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Dreams Underfoot, Charles de Lint, TOR, 1994, 480 pp.

Dreams Underfoot is Charles de Lint's first collection of Newford short stories. Newford is a fictional city that he has used as the setting for all of his recent fiction (three collections of short stories and four novels so far, with another novel due out this year). It's impossible for me to review this particular collection without the other Newford works in my mind. That is, I can never recapture the feeling of first arriving in Newford and meeting the people and seeing the sights as a newcomer. However, part of the beauty of Newford is the sense that it has always been there, that de Lint is a reporter who occasionally files stories from a reality stranger and more beautiful than ours. De Lint also manages to keep each new Newford story fresh and captivating because he is so generous and loving in his depiction of the characters. Yes, there are a group of core characters whose stories recur most often, but a city like Newford has so many intriguing people in it, so many diverse stories to tell, so much pain and triumph to chronicle.

Suitably, Dreams Underfoot begins with a story about Jilly Coppercorn. "Stone Drum" echoes novels like Jack of Kinrowan, where Celtic mythology exists in a real setting like Ottawa. Here, we have Newford, and one of Jilly's first experiences with magic (or at least, the first that we know of). The essential feel of Newford, the texture of the city, has not quite settled in yet, but this is perhaps the only story that I would say that about. There are two types of Jilly Coppercorn stories, ones in which she is the main character and ones in which the main character comes to her for advice or sympathy. In Dreams Underfoot, Jilly plays a secondary role in "Timeskip" (which I'll discuss in a minute), "Freewheeling," "The Conjure Man," and "The Moon is Drowning While I Sleep." Two other stories in this book have Jilly as the main character, "Winter Was Hard" and "In the House of My Enemy." The latter story is a powerful look at Jilly's past and the reasons for her helpfulness toward a pregnant junkie. This story is also written in a weird and wonderful mix of first person and third person, and it's a little trickier than it appears at first.

"Timeskip," the second story in Dreams Underfoot, introduces another main character of Newford, the fiddler Geordie Riddell, who is one of Jilly's best friends. Geordie finally gets lucky in love, only to have his girlfriend captured by a ghost. De Lint brings closure to this particular painful memory of Geordie's in "Paperjack," which is the second last story of this collection. Geordie's brother, the folk-tale writer Christie, gets the last story in the book, "Tallulah." Again, this is a sad love story, and the Riddell brothers don't have much luck in love.

A few of the other stories in Dreams Underfoot have characters who will reappear later, in novels or in other short story collections. Sophie, one of Jilly's good friends, has some frightening serial dreams in "The Moon is Drowning While I Sleep," a state of affairs which happens again in The Ivory and the Horn's "Mr Truepenny's Book Emporium and Gallery" and "Where Desert Spirits Crowd the Night." Maisie is a former street kid who is getting her life back in order and is taking care of Tommy. Her first story is in "But For the Grace Go I," where we also see Angel in action (Angel being a social worker who is always on the front line). Maisie reappears in The Ivory and the Horn's "Waifs and Strays" as well as with Jilly in "The Pochade Box."

The remaining stories in Dreams Underfoot make for an eclectic and fascinating variety of people and events. "That Explains Poland" has an encounter with Bigfoot in the Tombs, a kind of goofy tale reminiscent of Robinson's Escape to Kathmandu. The Tombs is a kind of slum area of Newford, abandoned by greedy developers, taken over by street kids, and sometimes the home of crime and dark doings. "Ghosts of Wind and Shadow" is a very effective longer piece about a girl named Lesli, Lesli's mother, and two people named Meran and Cerin who are not quite what they appear. Lesli runs away from home, which forces the mother to examine some things about her life which she did not want to think about. "The Sacred Fire" is an out-and-out horror story, with a fantasy-tinged premise. Nicky is a street kid, given a helping hand by Luann. However, Nicky wasn't joking when he said that there were spirits out to get him...

And so Newford has a vast variety of people and events to keep the readers' interest. De Lint uses a clever mix of realism, in his effective characterization, and fantasy, where a skewed version of reality lets the story reflect something about human nature. Newford has both the sense of coming home and venturing out into new territory, sometimes scary, sometimes triumphal. These people will live with you in the mind for a long time after the covers of the book have closed.

Last modified: February 16, 2000

Copyright © 2000 by James Schellenberg (

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