This is a collection of stories that were almost all previously published between 1986 and 2001, featuring young protagonists who are lost in one way or another. The themes and subject matter common to de Lint's novels are all present here: magic in urban settings, the power of music and art, hidden doorways into other worlds, and beings from mythology, faerie and folktales brought to life.
Some of the stories are set in Newford, a fictional city where many of de Lint's stories and novels take place, and feature characters from previously published works. I particularly enjoyed the author's introduction to each of the stories - he tells a bit about the history of Newford and how it came to be, which I found to be particularly fascinating because Newford is one of my favorite fictional settings. Other tales are set in other cities and countries and deal with things - like vampires and trows - that are not typically found in Newford.
I am not an avid reader of short stories, mainly because they either don't give me enough (I want more of the story, more about the characters - and it frustrates me when it ends too soon), of because there isn't enough there to pull me in - it's more about an idea or concept, and that kind of story tends not to be as appealing to me. That is a sweeping generalization, of course - I love the short stories of Poe and Lovecraft and George MacDonald, among others - I just don't tend to pick them up as often as a nice, meaty novel that I can live in for a few days.
De Lint's collections, because they are often woven of the lives of favorite characters and familiar places, have the feel of a novel to me, in the sense that the stories and characters are interconnected . I like that! For example, the story "Somewhere in My Mind There is a Painting Box" is about Lily, a teenager living in the Appalachian mountains who loves painting and drawing. She discovers a rusty old box of paints in the woods one day, and the name on the box is the name of a famous painter who had disappeared in the woods twenty years earlier. Lily stumbles upon the mystery of what happened to him, which opens a door of possibilities that result in a difficult choice for her, an important decision that will affect the rest of her life. This is the very same Lily from the children's book A Circle of Cats, which tells a story about her when she was a young girl - and it is the same Lily from de Lint's novella for adults, Seven Wild Sisters. Each of the works stands along, but it gains a bit more depth when read in conjunction with the others.
Friends often ask me which book of de Lint's they should start with, and while I'm a total stickler about reading books in order, I'm at a bit of a loss with this particular author. The first book of his that I read was The Little Country, which is unrelated to Newford and worked great for me. But it really does work to start just about anywhere, because of the way he moves back in forth in time and from character to character. I'd say to wait a bit on Onion Girl and Widdershins (and read those two in that order), and that the short story collections are a great place to start.
De Lint is one of my favorite authors because his themes and characters resonate so well with my own beliefs and the things that fascinate me. I love the way the mythological is brought to life and the magical and ordinary exist side by side for those who keep their eyes and hearts open. De Lint's fictional worlds are among my very favorites to visit and revisit.
This is the penultimate book for Carl's Once Upon a Time II reading challenge. Stop by the review site to see a whole list of reviews about the fantastical and mythological that other
Waifs and Strays by Charles de Lint (Viking, 2002)
Also reviewed at:
Not Really a Pixie Girl
Opinions of a Reformed Dropout
Things Mean a Lot
B&OT reviews of other works by de Lint:
A Circle of Cats
Little (Grrl) LOST