By Charles de Lint

Subterranean Press


64pp/$20.00/May 2008

What the Mouse Found
Cover by Charles Vess

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Charles de Lint's short collection What the Mouse Found and Other Stories is a labor of love in multiple ways. Each of the five stories* included in the book was originally written for a child with whom de Lint had a personal connection: nieces, nephews, or the children of close friends. In addition to the stories, de Lint and his wife, MaryAnn Harris, gave each of the children a handmade doll representing (or inspiring) one of the characters in the story. Most of the stories in the collection open with a photo of these dolls. The book is also a labor of love because the stories in contains are clearly modeled after the sort of children's stories written during the Victorian Era and the book's design is similarly reminiscent of that period of book binding.

"What the Mouse Found," the first story, written for Sophie, who appears in the stories as do all of the kids the stories were written for, tells the story of Christopher Mouse finding a stuffed rabbit with the help of Jack Nab, a raven. The two discuss what to do with the toy and eventually decide to bring it to Sophie, for whom the rabbit, now named "Bunnypaws," comes to life. De Lint isn't as interested in whether the toy comes to life because it is loved by a child or through some other means, but rather showing the companionship a toy can provide to a child whose imagination is still developing.

"Gnomin' in the Gloamin'" introduces Christine and her grandfather, Opa Jan, who sends her conflicting stories about the existence of gnomes living in the nearby woods. Christine is young enough that she feels the need to find a logical way to make the two opposite ideas work together rather than dismiss one of them out of hand. Christine's search for gnomes took her outside in the winter, when she wasn't supposed to be there, and when her brother found her, he dismissed her activity out of hand, but Christine found that she had made friends of the gnomes.

"Oakey Bedokey" is the story of an oak sapling that is small and weak enough that the other oaks have written it off as being able to make it through the winter. The Wind and Jack o'Red take pity on the tiny tree and reach out to Adam, a young boy who is sitting at home alone. In answering their summons, he finds the oak and in a reversal from most of the stories, in which the magical creatures help or resuce the humans, Adam's kindness to the sapling which is still ignored by the surrounding trees, rescues the tree and brings its spirit, Oaky Bedokey, to life.

While Christine may have gone into the woods when she wasn't supposed, Kmore got lost in the woods. His rescue came at the hands of "Maple Sugar" and the Wind, although Maple Sugar knew that if she allowed Kmore to see her, she would lose her home in the maple tree forever. The two come up with a solution to the problem that will rescue Kwame, although at the same time, Maple needs to think about what sacrifice and friendship mean and if they are worth losing the expected course of her life for.

Just as Christine's grandfather had an awareness of the realm of fairy, so too, does Tip's grandmother in "Tip & the Lion." Tip has rescued a baby lion that had fallen into the bay and was determined to raise it and protect it, unaware of its fantastic provenance. Eventually, Tip must say goodby eto the lion, at which time she learns that her grandmother was also aware of the creature. In de Lint's world, it seems that fairy can be seen by those who are either too young to have learned to see what the world expects them to see, or those who are old enough and have gained the wisdom to see what is actually there, rather than what is the correct thing to see.

The stories in What the Mouse Found and Other Stories is a testament to the innocence and imagination of children, before they have grown old enough to become cynical about the world around them and dismiss what could be in that world. It has echoes of the J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, A.A. Milne's Hundred Acre Woods, and Lewis Carroll's Alice stories, but it also offers the blend of with world of fantasy and the real world which is a hallmark of de Lint's own body of work.

What the Mouse Found Maple Sugar
Gnomin' in the Gloamin' Tip & the Lion
Oakey Bedokey The Songs of Timothy Tomtit*

* The Songs of Timothy Tomtit are only included in the limited edition and not in the edition reviewed above.
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