Dreams Underfoot

by Charles de Lint

Cover image

Publisher: Orb
Copyright: 1993
ISBN: 0-765-30679-4
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 414

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This is the first collection of Charles de Lint's Newford short stories, all set in the same wonderfully varied city that was the location for Someplace to Be Flying. The stories are all urban fantasy, some only barely fantasy at all — stories about people living in a city, most of them without much money and living in the bad parts of the city, and encountering creatures and events of legend and myth.

The collection is a mixed bag, with several stories that I didn't care much for at all. De Lint has a tendency to get rather formulaic, particularly with the earlier stories, and many of them had the same basic plot (person doesn't believe in magic, has some close encounter with something magical, comes to believe in magic after all). Interestingly, though, particularly in the later stories, he's not afraid to write stories with sad endings, and those are the ones I liked the best. The short story is, I think, the best place to write tragedy; I have a hard time with novels with tragic endings because I've invested so much in the characters, but a short story doesn't require the same emotional and time investment.

This collection is uneven, but worth it for some of the later stories. There weren't any stories here that really blew me away, but several that I liked and thought about for a while.

"Uncle Dobbin's Parrot Fair": A good story about helping a street kid, mixed in with introductions to several of the other Newford characters that feature in later stories. Remarkable for a memorable symbolism for one's internal magic. (7)

"The Stone Drum": Jilly Coppercorn's first personal introduction to the magical world. A bit too obvious and shallow of a story for me, although Jilly is always a good character. (6)

"Timeskip": Not very much subtlety or depth to the plot, although there was just enough characterization here to make the story quietly charming and make the ending work. "Paperjack" is a better, later followup to this story. (6)

"Freewheeling": A harmless schizophrenic tries to free the bicycles. I found this one more depressing than enjoyable. (6)

"That Explains Poland": The title and the explanation of it are the best parts of this story. Unusually for de Lint, I didn't much like the first person narrative voice. Nothing about this one grabbed me. (5)

"Romano Drom": The plotting bothered me in this one. I felt like I was being led through the story by the nose, with everything falling neatly into place as is required by the fairly basic plot. I'd rather see more subtlety and emotional conflict. (5)

"The Sacred Fire": A horror story, not even dark fantasy, this one didn't do much for me. I'm not much of a horror fan, but there isn't enough space to really develop the threat or make it feel sufficiently creepy. (5)

"Winter Was Hard": A charming, bittersweet story about gemmin, the spirits of place, featuring Jilly Coppercorn at her best. One of my favorite stories of the collection. (9)

"Pity the Monsters": I didn't get the point of this one. It seems to just be a near escape from mentally ill people, without de Lint's normal depth of characterization. (4)

"Ghosts of Wind and Shadow": An excellent story, long enough to sink one's teeth into, this one also features (unusually for de Lint), street life that is actively predatory and dangerous. A girl can see fairy out of the corners of her eyes; her mother can too, but doesn't want to, and doesn't want to believe she can either. Thankfully, the girl encounters two strong guides to this other world, to help. There's a nice, fitting ending that avoids being too pat or too positive. (8)

"The Conjure Man": A sweet little story about observation and storytelling. Rather shallow and obvious, but still enjoyable. (7)

"Small Deaths": I liked the setup of this story quite a bit, but then the ending didn't go anywhere deep or interesting. A good idea spoiled by a too-pat ending. (6)

"The Moon is Drowning While I Sleep": The resolution here was too easy and simple for me, but I liked the basic idea of the dream story. I wish there had been more depth. (6)

"In the House of My Enemy": I loved this one, and I'm a bit surprised that it didn't go into Waifs and Strays. It would have fit in well, although the subject matter (child abuse) may have been too raw for a collection aimed partly at teens. A disturbing story, heavy on characterization, with a bittersweet ending. (8)

"But for the Grace Go I": This is part of Maisie Flood's story, one of the less-frequently-seen Newford regulars. I like Maisie a lot; she's one of my favorites of de Lint's characters. Where this story captures how she feels and how she chooses to live her life, I loved it. The ending, unfortunately, is forced and poor; there is a follow-up story "Waifs and Strays" that salvages it, but it's not included in this collection. (7)

"Bridges": This one is also rather straightforward, a story about hope and despair, but the touches of tragedy worked well for me and I liked the world. (8)

"Our Lady of the Harbour": A retelling of sorts of The Little Mermaid. A proper retelling, without the Disneyfication, and a suitable, tragic ending. Another favorite of mine from this collection. (9)

"Paperjack": A follow-up story to "Timeskip," I liked this one quite a bit better. I'm not quite sure what to make of the character of Paperjack, and I wish he'd been a bit less mysterious, but the story fits together well and creates a very good slice of life in Newford. (8)

"Tallulah": Christy Riddell bothers me a little as a character since he comes across as an insertion of Charles de Lint. I don't think he actually is, just gives that impression, but it still throws me when he and his writing shows up in these stories. This, though, is his own story, and I liked it quite well. It's another that falls into the standard plot described above, of someone discovering magic, but I liked how this discovery worked and liked the character of Tallulah. (7)

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-10-27

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21