Charles de Lint continues to be one of my favourite writers. You might not have heard of him; after all, he is a Canadian writer who makes his home in Ottawa. Sometimes, I can’t even find his books in Canadian libraries, which is a shame, because he is a gifted storyteller–an original, who has written more than 70 novels for children, young adults, and adults, and received several awards for his work.
Renowned as one of the trailblazers of the modern fantasy genre, he is the recipient of the World Fantasy, Aurora, Sunburst, and White Pine awards, among others. Modern Library’s Top 100 Books of the 20th Century poll, conducted by Random House and voted on by readers, put eight of de Lint’s books among the top 100.
If you like Neil Gaiman, I guarantee you will like Charles de Lint. His Newford series is fantastic. Widdershins (book #11 in the Newford Series) is one of my all-time favourite books. I just bought Dreams Underfoot and am blown away by what I’ve read so far.
Like me, Charles loves myth and folklore, so it finds its way into his urban fantasy novels. He is also a poet, an artist, and a musician, like many of his characters.
I’ve taken to calling my writing “mythic fiction,” because it’s basically mainstream writing that incorporates elements of myth and folktale, rather than secondary world fantasy.
I emailed Charles de Lint and asked for a digital copy of his latest novel, The Wind in his Heart, so I could review it for the Ottawa Review of Books. He kindly obliged, but then, before I could read and review it, someone else beat me to it. It’s one of their December selections and you can read it here.
So, this is not a traditional review. It’s more of a ramble about how reading the novel affected me. I read The Wind in his Heart quickly the first time through because I really wanted to know what happened to these various eccentric characters. De Lint weaves the story through multiple viewpoints and each character has their own tale to tell, but the main thread winds around the arrival of a young girl named Sadie Higgins.
When Sadie is dumped on the Kikimi Rez by her abusive father, she is rescued by an ageless musician named Steve Cole who takes her to stay with Abigail White Horse (Aggie), an eighty-year old Kikimi artist. After mending Sadie’s physical wounds with desert herbs, one of the first things Aggie does is feed her. Sadie’s never eaten much that didn’t come from a can or arrive as take out, so Aggie’s traditional stew makes an impression.
But she didn’t say anything like that to Aggie as they chopped squash, celery, carrots and peppers for a vegetable and bean stew. But she had to speak up when Aggie kept telling her all these stories about bean boys and squash girls, and the feud between the spirits of the chilies and the jalapenos…The stew, served with flatbread on the side was actually pretty good, and Sadie told Aggie so. It was spicy and full of flavours she didn’t recognize. She had two bowls full, and didn’t even miss having meat.
Aggie’s stew got me thinking about the butternut squash girl sitting on my counter. She ended up in a pot with jalapenos, garlic, and onions. I found this basic Three Sister’s Stew recipe online and adapted it. I blended the baked squash, tomatoes, and spices, and then added white beans and corn. It came out looking like this.
Last night, I ended up making black bean burritos inspired by the book. And today I’m working on a chili. How do foods in novels inspire you?
The American Southwest
The Kikimi people are a fictional Native American tribe from the American Southwest. I travelled through New Mexico a decade ago in March, and fell in love with the red rocks, the cactus, and the surreal landscape. De Lint’s descriptive passages transport me there. Leah Hardin, a writer from Newford, is the most affected by the beauty she encounters all around her.
Once they got out of town, Leah drank in the austere landscape, appreciating every subtlety of faded colour. She loved how the shape of the land wasn’t hidden by swaths of trees the way it was in the hills back home. Instead, she could see every nuance as the spartan panorama spread away from the highway, rolling into the distance like the dry waves of a dusty sea.
They say that artists love New Mexico because the light is different than anywhere else. The colours are dazzling and it’s easy to see why turquoise and adobe reds find their way into Four Corners architecture. We visited Georgia O’Keefe’s studio north of Santa Fe. It’s like walking on the set of an old Western. As winter engulfs the northern hemisphere, this is an area to explore. Take along The Wind in his Hair and immerse yourself in the desert culture.
Coming next: Kikimi Cousins, Shamans & Otherworldly Phenomenon