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by Charles de Lint



541pp/$26.95/November 2002

Tapping the Dream Tree
Cover by Charles Vess

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

"Ten for the Devil" is not your standard deal with the devil story.  Staley is a loner, living in a trailer on the Kickaha reservation near Newford who has the ability to call various animals to her with her blue fiddle.  When Staley accidently calls across two feuding spirits, she finds herself pulled into the world of fairy and her own encounter with the devil at a crossroads.

"Wingless Angels" tells the story of two people who discover pictures of monsters destroyed a man on the streets of Newford.  Deciding to get involved, they get more than they bargained for, when the monsters find them, when they find the monsters' intended victim, and when they find each other.  The story is a little too pat, although de Lint leaves the reader room to imagine a future in which the characters must deal with the problem which they seem to have merely postponed in this story.

Christy Riddell is on a book tour when he speaks to a night clerk at his hotel and hears the story of a girl who used to work in the hotel, but killed off the fun-loving side of herself, leaving only the hardworking person in "The Words That Remain." Although the ending is somewhat telegraphed in this discussion of the rationalization people make to believe they are happy with the choices they have made, the set up is done so well that a shiver will still run up the readerís spine when de Lint presents his twist.

As the title indicates, "Many Worlds Are Born Tonight" is de Lintís take on the many worlds theory of cosmology in which Spyboy, on the lam from gangsters who he finally said no to, has the opportunity to reconsider his actions throughout the story, trying to find a path which will work to his benefit and provide him with the life he would like to lead free of the fear of retribution. As with Larry Nivenís classic many worlds tale ďAll the Myriad Ways,Ē de Lintís story ends with ambiguity, but with more hope than despair.

Originally written and published as one of de Lint's Christmas chapbooks, "The Buffalo Man" is an examination of Jilly's eternal optimism in juxtaposition of the eternal pessimism of the titular character.  Whith the Buffalo Man dying and Jilly having a need to help him, the two of them find themselves in an untenable situation in which Jilly's optimism appears to be the only chance they have of surviving.  While the characters are both likable, both of their world views come across as being extreme and in need of tempering, the one too naive and the other too cynical.

One of the ongoing themes in de Lint's Newford stories is that magic is real and exists all around us.  This is clearly demonstrated in "Second Chances," a story about Joey Straw who elected to separate himself from society following his brother's murder of his own family.  "Second Chances" reunited Joey with a former girlfriend and gives him the understanding that saying the right words can invoke magic without any spells involved.  

"Forest of Stone" is a tale of making commitments and following through with them.  Geordie Riddell is a fiddle player whose girlfriend, Tanya, has moved out to Los Angeles to make a career as an actress.  Although Geordie loves Tanya and wants to be with her, the idea of leaving the comforts of home and family in Newford scare him.  Talking to Jilly Coppercorn and a mysterious homeless man called Woody, however, help Geordie realize the importance of standing by a commitment even when there are things which appear easier to do.

As I read "Embracing the Mystery," I found myself wondering if any of the denizens in Newford could possibly retain a scrap of skepticism without having to qualify it with an example of magic they have run into. In this story of a talking dog and closure, de Lint presents Sue Ash with a variety of strange occurrences, from a talking dog to a sentient website, the Wordwood, which appeared in "Saskia." Despite holding onto her beliefs in the rational, Sue is pulled into the world of the occult as she seeks comfort and closure over the suicide of her friend, Gina, whose dog she has adopted.

One of the recurring themes in de Lintís writing is the sharing of stories, no matter how strange they may appear, and such is the case with "Masking Indian." As with so many of de Lintís tales, this one starts with a ghostly appearance, in this case the ghost of a costume worn by Chief Larry. As Marley comes to discuss the appearance with Wendy and Jilly, she also learns that the costume is representative of the roots which she has long turned her back on, but can still reclaim.

"Granny Weather" tells of one of Sophie Etoileís adventures in her dreamland of Mabon and the associated fairytale world. When bogles come to her for help against Granny Weather, who Sophie has previously helped with against the bogles, Sophie ventures into the dreamlands to hear Granny Weatherís side of the story. Although Jilly Coppercorn has been a spiritual focus for so many of de Lintís stories, he has recently been building up Sophieís abilities and "Granny Weather" seems to be another step on Sophieís road to becoming a yet more powerful force.

"The Witching Hour," which features the third Riddell brother, like the later "Freak," looks at the question of heroism. In "The Witching Hour," Paddy has no doubt that he is not a hero, despite the fuss the press makes over him for killing a serial killer. When Paddy learns that he hasnít finished the job, however, he tries to figure out a way to end the murders without harming any more innocents. In the end, it comes down to a question of how to live with doing something horrible which is morally the right thing to do.

"Pixel Pixies" is a return to Holly Rue's bookstore, previously seen in "Saskia."  In this story, Holly is plagued by pixies who have managed to enter her store via her internet connection.  Although Holly turns to Meran Kelledy for assistance, she already has help in the form of Dick Bobbins, a hobgoblins who long ago turned his back on the farms of Cornwall and took up residence in bookstore after bookstore until he finally landed at Holly's. 

"Trading Hearts at the Half Kaffe Cafť" is a look at attempting to find the right mate. On one side is a Bohemian artist whose relationships have all fizzled and sheís afraid of scaring off someone new. On the other is a vampire who wants to meet a person with a normal lifespan who is just enjoying each day as it comes. Although de Lint doesnít usually deal with creatures as pedestrian as werewolf, his version of a werewolf is as far removed from the traditional Lon Chaney werewolf as you can get without becoming an annoying romantic creature. The story is told from both Mona and Lyleís points of view, providing insight into the insecurities everyone has on a first date, along with the hope that keeps people trying to make a connection, even when a person seems hopelessly strange and different.

"Making a Noise in the World" point to the futility of violence even when it seems to be the right thing to do. Following the murder of John Walking Elk by a brutal Newford policeman, James Raven seeks to avenge Walking Elk by murdering Tom McGurk. As with "The Words That Remain," the direction de Lint is going with this story is evident long before de Lint depicts Ravenís solution. While it has the right feel to it, "Making a Noise in the World" isnít as powerful a tale as "The Words That Remain."

Perhaps the greatest heroes of all are the ones who not only don't seek the spotlight, but also don't explain their actions when doing so might save them.  In "Freak," Bernie murders a man in order to protect a charitable woman who the man is planning on killing.  Because he knew of the man's intentions through a strange form of telepathy, Bernie refuses to explain his actions.  Although he does appear heroic, the fact that he also has information which could help the police close the cases on several disappearances, but doesn't, does tend to assuage the sense of his heroism.

Like "Pixel Pixies," "Big City Littles" deals with tiny mythical creatures in an urban setting.  Furthermore, Holly Rue and Dick Bobbins play a minor role in the story of the children's author Sheri Piper and Jenky Wood, the Traveling Little who appears one morning on her pillow looking for help.  Twenty years earlier, Sheri related the story of the Littles in a book, thinking it merely a tale told by her grandfather.  Now, the Littles have tracked her down and want her help to return to their life as birds.  

"Sign Here" is a deal with the Devil story in which de Lintís protagonist trades his soul, which he doesnít believe in, for the ability to do magic, starting with simple fire conjuration tricks.  What makes this story so different from other deal with the Devil stories is that Peter and his friend Robert not only try to figure out how to outwit the Devil, but also try to figure out what the Devil is getting from the deal and what souls are actually good for.  In the process, Robert and Peter learn about themselves and each other, not always for the best.

Seven Wild Sisters, which was published separately as a book by Subterranean Press earlier this year, is reprinted in its entirety in Tapping the Dream Tree.  My review of this stories can be found by clicking on this link.

With the numerous novels and short stories which now comprise the collected Newford saga, Charles de Lint's fans are in desparate need of a concordance to keep the characters and their various adventures straight, made more important by de Lint's references to previous stories which reader might wish to re-read (or read for the first time), but without the title of the story to which de Lint is referring. This "problem" of course, merely demonstrates how real de Lint's world is and how much life his characters have managed to attain for themselves.

Ten for the Devil Granny Weather
Wingless Angels The Witching Hour
The Words That Remain Pixel Pixies
Many Worlds Are Born Tonight Trading Hearts at the Half Kaffe Cafť
The Buffalo Man Making a Noise in This World
Second Chances Freak
Forest of Stone Big City Littles
Embracing the Mystery Sign Here
Masking Indian Seven Wild Sisters

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