This week, I read The Wild Wood, by fantasy author Charles deLint. I’ve recently been on a deLint kick, if you will. I have finally unpacked my books after being on the move for a year and a half, and found The Riddle of the Wren, which I read when I was in middle school, and have never really stopped thinking about. Riddle, itself is a haunting book that has stayed with me, much like I think The Wild Wood does as well. I’ve been meaning to read The Wild Wood for several years now. This book left me speechless at times. It’s as though the book has a heartbeat of its own. The prose is bright and fresh, often breaking into all-out poetry. Specifically, when the main character describes the sound of her own pulse: “It’s the voice of blood, slow sap blood, quick wind blood, underground river, underskin river, all mingled” (13). This, my friends, is the work of a writer at the top of his game.
The Wild Wood is about artist, Eithnie Garrow. She’s left the city to live in a cabin in the woods after she received a negative review on her work. She is visited by Broceliande, the Fae queen of the forest. She notices the Fae, popping up in her drawings—sneaking around in her peripherals. Slowly, the stick-men, wild-eyed Fae, they all come out of the trees to play havoc in Eithnie’s work and life. As she begins to finally accept their reality, she finds that they need her help.
Plot-wise, nothing is extraneous and nothing is missing. It unfolds like a well-drawn map, giving you only what you need, and not revealing everything until the very end. Whatever Charles deLint promises his readers, he delivers. The setting descriptions are a painting that I just wanted to climb inside of, and the characters, despite many of them being surreal, fairy-tale creatures, feel alive. For example, Albin, who is a figure very much akin to an Ent, is described thus: “In the candlelight, his skin appeared to be not so much flesh as bark, brown and rough. His hair was long, hanging down either side of a narrow face in uncombed, knotted locks festooned with tiny twigs and leaves and feathers and slivers of mice that caught the candlelight like gems (110).
Despite his otherworldly description, Albin speaks much like you or I would.
“Can…can you talk?” (Eithnie asks him).
“Can you breathe?” he said… she got the point” (110).
There is also Joe, Eithnie’s neighbor, who is a hermit of sorts. He’s the best character—he’s often found pottering about the woods. His relationship with nature and the way that he’s so comfortable with his own existence combine to create a divine figure. Unlike Eithnie, he accepts the existence of the Fae, watching them from afar. He respects their boundaries, and doesn’t force his presence upon them.
Eithnie’s internal struggle drives the plot. As the Fae begin to enter her life, she runs away (literally), returns, and then chalks their visits up to being dreams. What’s really great is that the thing that convinces her of the Fae’s reality is something utterly fantastic and witchy that does not disappoint. What Eithnie believes to be the “real” or human world has devastating effects on the “imaginary” world. I loved this book, and highly recommend it.
Charles deLint is one of fantasy’s best and most prolific writers. He recently won the World Fantasy Award and it’s well-deserved. It appears that he is self-publishing through Triskell Press, and has a book that came out just this year, Horsepower and Medicine.
deLint, Charles. The Wild Wood. New York: Tom Dougherty Associates, 1994. Print.
Image credit: @szmigieldesign