Visions of Paradise

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Forests of the Heart

I am a fan of Charles de Lint’s Newford stories, so I approached his novel Forests of the Heart with a bit of apprehension. After all, very few of the Newford stories were complete stories; many were fragments describing a form of magic inhabiting the city, or studying one of the continuing cast of characters. And truthfully the stories had a bit of sameness about them, a favorite sweater type of casualness which was warm and cozy but not necessarily sharp or wondrous.

Forests of the Heart featured several of the familiar Newford inhabitants, but several new ones as well. Some were familiar with the existence of magic but not with how to access it, while others were nonbelievers, and a few were actual practitioners. Typical Newford stuff, so far. The story followed a half-dozen of these people and their relationships with each other. It was a type of interweaving that would have been confusing had not de Lint approached the characters so slowly, giving the reader time to acclimate themselves to them. The main characters were Tommy, a Native American familiar with magic since his aunts were witch women, but had never practiced any of it himself; Bettina, a Mexican who learned magic from her grandmother but practiced only the slightest edges of it herself; Miki, an Irish immigrant familiar with fairy tales but skeptical about their validity; Hunter, who ran a music store and was as skeptical about magic as most real-world people; Ellie, a sculptor who did not believe in magic either, even though most people who did assured her she was a powerful carrier of magical powers.

These five people were the main focus of the story, each of their stories being told in alternating passages with considerable overlap since their activities had considerable overlap. Miki worked for Hunter; Ellie was close friends with Hunter; Ellie got a commission to sculpt a legendary mask at an artists’ colony in the heart of the city where Bettina resided as a nude model; Tommy rode an overnight van with Ellie bringing food and clothing to homeless people.

Their stories were interesting enough, but woven around it was a unifying thread about the gentry, landless Irish spirits hatching some type of unexplained but obviously devious scheme. Both Miki’s brother and Hunter were beaten up the gentry, while Ellie soon became very important to them because of the mask she was sculpting. And gradually we begin to realize that the gentries’ scheme involved the completion of that task.

However, when the scheme reaches fruition, quite differently than either the gentry or the reader expects, the storylines began to disintegrate. It seemed to me that de Lint was so caught up in having all five of the main characters involved in the defeat of the story’s major villain that he threw all logic to the wind. Powerful supernatural entities arose almost like wildflowers, and people with little or no magical ability suddenly became experts at dealing with supernatural entities. So while Tommy’s aunts and Bettina’s cadejos were the most powerful beings described in the story, the true heroes became Hunter who had neither power nor belief in magic yet who came up with the suggestion which saves the world, and Ellie who concocted what I consider a deus ex machina idea that for some unfathomable reason actually succeeds!

For lack of a better term, this is Star Trek-type plotting, where the characters come up with some scientific gobbledygook which miraculously heals the Enterprise and leads directly to the defeat of the Romulans. That’s almost exactly how de Lint’s five heroes defeated the villain, and to my mind it was a disappointing climax to what had been a strong and rewarding novel otherwise. In any case, I recommend this novel so long as you can handle its disappointing ending.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home