It’s difficult to review Charles de Lint without getting personal and panegyrical for, as is the case with most if not all of his readers, I feel as if I have had a close relationship with him and his characters for many years now. Like Rilke, who whispers his poetry into your ear, de Lint is felt as a presence throughout his work. It’s not just that he and his artist wife appear to show up as characters, most obviously in the Kelledys and Christy Riddell and Saskia, while more subtly in others; it’s that de Lint’s voice echoes through every aspect of his writing — dialogue, description, plot, theme — with the immanence of the hidden creator who is yet divined in the nature of his creation. And what a beautiful voice it is! Benign, thoughtful, wise, righteously angry, poetic, generous, just, moral (without being moralistic) and above all — strange to say for such a fey man writing such fey material – utterly human.
It was my sister, Rosemary, who first brought de Lint’s work into our family of obsessive readers. We were twelve in all, counting my parents, emigrants from Ireland to Canada, poor and hungry in the early years and with our own dark shadows; but we were and are also a tumultuous crew of writers, poets, dancers, musicians, and painters. “I think somebody told him about us,” my sister said to me. Moonheart was the first, and I can never go to Ottawa without looking hopefully here and there to catch sight of Tamson House. Now, books and books later, I am reading Widdershins, savouring every word and scene, while thinking to myself that his fairies are a lot scarier than mine. Thinking, too, that even more than the fairies, I love the Native spirits, the animal people and cousins.
There are various ways to judge the value of a body of work. The literary establishment — all those fusty, musty old men — concentrate on the mastery of language. They seem to care more for form and less for the content of a book. Hence the literary ideal is more often than not a beautiful corpus, all dressed up and with nothing to say. Then there is bestselling popular fiction which demands that a book be a carnival ride, all thrills and chills and spills while you are reading it, and promptly forgotten as soon as you are finished.
Yes, I love beautiful language. De Lint has it. Yes, I love excitement in a book and want to care what happens next. De Lint provides that. But more than this, oh so much more than this, I want a book that brings with it a call to the heart and mind and, even better still, a message for my soul. I want a book that can change me, that can make me a better person or strengthen what is already best in me, that can help me through a bad time, that reminds me life is wonderful as well as terrible. A book that, as the author himself says, sheds light in the darkness. This is what makes a work truly valuable. And, yes, all this is de Lint.