Eithnie, a Canadian artist, has been troubled by dreams of Faerie. Mysterious and disturbing, these dreams frighten her so much that she runs to friends in Arizona, asking them if they believe in Faerie. Her artist friends answer her questions seriously, and her fears are allayed enough to return to the Canadian woods. In an effort to determine her own sanity, she continues asking friends about Faerie while exploring the woods more deeply. Her friends are understandably concerned about this line of questioning, but are willing to accept her explanations.
With the discovery of a weasel pelt pouch tacked to her door, Eithnie's fate is linked with that of the spirits of the woods. However, it seems she has always been linked—memories of her past and childhood dreams become a part of her daily thoughts.
Slowly, her life becomes more surreal, as she tries to discover exactly what it is that the faeries want her to accomplish. Through her friends Joe and Ruth, as well as a dreamlike adventure with odd "stickmen" faeries, Eithne comes to the realization that she needs to help Broceliande, the mystical wood spirit, the "leader" of the stickmen, and keeper of mysteries of the woods. Only through her cousin Sharleen, bringing strange greetings from Eithne's past and dead grandmother, does Eithne solve this spiritual and natural mystery.
This book has a touch of etherealness about it, a hint of unreality heightened by deLint's descriptions and Froud's drawings. However, this feeling is offset by the practical reality of the characters, especially secondary characters such as Ruth and Sharleen. Both help to keep Eithne from becoming unlikable in her determination to face her fears alone.
From The Ottawa Citizen, March 1994:
When Byron Preiss… decided to create a quartet of stories based on Brian Froud's drawings, the choice of Charles de Lint to write the first in the series must have seemed a natural. This is an evocative little story, an interesting blend of two men's vision, one in words, the other in pictures, creating a short but satisfying whole.
From Orlando Sentinel, March 1994:
This is the ambitious first volume in a four-volume series of fantasy novels based on noted fantasy artist Brian Froud's Faerielands concept and drawings. De Lint tells the story of a troubled artist who fears she's losing her sanity when she begins to see the wild creatures of the Land of Faerie appear in the Canadian wilderness around her home and then in her own drawings and paintings. De Lint develops what is almost a cliched promise in such a way as to engage the reader, and it closes with a heart-tugging climax.
From Future Visions Books Newsletter, Spring 1994:
I would not have thought it possible to generate novels from art, but this first one, at least, works. It works so well beyond my expectations that now I'm hooked…
From SF Chronicle, 1994:
A quiet, instrospective, tightly controlled and beautifully written fantasy more concerned about its characters than a paraphernalia of magic.
From Locus, February 1994:
…in The Wild Wood he has done a good job of bringing complex, appealing, thoroughly human characters together with the stranger but equally vivid creatures of Froudian/mythic Faerie, to reveal both the unsettling discordance and the haunting echoes between the two worlds.
From The Toronto Star, March 1994:
…de Lint's skill at charting the delicate emotional shifts of his characters makes this a satisfying tale.
Kirkus Reviews , 01/01/94:
Billed as Brian Froud's Faerielands, this is the first of a series of four books by different authors on faerie-ecological themes, and inspired by Froud's artwork. Artist Eithnie, living in the remote Canadian woods, finds disturbing faerie images creeping unbidden into her work. Gradually, she begins to suspect that one particular figure, a stick-man named Albin, is real. Her neighbor Joe, a part-Japanese musician and woodsman, tells her of a nearby colony of snow macaques—creatures whom Eithnie perceives to be faeries, and who are dying of pollution and loss of habitat. A visit by Eithnie's cousin Sharleen, bearing an enigmatic message, brings Eithnie to realize her role and what she must do to help, and she wonders if the mysterious Joe is at the heart of the matter, or Albin, or if they are somehow the same. Well meant but less substantial than a soap bubble.
Booklist , 01/15/94, American Library Association:
This is the first of four romances collectively entitled Brian Froud's Faerielands. Each is to be based on a different painting by artist Brian Froud in response to what that picture evokes in the writer's mind. The other three authors working on the project are Patricia McKillip, Midori Snyder, and Terri Windling; they must certainly be on their mettle to equal de Lint, who's one of the outstanding creators and innovators of fantasy in contemporary settings. This one is the comparatively straightforward story of a young Canadian artist who seeks solitude in the wilderness to concentrate on painting. It recalls, among de Lint's other novels, Moonheart, and if it isn't major de Lint, it will still not disappoint the majority of his large readership.
Green Man Review:
As I was reading The Wild Wood today, I found the imprint of a shape pressed onto the words on the page in front of me. I was puzzled until I turned back one page and saw the same shape, inked in black: one of Brian Froud's symbolic drawings. I felt then a strange connection to whoever it was who had taken this book out of the library before me, who had traced Froud's shape for him or herself, pressing hard enough to leave an indentation on the following page. I shared that unknown former reader's fascination with the shape. Was it a leaf? A feather? A spearhead?
Eithnie is an artist who has lost her sight. No, she's not blind, but she might as well be. She sees the world around her without seeing it, and paints it without inspiration or passion. There is a shadow over her past, but she refuses to remember the terrible wound that haunts her. Until she looks down one day at a sketch she is halfheartedly rendering and sees, emerging from the trunk and branches of the tree on her paper, faces, the faces of strange magical beings.
It's a haunting that is peculiarly suited to an artist, to see things in one's work that one did not put there. But Eithnie's haunting grows; the creatures in her pictures step out into the world around her, and she begins to see them everywhere in the familiar woods around her home, overwhelming her with the beauty and terror of the unknown. At first she runs away from the faerie creatures peopling her woods. But it is only when she returns and makes the decision to face them bravely and ask what they want of her that she discovers her own power. Mortals who give gifts to Faerie are forever blessed and changed.
Eithnie's story, The Wild Wood, was brought to life out of an interesting sort of collaboration between another real-life artist, Brian Froud, and a writer, Charles de Lint. Over the course of the summer and autumn of 1991, Brian Froud created over fifty drawings and paintings, inspired by his sense of the evocative magic in the world he saw around him. Then he met with four authors, who went through his pictures of magical, natural creatures, chose the images that spoke most strongly to them, and went off to write whatever story came out of that speaking. When the stories were published, Froud's pictures accompanied them.
It is perhaps because of this balance, this turn and return between the pictures and the text, that reading The Wild Wood was so unusual for me. I read slowly, stopping often to think, even to put the book down and go away to reflect on what I was reading. I characteristically read any book by de Lint at breakneck speed, eager to find out "what happens!" This time, I looked back and forth between the words and the pictures, noting the similarities between them, puzzling about the differences. The pictures do not illustrate the story; there is no one-to-one correspondence between them. And the differences go beyond such things as "Mabel's hair is brown in the story, but blonde in the picture." Instead, it is as if the sections of the story are meditations, narrative musings on the pictures. In this way, de Lint has left openings for each reader to interpret the pictures for him- or herself, adding yet more layers to the story.
The Wild Wood was one of four books that were supposed to come out of the collaboration between Brian Froud and those four writers who met with him. The series was to be entitled Brian Froud's Faerielands. Of the four, only two were published as part of the series: this one, and Patricia McKillip's award-winning Something Rich and Strange. A third book intended for the series was The Wood Wife, which Terri Windling wrote, and later expanded and published elsewhere, winning another award. The Green Man Review's review of The Wood Wife can be found here. Although Brian Froud's pictures were not published with The Wood Wife, they can be seen on Windling's Web site, the Endicott Studio, at this page.
Brian Froud also has a Web site, which he shares with his wife and fellow-artist, Wendy Froud. To see more of the Frouds' internationally famous work, go here.
A complete bibliography of Charles de Lint's work and excerpts from his most recent projects, biographical information, and other wonderful things, can be found at his website. The Green Man Review has also reviewed many of his books. Those reviews can be found here, listed alphabetically under "de Lint."