Mar 1, 2008

Waifs and Strays by Charles de Lint

Waifs and Strays is a collection of short stories spanning de Lint’s career from 1990 to 2002. What they have in common is the fact that they are all about teenagers – be they human, vampire, trow or half-elf. They also have in common the fact that they are about outsiders, about inhabitants of the border – the border between different worlds, between isolation and belonging, between love and loneliness, or the border where you stand before you have to make a choice.

This collection is divided into five sections: the first contains a story set in Tamson House, a mysterious house that, as Charles de Lint explains in the mini-introduction, he daydreamed about for years before actually writing about it. The second section has stories set in Ottawa and the surrounding area, and the third stories set in alternative worlds. The fourth section is devoted to Bordertown, a fictional place where our world and the magic of Elfland overlap. The original premise was created by Terri Windling, and writers like Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Patricia A. Mckillip and of course Charles de Lint wrote stories set there. Finally, the fifth and last section has stories set in and around de Lint’s famous Newford, a fictional city somewhere in North America where magic and the mundane coexist.

Charles de Lint writes the kind of stories I wish I could write. In the mini-introduction to the Otherworlds section, he says:
I call what I write now “mythic fiction”—a term that my friend Terri Windling and I decided to use for our work, feeling that if our stories were going to be put in a genre (as fantasy usually is), it might as well be one we choose for ourselves.
This is what we mean by mythic fiction: stories that take place in more mainstream settings that use the material of myths, folk tales, and folklore to illuminate their themes.
Indeed, what I liked the most about these stories was how most of them reworked the magic of the old tales in the contemporary world. For the past few centuries now, the majority of the human population has lived in cities. The stories we tell are to a great extent the reflection of the land in which we live, and these days so much of our land is made out of concrete buildings, pavements, staircases, endless zigzagging streets. So we need stories set there, in places that are familiar, but that manage to keep the magic of those old tales alive. This isn’t of course to say that the old rural stories are to be forgotten, but we need both kinds of story – we need to bring faerie into our backyards, so that it doesn’t feel so alien, so that we know that it doesn’t need to be left behind.

Another striking thing about these stories is how hopeful and warm the majority of them are. By this I don’t mean that nothing bad happens in them – like I mentioned before, these stories deal with outsiders, and many of these characters have experienced loneliness, isolation, and abuse, be it emotional, physical or sexual. But despite the adversities they have to face, they manage to find hope. They manage to find something that gives their lives meaning – friendship, love, painting, music, a family, or a new place where to rebuild their lives.

A few words about some of my favourite stories:

In “Merlin Dreams in the Mondream Wood”, the protagonist is Sara, a girl who begins to recover her childhood memories of an eerie friendship with a tree…

“A Wish Named Arnold” is another story about friendship, this time between Marguerite, and, well, a wish. It’s a story in which we see that the only way not to lose those we love is to make sure that they remain free.

“May This Be Your Last Sorrow” is a story in which a lonely girl unburdens her heart to a stone gargoyle, who understands her better than she could ever know.

Finally, “Somewhere in my Mind there is a Painting Box”, one of the Newford stories, is the story of Lily, a girl who loves painting. She finds an old painting box in the woods one day, a painting box that belonged to Milo Johnson. He was a painter whose work Lily greatly admired, and, many years previously, he and a younger painter had disappeared in those woods. No bodies had ever been found. After finding the box, Lily ends up uncovering their secret – a secret that will force her to make a choice that will determine the course of her life.

These are just some of my favourites, but the whole collection was very gripping. Normally I take longer to read a collection of short stories than I do a novel, but in this case I kept turning the pages eagerly, always wanting to know what came next. I look forward to meeting some of these characters again in de Lint’s Newford books.

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  1. Wow. This sounds fabulous. So fabulous I may have to break my vow of "no buying" before I really got started ;)
    I've never read anything by de Lint, but I did buy The Blue Girl not too long ago. Oh, how I want to get this one though!

  2. I've been wanting to read this one for so so so long!! I love the Palencar cover too! His de Lint covers are always so good. Tamson house is the house in Moonheart which I read last year and I loved it. It was just as much a character of the book as any of the humans or other characters. You make me want to go out an read this now! I love the label "Rhinoa Challenge" :p Makes me laugh. I think there should be a mass Rhinoa Challenge and Nymeth Challenge with buttons and all!

  3. You write such great reviews, Nymeth, this makes me want to pick up this book immediately. I'll have to find room in my tbr pile for it.

  4. I echo Kim. You always write great reviews, Nymeth! I have never read anything by Charles de Lint, but I've one of his books which I had won from Rhinoa's giveaway during the BAFABW so I hope I'll get around to reading it soon. ;)

  5. Charles de Lint is one of those writers that I knew I was going to love even before I had read any books by him, same for Neil Gaiman, and I think it'll be the same for Terri Pratchett.
    I really can't wait to read this and all of his other books that sit temptingly on our store' shelves. But for now I'll stick to what I already have...*sigh*

  6. I am so glad you enjoyed this as much as I did, the stories are so beautiful despite being tinged with sadness. I just read The Onion Girl which I also higly recommend if you have the de Lint bug. (Chris maybe next year for the challenge you never know!).

  7. what an interesting connecting theme!

    i must say they all sound interesting (of the ones you mentioned) i tried to pick out one particular one, like the tree one, but then i like the sound of the wish one too - and the then the gargoyle one too!!

    very cool

  8. I read my first Charles de Lint last year and now I have Moonheart (gee, there's a trivia there posted by Chris) and Memory and Dream, both unread at this point. Hahaha! I hope I can find a copy of this here. I think the only other available de Lint books I see here is Widdershins.

    Oh and I've been meaning to say comment that you have a lovely photo of fairies above. Really nice.

  9. Debi: I've heard great things about The Blue Girl to! And if your vow hasn't started yet, technically it wouldn't be breaking it :P

    Chris: It is a gorgeous cover! Tamson house sounds so so cool. I really want to read Moonheart. We totally should have made buttons! :P But seriously now, it would be cool to do this on a larger scale, maybe next year... a challenge in which people swap reading lists.

    Kim: Aww, thank you! I hope you enjoy this one if you do pick it up!

    Melody: Thank you :) I hope you enjoy that de Lint book! It seems to be hard to go wrong with him.

    Valentina: Yeah, though the temptation is great I'm trying to stick to what I have too. Therefore, The Onion Girl will be my next de Lint. Which Terry Pratchett are you planning on reading?

    Rhinoa: Thanks for picking this one for me to read :) I actually own a copy of The Onion Girl, and I'll read it next month or so for the Once Upon a Time Challenge (yes, I've already made the list in my head :P). I'm really looking forward to it!

    JP: They are all very interesting premises, aren't they? And he executes them well, too.

    Lightheaded: I've heard great things about Widdershins too. Like I said to Melody, it seems to be hard to go wrong with him. And thank you! I'm glad you like it :)

  10. This is one I hope to pick up during the upcoming fantasy challenge. It has been too long since I've read any De Lint and I need to remedy that!

  11. I have this one sitting in my tbr pile right now! I'm very excited to get to it, especially since I read your wonderful review. :-)


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