Charles de Lint’s Forests of The Heart

‘Have another drink and just listen to the music.’ — Charles de Lint in Forests of the Heart

I hadn’t read this novel until I had a contradance tour with one of my bands along the Border earlier this year and asked around the Pub to see which de Lint they liked. This novel was, along with Moonheart and The Little Country, considered by most folks to one of his best ever.

Indeed, our readers here concur, as you can see from this email the reviewer got several years back after he reviewed it: ‘I was ‘googling’ around, trying to find more info on Charles DeLint’s Forests of the Heart and I chanced upon your review. I just had to drop you a note to say thank you so much for your insight. You managed to put into words everything I felt during, and after, reading the book. I read a LOT but when I really want to enter another realm, a different plane, I can always count on DeLint. I so ached for these characters, esp. Bettina and her ‘wolf’, to move in next door so we could traipse through the desert together! I fell in love with ‘los cadejos’. DeLint made me feel these mythical canines with every sense. I suppose you could compare him to Ellie in that he channels his brujeria via his writing! Amazing.’

Here is an example of what that reader is talking about:

It had been a wonderful show. La Gata Verde had been transformed into a dreamscape that was closer to some miraculous otherwhere than it was to the dusty pavement that lay outside the gallery. Paintings, rich with primary colours, depicted los santos and desert spirits and the Virgin as seen by those who’d come to her from a different tradition than that put forth by the Papal authority in Rome. There had been Hopi kachinas–the Storyteller, Crow Woman, clowns, deer dancers–and tiny, carved Zuni fetishes. Wall hangings rich with allegorical representations of Indios and Mexican folk lore. And Bettina’s favourite: a collection of sculptures by the Bisbee artist, John Early–surreal figures of grey, fired clay, decorated with strips of coloured cloth and hung with threaded beads and shells and spiralling braids of copper and silver filament. The sculptures twisted and bent like smoke-people frozen in their dancing, captured in mid-step as they rose up from the fire.

What I found wonderful about this novel is that de Lint balances out a fair number of story threads so nicely that they all come together in a way that feels quite natural. Usually I find that novels told in this manner get a little frayed around the edges, as most writers simply aren’t good enough to pull it off: de Lint is more than good enough to do it!

This is the second novel by him which had a large cast of characters, human and otherwise, but each of them is unique enough that the reader is in no danger of confusing any of the characters with any other. And that in turn makes even the most complex of stories here grounded for the reader. Some characters, such as Bettina San Miguel, a Mexican-Indian living at an artist colony outside Newford who has knowledge of la época del mito, the land of spirits, are quite likable; some such as Donal Greer, Irish musician and all around rat were well-drawn but not at all likable. And the not human characters are equally vivid, including the Animal Folk, the Los Cadejos within Bettina, and The Hard Men with all bring significant roles in the story.

I think that it probably my favorite novel by him followed closely by Someplace To Be Flying which I realized I need to re-read.

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