Charles de Lint, Woods & Waters Wild (Subterranean Press, 2008)
Woods & Waters Wild is the third collection of Charles de Lint's early works from Subterranean Press, with a focus on high fantasy stories. Included are seventeen stories, fifteen of which were published between 1979 and 1991, and two which are original to this volume. An introduction by de Lint precedes the collection, providing some insight into the provenance and publication for each. The collection has been divided into five sections: "Pastiches," "Angharad," "Dennet & Willie," "Thomas the Rhymer" and "Miscellany,” with at least two stories in each.
"Pastiches" are very early stories that de Lint himself says are so influenced by other authors (Lord Dunsany, William Morris) as to be homages, rather than in his own voice. These four stories are short, and definitely in a fantasy style not immediately recognizable as de Lint's. They are bittersweet tales, with beautiful imagery and characters whose choices are less than perfect.
The three "Angharad" short stories eventually evolved into the opening chapters of Into the Green. Here they provide an introduction to that novel's protagonist, tinker Angharad, showing how she came to possess the magic harp she uses to awaken the Summerblood in others around her. The first story is a beautiful mix of love, death and acceptance as Angharad comes into her own with the death of her friends and family -- and comes to own her harp. The second is a cautionary tale about knowledge, wisdom and the correct pursuit of both (and what can happen when one approaches them improperly). The third shows more of how she interacts with a world not entirely comfortable with those of her kind -- or the power they possess -- and the tragedy (and beauty) that can result when the sides clash.
Similarly, the trio of "Thomas the Rhymer" stories show the character at different points in his life -- youth and old man -- and his interactions with both humans and magical beings. Thomas, who always speaks true, is compassionate and brave (and perhaps not a little bit foolhardy) and becomes renowned throughout the land for his truth-saying. Though these two tales bracket his years, one can infer he lead a good life full of magic and joy and similar encounters which beg to be told as well.
The two "Dennet and Willie" stories present a seemingly mismatched pair -- a strong, healthy maid with a lovely voice and a maimed fiddler who has difficulty seeing past his own injury. Selfishly caught up in his own woes, Willie comes to realize Dennet's importance to him almost too late. But an encounter with the otherworldly Grey Harper sets things to right, and the pair become inseparable. In the second story, the two seek a path to the Middle Kingdom, that realm of magic and fey creatures, journeying far and wide for the wood that holds the entrance. What happens when they arrive at their destination is no ordinary encounter with a dragon, though….
Of the entries in "Miscellany," the one to take note of is "The Harp of the Grey Fane," which de Lint says was his first long story to sell. Although he doesn't indicate as much in the introduction, this is an early version of The Harp of the Grey Rose," featuring Cerin the Songweaver (who fans of Newford should recognize). Although that full-length novel may not be one of de Lint's stronger offerings, this brief version of it, detailing Cerin's friendship with and rescue of the Grey Fane/Rose, is a cohesive, exciting and emotional read.
Readers who are only familiar with de Lint's Newford stories will find that these tales resonate with familiar themes. They feature strong-willed characters with a creative bent (harpers, rhymers, singers), often with an ability to see or interact with the magical world. And the worlds they live in, whether known, or of de Lint's creating, are worlds on the cusp between old and new, at risk of losing touch with all that is other or magical. The setting may be far removed from the present day, but there's much in common here between de Lint's high and urban fantasy.
Charles de Lint can be found online here.