Charles de Lint,
The Riddle of the Wren
(Ace, 1984; Firebird, 2002)

I have a confession to make. The Riddle of the Wren by Charles de Lint has been one of my favorite novels since it was first released in 1984. At the time, I was no older than the book's heroine, Minda Talenyn, and I identified strongly with her. I found the setting, a universe where stone circles are gates to other worlds, where fey beings and talking animals walk freely and where names have power, to be thoroughly enchanting.

The story begins in the town of Fernwillow on an unnamed world. Minda Sealy is afraid to go to sleep because she has been having terrible nightmares for weeks. One night when the nightmare cycle begins, she finds herself walking a high, peaceful moor, where she is befriended by Jan Penalurick, the lord of the moors, who has been imprisoned in a standing stone by Ildran the Dream-master -- the very creature who is sending Minda the nightmares. In exchange for her promise of aid, Jan gives Minda three things: a new name, Talenyn, meaning "Little Wren"; a pouch of pebbles that, when used correctly, can function as a gate between worlds; and an acorn pendant that will keep the evil Ildran from invading her dreams.

Minda sets out the very next night, leaving the safety of her old life to begin a journey whose ending she could never have foreseen. As she travels from world to world, seeking the hidden world where Jan Penalurick is imprisoned, Minda finds friends where she least expects them, including the loremistress Taneh, Grimbold the wizard and clever Markj'n Tufty. Always one step ahead of the Dream-master, Minda discovers depths in herself that she never knew existed and comes into her heritage. The riddle of the Wren, the riddle she must solve, is the riddle of herself.

The setting of The Riddle of the Wren is heavily pseudo-Celtic, as are many of de Lint's earlier novels, though only 1985's The Harp of the Grey Rose is also set in the universe of the many worlds. This, along with the novel's cast of characters including a talking badger, a giant, a tinker and assorted horned folk, gives the novel a romantic, fairy tale appeal.

At its heart, The Riddle of the Wren is a story about growing up and finding one's place. Minda discovers that her place is not even remotely like what she had imagined living and working in her father's inn. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that I so enjoy this book; it let me know that one did not have to live the life mapped out by circumstance and that the extraordinary was possible.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]
Rambles: 25 June 2001

Buy it from