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Into the Green

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2003

    The Magic of Being Human

    Much of Charles de Lint's work has been categorized as urban fantasy - tales that tell of the power and magic in the world today, in people's lives now, in places here. 'Into the Green' could be a transition tale: how did we get to a time in which magic and power seem to have disappeared, in which urban fantasy comes into being as the longing for that power and magic? What was the world like just before the very last traces of that power disappeared? Angharad the tinker, a nomad of gypsy kind, lived in the world at such a time. The 'time' is of course disguised as a different place - the Kingdom of the Green Isles - and in fact has a history, a past time of its own in which power and magic, and those who wielded the power and magic, were not so rare. The Kingdom of the Green Islesis not thick with magic; this isn't Earthsea, with its mage winds, competing mages, priestesses, Roke's college of mages. It is more akin to Middle Earth at the end of the Third Age: political and military powers are wielded in the open, while ancient wisdoms and subtle forces fade and dissipate as surely as, though more slowly than, the morning fog lifts and disperses with the rising sun. Then we are in the heat and rush and bright light of day. One of the remaining spirits in the Kingdom of the Green Isles - a mere breath, a shimmering wisp of that world's magic - warns Angharad of the impending final retreat of 'the green', of magic and light, from their world. It is Angharad's triad of dispensations - tinker, witch, and harpist - that signal her right to this wisdom, and allow her understanding of and response to that wisdom. The spirit, an oak's spirit, instructs Angharad in, if not preventing the final retreat of 'the green', at least closing off the most obvious and sure avenue of that retreat. This is a magical box, a sort of negative Pandora's box. If let open in the world, the box wouldn't release a mob of calamities and troubles, but would rather suck out of the world the last of that breath of magic of the green into the blackness of the box. Her task is to find the box, and somehow take that blackness into herself before it can darken the fey light in the heart of the world. De Lint's story seems to come to us through the mists of Irish history, language and legend, much of which is seemingly intentionally left obscure. The many references, and even more subtle allusions, to a nomadic Irish gypsy life do give a certain time-depth to the Kingdom of the Green Isles, and to Angharad's life and journey there. At times, these same idioms and colloquialisms lack substance, and stand out like props. Also, the storytelling suffers from a choppy plot in the first third of the book. The acknowledgment at the beginning of the book partly explains, and confirms, this: the 'early portion of this novel appeared, in much altered form, as short stories.' About one-third the way into the book, I got the sense that I'd left behind any story that had been developing, or not developing, and now was coming quickly into the thick of a mystery novel. Angharad has temporarily left her meandering tinker ways to get wrapped up in, and get to the bottom of, intrigues involving the sale of purported witch bones, and finding the mysterious box that may after all be somehow involved in the gruesome business. Nonetheless, the last half of the book is quite engaging, and actually less 'fantastic' than is the first 'early portion.' Perhaps the most engaging of this part of the story is its more soulful, psychological, and human, rather than fantastic and fey, quality. A broken, unredeemed outcast - a forgotten, crippled soldier bent on blowing his brains out with alcohol (he is a coward to boot, and so resists cutting his own throat or falling on a sword) - flickers into the picture. He can't bear to look at his love, the woman he held in her dying moments, as she speaks to him in his memories, and we ache for him to look and listen long enough to hear beyond his sha

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