The Wild Wood, by Charles de Lint (Orb, 2004)

Plagued by inexplicable dreams of a magical world, and haunted by the buried pains of her past, artist Eithnie Gerrow has retreated to her cabin, deep in the Canadian woods. Even there, she can’t escape the otherworldly contacts that seek her out in her sleep, their touch weakening the distinction between the real world and that of Faerie. Unable to banish the feeling that she’s been targeted for something greater than she can explain, likewise unable to exorcize their influence from her art, she visits friends down in the deserts of Arizona. There, Eithnie finds the strength to return home and confront her problems, aided in part by friends, by her faithful cousin and friend Sharleen, and by the mysterious mountain man, Joe.

Ultimately, Eithnie’s healing process ties into the needs of the forest and its Faerie inhabitants; her decision could heal or destroy the creatures who embody the hidden magic and beauty of the world.

The synopses part of this review is short simply because this is not an overly long book with a complicated storyline. Quite honestly, it’s one of de Lint’s longer short stories in tone, expanded to fit the needs of a short novel. See, this all stemmed from a joint project with Brian Froud, once upon a time. de Lint, along with Midori Snyder, Terri Windling, and Patricia McKillip were all part of this project. Froud handed the quartet of authors a stack of his artwork, and had them pick and choose the ones that spoke to them, and then they went off to write the stories that those pictures inspired.
“They had the freedom to write whatever they chose, just as I’d had the freedom to paint what I chose; yet we’d agreed on a central premise: a recognition that Faerie, inextricably bound as it is to nature and natural forces, is gravely threatened by the ecological crises that human beings have brought to our world.”
–Brian Froud

Unfortunately, changes in Bantam’s publishing program at the time led to cancellations; as a result, only The Wild Wood and Patricia McKillip’s Something Rich and Strange were published as planned, artwork and all. The full story, cover art and all, can be found here

This brings us back to The Wild Wood, which has been reprinted by Orb, sans artwork, in a trade paperback format, as opposed to the original mini-hardback format. Ten years after its first publication, it’s still a beautifully haunting example of de Lint at his strongest, when the real world and the world of Faerie intersect. Inevitably, when this happens, the lucky (or unlucky) mortal touched by Faerie is changed forever. Usually it’s for the better, but Faerie always has its price. de Lint is a master of description when it comes to invoking the surreal magic and beauty found all around us, whether it’s an urban cityscape, the deep woods of the Canadian wilderness, or the alien expanse of the Southwest desert. His gift lies in making whatever locale he writes about seem unique, and memorable. Eithnie, the main character, hails from one of his favorite templates: the artist/writer/creative type whose innate creativity gives them a special insight relating to, or ability to perceive, the creatures of Faerie.

All in all, The Wild Wood is beautifully told, and as sharply detailed as the Froud art which originally inspired it. I still much prefer the first version of this book, but for those seeking a good urban fantasy story, or for those who weren’t lucky enough to find The Wild Wood when it first came out, this is an acceptable alternative. de Lint fans won’t want to pass this up.

Originally posted on SF Site, 2004

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