Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

Urban Fantasy and Charles De Lint

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I had never heard of urban fantasy until I discovered Charles De Lint. Though I had always thought of myself as a reader of fantasy, I had obviously been living under a rock because this man’s fabulous stories had gone unnoticed by me through my late teens and twenties.

Charles De Lint (1951- present) is a Canadian writer who weaves mythology and magic throughout his stories. His books have paved the way for the relatively new genre (1980s) of urban fantasy and are also called contemporary magical realism and mythic fiction. He writes stories for adults and young adults, and also writes poetry. He teaches creative writing and has been a judge for the Nebula Award, the World Fantasy Award and the Bram Stoker Award. He also plays many instruments and writes music. This love of music is woven through his stories as well.

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He has written over forty books and published three horror novels under the pseudonym Samuel M. Key. (I will definitely have to check these out!) Some of his most famous books center around the fictional city of Newford and have a the same cast of characters. They are not a series though as they can be read out of order.

He has won several awards including the World Fantasy Award for Best Collection for Moonlight and Vines in 2000. The Blue Girl (2004) won the Ontario Library Associations White Pine Award and the Great Lakes Great Book Award. Jack, the Giant-killer (1987) won the Canadian SF/Fantasy Award.

The first book I discovered was The Little Country (1991) not a kid’s book, but a great story. It mingles the power of music and magic with the mystery of a secret manuscript discovered in a trunk. After this, I was hooked! I have read most of his adult novels, as well as those he wrote for a younger audience. It is those I want to focus on in this post.

Perhaps my favorite of these is a picture book. A Circle of Cats is filled with gorgeous illustrations by Charles Vess. In it an orphan finds her kindred spirits with wild cats in the woods by her aunt’s home. When she is bitten by a snake, the cats use magic to heal her by turning her into one of them.

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Seven Wild Sisters (2014) was also illustrated by Charles Vess. In this tale, Sarah Jane has always wanted to meet a fairy, but when she finally does, she is drawn into a battle between opposing sides. Her six sisters are kidnapped and split between the two factions. It is up to her to free them before they are trapped in the fairy world forever.

Blue Girl (2004) tells the tale of Imogene who decides to reinvent herself and not get into trouble when her family moves to Newford. But when a ghost develops a crush on her and her imaginary friend becomes real, trouble just might find her.

Little (Grrl) Lost (2007) is one of my favorites for teen readers. TJ moves to the suburbs and befriends a Little, Elizabeth, who has run away to find her own way in the world. But can TJ save her when life becomes too dangerous?

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Waifs and Strays (2002) is a collection of short stories geared more toward young adults. It is as good as any of his wonderful collections for adults! Newford, Borderland, the Faerie Realm – this is truly a great place to start if you are new to De Lint’s work.

The Painted Boy (2010) is one that I own but haven’t gotten around to reading yet. The main character is part of an ancient clan, part-boy, part-dragon. I am intrigued and will need to dig that one out right away!

The Riddle of the Wren (1984) and The Harp of the Grey Rose (1985) were two of Mr. De Lint’s earliest novels. They definitely feel more fantasy than urban fantasy, but they are wonderful just the same.

I cannot recommend his stories highly enough! I have read and own almost all of them including the story collections. His adult fiction is magical and make me want to live in the fictional city of Newford where the wall between the fairy world and ours is thin.

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