21 Oct

Charles de Lint’s Moonheart is a little bit special. As it says on the back cover blurb “They found them in the back of the little old antiques shop…” and, similarly, I found this book in the back of a little old bookshop in the town where I grew up and have never got sick of reading and re-reading it in all the years since. This was the first Charles de Lint book I ever read and it contains all of the things that his fans have come to know and love – ordinary people thrust into the world of magic that lies on their doorstep, ancient myths walking the modern streets, music, magic, folklore, humour, warmth, imagination and much else besides – dare I say it, better than any book that he has written since. If it’s not too bold a claim, Moonheart is also in my view important because it is one of those few rare books which actually kick-started an entire genre – that of ‘urban fantasy’ – and though De Lint has had many imitators he has never been bettered in this field.

The story is as classic and timeless as any fairy tale. When Sara and her uncle Jamie discover some seemingly ordinary artefacts in the back of their little old antiques shop they sense the pull of a dim and distant place – a world of mists and forests, ancient magics, mythical beings, ageless bards… and restless evil. Sara’s journey sweeps her from the noisy streets of present day Ottawa (OK, 1980s Ottawa but thanks to De Lint’s vibrant prose the story still feels surprisingly current) to twilight realms beyond imagination via a portal in a house that straddles two worlds. On the way we are introduced to a motley cast of characters including Blue the Biker, Keiran the folk musician, RCMP Inspector John Tucker and the mysterious Tom Hengwr. As readers we are drawn irresistibly into a fantastic struggle between good and evil that culminates in a devastating final battle where the destiny of two worlds and the fate of a soul hangs in the balance.

Reading Moonheart you are never left in any doubt that De Lint knows his folklore inside out and he effortlessly weaves his arcane knowledge to spin an entirely modern tale peopled by real characters with real flaws rather than fantasy stereotypes. I believe that De Lint has written something like two hundred books and short stories in a distinguished literary career and, even at this very early stage in his development, his talent for plot, character, dialogue and description really shine through in a manner that must hearten anyone who is fed up with the amateurish, formulaic attempts which seem to dominate this genre. This book also contains a lot of clever ideas – a house that crosses dimensions, the fortune-telling ‘Weirdin’ bones, and in particular a computerised store of knowledge that pre-dates Wikipedia by something like 20 years.

Even if you can’t stand most fantasy I would urge you to seek this book out as it really is ‘un-put-down-able’ and is an excellent starting point for reading De Lint’s other books, many of which have themselves become classics of the genre, like Moonheart’s sequel Spiritwalk, Mulengro, Greenmantle, The Little Country and of course, the series of books set in the magical, fictional city of Newford, best among which are Memory and Dream, Someplace to be Flying and the short story collections, Dreams Underfoot and Tapping the Dream Tree. As one critic put it, all of De Lint’s stories share the ability to absorb the reader in an atmosphere that is “suddenly full of deep woods and quaint city streets and a magic that is nowhere near so far removed as Middle Earth”. Oh, and if any movie producers are reading this, Moonheart is surely about 20 years overdue for a big screen adaptation…

One Response to “Moonheart”

  1. Grace October 21, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    Charles de Lint is fantastic, and I absolutely loved Moonheart. I still haven’t read the sequel, although I do have a copy.

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