The Bottom Line: Thought provoking and gritty enough for those who don't fancy fantasy literature and a must have for all Dreamers!
In the words of Terri Windling, The book you hold is neither a novel nor a simple gathering of short stories. Rather, it is a cycle of urban myths and dreams, of passions and sorrows, romance and farce woven together to create a tapestry of interconnected dramas, interconnected lives - the kind of magic to be found at the heart of any city, among any tightly knit community of friends. No other wording could possible explain more succinctly exactly what this work is in the ordinary view of things. Dreams Underfoot attains this goal so well that it does, in fact, transcend the ordinary.
Following a brief and interesting Introduction, we are given nineteen tales that act as windows into other lives, other worlds, and the magic that flows through the everyday world. Each story begins in or around the fictional city of Newford which appears, upon the surface, like any other city. Yet the characters and the stories take us much further than we, or they, could expect. Let me share with you some of my friends and favorite vacation spots in Newford...
THE STONE DRUM
Our heroine in this tale carries the improbable name of Jilly Coppercorn. She is a part-time waitress, aspiring artist, and the surprised victim of a rather unusual situation. She was rambling through a part of town known as Old City which was once the heart of Newford until it was swallowed by the Great Quake of the 1800's. In the strange maze of ruins beneath the subways, she found a strange item made of stone. It was tube-shaped, standing about a foot high, with a seven inch diameter at the top, and five inches at the bottom. The top was smooth as the head of a drum. On the sides, were what appeared to be the remnants of a bewildering flurry of designs.....it was hollow. It weighed about the same as a fat hardcover book.
She turns to her eccentric friend Professor Bramley Dapple to help her identify the strange stone drum. Bramley offers plenty of off-the-wall theories, but the one he seems to believe most likely is perhaps the oddest. Bramley talks of the ill-mannered, ill-tempered goblin-like folk rumored to be living in the ruins of Old City, Skookins. If this is truly a Skookin artifact, they will not care how she came to possess it, like most faerie folk; their curse will simply fall upon her until their treasure is properly returned to them. They will be wanting it back. Bramley warns. Preposterous! Absurd! She thinks, but then... she begins to dream.
Jillys hand begins to itch. The hand she scratched when leaving Old City with the drum, the hand that she paints with, the one that begins to tremble when she notices a growing discoloration. She is marked now, and only Bramleys cantankerous, sullen, comical figure of a housekeeper, Goon, and her mystical, musical friend, Meran, can help her now. In the end, the curse must come home, but rather than death or something equally unpleasant, she is cursed with knowledge. Knowledge that such creatures exist and the sight to see them may seem like no curse at all, but consider this: Knowing something is true and accepting it are two different things, and if you cannot accept truth, how long can you stay sane when it dances daily before your eye?
Amusingly, the quote the author begins this tale with is, There is no question that there is an unseen world. The problem is how far is it from midtown, and how late is it open?- attributed to Woody Allen. Our next tour guide in Newfords unseen world will be ...
THE CONJURE MAN
He was more stout than slim, with a long grizzled beard and a halo of frizzy grey hair that protruded from under his tall black hat like ivy tangled under an eave. Nestling in the hatband were a posy of dried wildflowers and three feathers: one white, from a swan; one black, from a crow; one brown, from an owl. Dressed in sky blue, grass green, leather and plaid patched brown pants, and bright yellow boots, the ageless John Windle tools around town on his bicycle with Ginger his, mostly terrier, dog. To Wendy St. James, he seems like any of the citys familiar if quirky street dwellers.
Her personal acquaintance with the inexplicable Mr. Windle begins when she witnesses young bullies causing him to take a sudden, hard fall from his bike and rushes to help him. His nonsensical observations are peppered with insights both intelligent and profound. One minute he is calmly explaining that the spice ginger actually comes from gingerbread dogs like his own grey canine and the next he has taken her poetry journal out of her hands and begins critiquing it like a renegade English professor. He smiles as he returns her work saying, ...thats the hope of our future, isnt it? That the imagination reaches beyond the present to glimpse not so much a sense of meaning in what lies all around us, but to let us simply see it in the first place?
He then convinces her to come see something that he thinks only she may if not understand, then at least appreciate. What could it possibly be? Hidden away on the Butler University commons is a once semi-wild spot she remembers, but oh the tragedy! They have cut down the rare, 400 year old oak tree that once thrived in this quiet nook of the city. Ah, but is anything really as we believe it to be?
John tells a different tale of this oak then one would expect. She was a Tree of Tales, he says, She held all the stories the wind brought her...and with each tale she grew. Her death is a symbol that the world has no more time for stories. Wendy tries to argue with him, her rational mind whispering its sound advice to her, but still John manages to touch her with the truths he speaks of both magic and faith.
Jilly, now one of Newfords leading experts on truth listens patiently to her friends tale and offers her support. Together they find a single acorn from the last Tree of Tales, but Jilly tells her only she can plant it since both John and the tree itself chose her. With wonder and growing faith this is just what Wendy does, caring for the young sapling all winter long with water, sun and poetry. We must all remember that as long as someone cares and believes in the beauty of life, the importance of imagination, it will never perish. After all, who knows when YOU may be chosen to nurture our last spark of hope? You might ask another burgeoning authority about this, Sophie Etoile who very much fears that...
THE MOON IS DROWNING WHILE I SLEEP
Motherless Sophie has learned many things from her father. In one of their more personally interesting chats, he told her that dreams want to be real, they hang on and try to slip out into our waking world. She asked if it were possible that any of the people our sleeping minds make real could ever manage to sneak into this world. With that poignant look he gets when thinking of her mother he replies that he knew of at least one and that I often wondered what did SHE dream of?
Sophie has been sleeping poorly lately and having the strangest dreams. She confides the tale her sleeping mind shows her to her dear friend, perhaps the only one who could understand or be at all helpful...Jilly. Here in this vivid world of Sophies dreams, another world comes into focus where the Moon is a beautiful and potent woman whose light keeps at bay the darker intentions in the night. These dark beings have caught her in a moment of weakness, and she lies trapped now beneath the waters around the Black Snag.
Have you ever had a dream that seemed so real, you doubted the world around you when you awoke? What would you do if your dreaming world was as real as your waking world? What if one world was in peril and you were called upon to save it, would it matter which world called out to you? Would you believe? What will happen to both worlds, to Sophie herself, if the drowning Moon should die? Think well upon this and choose wisely when next you slumber. For Sophie, truth, fate and her own salvation may only be a dream away.
These are but a meager few of the many paths, lives, and windows into the world of Newford. Whether we are contemplating an inanimate objects possible desire to be free in Freewheeling, the chance that the past might reach into the present with tragic consequences as contemplated in Timeskip, or weeping for the harshness life can exhibit in But For the Grace Go I, each story will open a new door in the readers mind. Where the tales and characters lead you after that door opens is entirely up to you.
Charles deLint is an author who works true magic and unflinchingly shares with us his keen insight. I honestly can say that he is a Bard in the truest, oldest sense. Some tales will make you ache for what might have been, some will make you cry for what was, is, or may yet be, but all will open your heart in some small, secret, deeply personal way. Life in all its brightest and darkest moments is revealed and celebrated in all of his works, and Dreams Underfoot is a perfect introduction to his style. This amazing author stands at the threshold of all possible worlds and shows us where the doorway awaits to be found. You hold the key, perhaps you already know the way...