Charles de Lint,
Tapping the Dream Tree
(Tor, 2002)

The lore of Newford, its surroundings and its fascinatingly fey population continues to broaden with every fresh stroke of the pen (or word processor) of Charles de Lint.

The city, created from scratch by an author seeking to free himself from the confines of "real" urban environments, has developed a life of its own through the course of several novels and countless short stories. Tapping the Dream Tree, the fourth short story collection set in Newford, adds even more layers to an already rich and varied setting. Familiar faces return, deepening our kinship with Newford's magic-rich inhabitants and its free-spirited artistic community, and new characters add ever more diversity to a city we'd love to visit but can never find.

And Newford's mystical landscape continues to deepen as de Lint adds a detail here, a nuance there, sharpens his focus in some places while artfully obscuring the subject in others, presenting an overall picture that's almost too large to grasp.

Some of the collection's fantasy elements roam further afield than many of de Lint's previous stories: a magical duel from another dimension leaks into Newford's reality, the devil pays a visit and suggests a musical wager, fallen angels seek lost photos of the future. In "Trading Hearts at the Half Kaffe Cafe," werewolves hunt the streets of Newford in packs, except for a loner who's looking for love.

But there are familiar themes and ideas, too, that immediately resonate with our picture of Newford. Choices offer myriad possible life paths, and perhaps each one creates a new reality. Life's what we make of it, and love always deserves a second chance. We miss the ones we love when they're gone, and even a dog can give voice to his sorrow. In "The Words That Remain," the ghost of a creative personality, a life not lived, haunts a person who chose the more practical (but less honest) route in life. In "Masking Indian," it's not the ghost of a person, but the clothes he once wore that make an appearance.

"The Buffalo Man" shines a bright light on despair and typifies de Lint's optimistic and altruistic views on life. As the ubiquitous Jilly Coppercorn says in the story, "I'm aware of what's wrong. I just try to balance it with something good. I know I can't solve every problem in the world, but if I try to help the ones I come upon as I come upon them, I think it makes a difference. And you know, most people aren't really bad. They're just kind of thoughtless at times."

An old friend briefly met in de Lint's beloved Tamson House pays a visit to Newford in "Forest of Stone" -- although no overt mention is made of the popular setting of many of de Lint's pre-Newford tales, the story is a pleasant reunion with a mystical character all the same, and he has a pronounced effect on the course taken by Geordie, one of my favorite Newford residents.

Sophie, Newford's most prolific dreamer, goes on a rescue operation in "Granny Weather." "The Witching Hour," the only story original to this volume, is a somber tale of murder, remorse and vindication on a spiritual plane; it is a dark tale of Newford's restless dead. A loyal hob finds his place -- in a used bookstore, of course -- and confronts a nasty set of foes in "Pixel Pixies."

There is a powerful message about our place in society and the injustices that pass us by in "Making a Noise in This World." Although dealing on the surface with bigotry towards Native Americans, the moral is far broader in scope. "Freak" is equally potent, and psychologically horrifying, as a man does the right thing for the right reasons -- and pays a terrible price.

The hefty tome concludes with Seven Wild Sisters, a short novel printed early in 2002 by Subterranean Press. The rustic tale describes a young woman's inadvertent brush with a war in the realms of faerie; the ripples of a chance encounter and act of kindness soon encircle her six sisters and a local wisewoman.

Opening a copy of Tapping the Dream Tree is no simple commitment. The book is long and deep -- this is not a light read for a lazy afternoon, but you'll find the hours passed in de Lint's Newford to be time well spent. It's a place you'll want to visit over and over again.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 25 January 2003

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