at your favorite bookstore a few years from now, but a book that likely will be read by someone generations from now who appreciates the pleasure of reading a good novel. Subterranean Press never does any printing that is not among the best available and this is no exception. I have every de Lint that Subterranean Press has published and this is the best one to date. I really like the Art Deco design which Gail Cross ( I presume) created. It is simply superb -- clean and fancy at the same time. Good book design is a rare creature indeed. Good book design with a truly classic text and suitable illustrations is even a rarer creature. Suffice it to say that all parties involved deserve a round on the house in the Green Man Pub for the work they've done here!
The bottom line's simply this -- all de Lint fans will want to own this, as will any serious lover of contemporary fantasy literature. It's no more complicated than that. I will somewhat impatiently await my Deluxe Limited Edition Moonheart to arrive as I plan a number of evenings sometime in the coming months spent rediscovering the pleasures of this novel. May you also have the pleasure of doing likewise!
Update October 2010 -- All three editions of Moonheart are long since sold