06 May 2007

The Little Country

I just finished reading The Little Country by Charles de Lint. I should say re-reading, except either I never finished it or I had no memory of events in it past a certain point. I suspect it's one where I got interrupted while reading and somehow never got back to it. Until now.

This one is much darker than any other of de Lint's novels that I have read. It borders on being horror without ever quite crossing that barrier. It dances on the edge instead. A book published in an edition of one is entrusted to an old friend, with the injunction that he should never, ever, tell anyone else about the book. But when his granddaughter finds the book, or the book calls her to find it, odd things start to happen. First is the music that people only hear when the book is openned. But the book calls darker forces to it, and it isn't long before the Order of the Grey Dove is hunting for it.

This is a beautifully written book. Two books, really. There are two intertwining stories that finally meet at the very end. In both cases, there are dark forces at work, trying to get to the powerful talisman, and yet there is light shining into that darkness. Sometimes it doesn't get very far, but sometimes it dissolves the darkness entirely. There's a great deal of yin-yang imagery here, where at one extreme end of the spectrum you can always find a hint of its opposite.

I especially liked the music/magic synchronicity that runs throughout. I was particularly struck by a similarity to taiji. If you resist your opponent's force, you give him something to push against, and often push yourself over. If you can accept your opponent's force, then you can control it. This is one of the most counterintuitive things about taiji as a martial art. The instinct is to push back, to use force against force. In that case, the stronger player always wins. But if you can yield and neutralize, you can move someone three or four times your size...by doing nothing. A flick of the wrist. A turn of the waist. A tiny impulse forward. But from the outside, it looks like nothing. It looks like magic. Qi. On rare occasions, I get that feeling while pushing hands. The real beauty of it, is that it happens of itself. You cannot make it happen. You cannot force it to happen. You cannot plan for it to happen. It just...happens. Your body moves of itself, following, yielding, neutralizing, responding, and then your opponent goes back. And you've done nothing.


John said...

I believe that I have mentioned that this is one of my favorites.

If you thought this was dark, try "From a Whisper to a Scream" or "Angel of Darkness." DeLint chose to write them under a pseudonym, not to disguise who wrote the books, but so that his readers would be aware of the style change.

Qalmlea said...

Ah, okay. I'd known he had some originally published under a different name, but I didn't know why. I haven't read any of those ones yet, though.