Woods and Waters Wild: Collected Early Stories, Volume 3: High Fantasy Stories Hardcover – 31 Dec 2008
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The book is broken up into sections, and de Lint himself states that "the stories collected under 'Pastiches', [were] a little painful for [to] reread", and yeah, they were. They really were. Luckily, the book improved after that. Once you get through the pain that is "Pastiches", you move on to the "Angharad" section. These stories were interesting to revisit, as they were the seeds that his later book Into the Green grew from. Unlike the earlier section, you could tell that there was really something here... something good. Ultimately, it proved to be enough to make a good novel, but not to become a series. It was interesting to revisit.
The section Dennet and Willie contains two fairly predictable, but not very satisfying, stories about two characters. The characters are pretty basic, but not bad. The stories twist around a bit, but to a reader who is familiar with de Lint's more mature work, they won't stand up. They were diverting, but not very masterful... which is unsurprising because he was not yet a master when they were written.
Then, we get to meet Thomas the Rhymer and, in many ways, get to read the stories that might have been. These stories are inspired by classic folk ballads and read the way that Charles Vess draws. If you know the songs, the twists, alignments and departures are fascinating. If you don't know the songs, the stories serve as excellent introductions. These stories are wonderful. They may not be as well crafted as the current work, but are as good as some of the stories that appear in Dreams Underfoot. Part of me wishes that there had been more of these stories to read, but the other part recognizes that by giving them up, we got Newford... and that's a good trade.
The remaining five stories are more like the de Lint I was expecting. Each story is well written and stands on its own. Though some of them are strangely incomplete and plot-driven (like the random bear in "The Fane of the Grey Rose"), they are enjoyable and make a good read on a cold winter night. Some are unique, like "A Kingly Thing", which pulls the reader along a destined path following a similarly-pulled young protagonist. Some, like "Wood and Waters Wild" are a simple update of a fairly classic and common myth, good but not great. Then, lastly, there are the two that should really have been expanded into novels of their own. "The White Road" would have made an excellent full-length travelogue/coming of age story. It's a good short story, but could have been an incredible novel. Similarly, "The Graceless Child" is about honesty, truth and decisions. The characters are interesting and come alive in the way that characters in later stories do. I wish that they had been given more of a chance to bloom.
So, in a nutshell, you may find an acorn. However, were this book to be in a nutshell, I'd have to say that you'd enjoy it more as a retrospective and a view into a writer learning to write. If you're expecting the depth and skill that de Lint is currently capable of, you'd be disappointed. However, if you already know and like his current work and want to see the path he took getting here, it's well worth picking up.