Charles de Lint's fiction has been described as "fantasy for people who don't normally read fantasy." On the official and definitive Charles de Lint website (at http://www.charlesdelint.com) the author continues: "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'm delighted that the novels and stories are so well-received within the fantasy and science fiction field, but I'm also very pleased that so many other readers enjoy them as well."
A full time writer for fourteen years, de Lint has now published forty books—including Moonheart, Yarrow, and Memory and Dream—and has others on the way. He started the website in an effort to have valid information about his work in one place. He was discovering sites on which he was being misrepresented, more through ignorance than malice. (The scoop on one site was that he'd been dead for a decade!)
Other authors, of course, have started their own websites—possibly for similar reasons—but the fact that de Lint has full editorial and artistic control is typical of what seems to be a need for satisfaction in the man. For example, he gets to pre-approve his cover art and jacket blurb in the UK, and is consulted on both in North America. This might sound like no big deal, but most writers would be able to offer at least one story about their unhappiness with book cover art—as indeed would de Lint. Many of his readers, in days gone by, found his work by listening to word of mouth, not willing to pick up a book with "that type of cover." But those days are gone. In addition, he owns a small publishing company in order to produce the chapbooks that he sends to friends and family every Christmas: another way (however practical) of staying on top of things.
Given all this, it came as no great surprise to learn that de Lint is cautious about offering up his novels for cinematic adaptation. Although he stated, "I wouldn't refuse to have any filmed," he did qualify the statement by adding, "though naturally—from the experiences that friends of mine have had with the film industry—I'd be nervous of any that went into production. The thing is, one has to think of them as two separate entities. The books remain as they are forever, my work. The films are something put together by committees and are entirely different animals, sometimes connecting to the work, often going off on their own tangents. It's almost apples and oranges... As to what I'd like to see filmed, I'm not sure. It would all depend on the actors, screen writers, directors, etc., involved in the project. I think both Jack the Giant-Killer and Svaha would translate well to film. My wife MaryAnn has decided that Drew Barrymore would make a fine Jacky, and I agree."
Science fiction novels work better when they are turned into films than fantasy novels, I suggested. Charles replied, "It depends on whether you mean high fantasy, or just fantasy. A lot of films being marketed as mainstream, are in fact fantasy, and very good fantasies at that. I think of a couple of Travolta's last films as excellent examples: Michael and Phenomenon. Tom Hanks in Big. These are all fantasies and well-done, to my mind. But when it comes to high fantasy, I guess the more organic effects (dragons, elves, wizardry) simply don't translate as well as do the techno effects in sf films." By extrapolating along these lines, as Charles de Lint's books are often urban fantasies they would stand a good chance of a successful adaptation.
But despite his numerous interests (Celtic music and fine art among them), de Lint is a writer, and the word comes first. So what does he hope to achieve when he is working on a book? Some writers see the reinvention of society as one of the novelist's main objectives (by showing how bad things have become, they hope to change them, or at least to get people to understand that a protest should be made) and let's face it, some of H.G. Wells's work got laws amended. However, Charles de Lint is not such a writer.
"The main objective of a novel or story should be to present the readers with believable characters and use them to tell a fascinating story. One can address any number of themes and personal beliefs in the context of that story—and one should, to give the work greater resonance, and because it's important to invest a part of one's own beliefs in one's work—but one shouldn't do so at the expense of Story. Leave that for essays." And he has specific judging criteria for how successful he has been. He regards his greatest artistic achievement as the moment "when a reader tells me that something I've written has inspired them to go out and create something of their own. Or that the story has helped them through a difficult time. Or that it has simply swallowed them whole to such an extent that the written world was as real as the one they live in."
I asked if he had a favourite of his own books, and why it was so?
"Dreams Underfoot would be one," he replied. "Mostly because I enjoy those characters and that setting so much and this collects all my earlier visits with them. These stories are also the ones where I figured out how to write a short story. Not that it gets any easier, but pieces like "Uncle Dobbin's Parrot Fair" taught me that stories didn't have to be strictly linear, and that they're also a place to experiment and have fun." And quite reasonably the new book was also high up the list: "More recently, Someplace to Be Flying is a personal favourite—again because I enjoyed visiting with these characters so much." (Published in England in March 1998, Someplace to Be Flying is a tale of crows and "crow girls," dealing with the fascinating mythology of crows.) "Ask me next year and it'll probably be the book I've just finished then," he continued.
Charles de Lint admits to various strong beliefs. In his fiction there are any number of pagan characters and earth spirits, but one should not assume too much from this. However, although not a practicing Wiccan, he believes that objects have some kind of spirit about them (or variety of spirits). Furthermore, these are spirits which anybody could tune into, given time, patience and perception. He believes in serendipity and in "the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of syncronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we're alone." When I asked him (not facetiously) if he believed in aliens he replied, "That's a tough one. Depends on the mood I'm in when you ask me. Mostly, I believe in the possibility of them."
He was influenced early on by "William Morris, Lord Dunsany, James Branch Cabell. Mythology and folklore. Katharine Briggs. Colin Wilson." An eclectic mix that might go some way to explaining the diversity of subject matter in de Lint's work. There are obviously things that are common to many of his books: his realistic female characters, for one. And there is usually some form of violence, for what is a book without conflict? But taking the concept of violence as an example, and taking two books at random, we can see that de Lint is by no means fixed on any one approach. There is Trader, a tale of two men who wake up (metaphysically) in each other's bodies. Although there are scenes of violence, the crux of the story is the problem that one of the men faces on learning that the other man quite likes his new body! How does one go about vacating a body of a squatting spirit? is a question that is posed. And then there is Mulengro, a tale in which there exist some extremely graphic scenes. There is no topic that Charles de Lint would balk at describing: "No, nothing that I can think of—at least in terms of self-censorship. There are things I don't write about (like, oh say, World War II and Nazis) simply because I have no interest them, but that's not what you're really asking, is it?"
My final question was oblique. Given that a lot can be told about someone by their physical surroundings, I asked what my first impression would be if I was to enter the place where Charles de Lint works.
"It's messy," he replied. "Books and papers and CDs piled everywhere. Also tons of knick-knacks. Lots of art on the walls and propped up in front of books on the shelves. What would you gather about me by looking at my bookshelves? I have no idea. In my study, where I do my writing, it's all reference material, and it runs the gamut from the mythological to the technological." Perhaps, in this case, it is easier to get an impression of Charles de Lint from the books themselves. He is certainly prolific, and his work is thoughtful, incisive, chewy. It is fantasy that appeals to people who don't normally like fantasy, so if you don't like fantasy you might just like Charles de Lint.