Saturday, April 05, 2008

BOOKS | The Wood Wife by Terri Windling

I believe in the power of serendipity. It often leads me to strange and curious discoveries.

Last weekend I was reading Carl's high praise for Terri Windling's The Wood Wife. I filed it away in my head as "Books to look out for." Imagine my surprise to actually find the book from the local library within the next day. (The local library pay little attention to Fantasy and Science Fiction, so it's something of a miracle, or fate.)

The story is set in contemporary times, with Maggie Black, a poet and writer arriving in the American Southwestern desert (more specifically, Tucson, Arizona). Before this, she had been corresponding through letters (not emails, but actual letters) with the poet Davis Cooper, who had been living a hermit's existence in the desert for decades. Davis Cooper and Maggie Black had never met, yet when he died – apparently drowned in the desert – he left his cabin and most of his possessions to Maggie Black.

Maggie Black arrived with little notion of what she was to find. Later she would discover the reason behind Davis Cooper's demise, as well as the unsolved riddle of a series of paintings done by Surrealist artist Anna Naverra (Davis Cooper's lover) when she was living in the desert. Something about the paintings and the desert land drove Anna Naverra mad. Davis Cooper never found out what it was. His only hint: The Night of the Dark Stone, April 16th – which was also the night Davis Cooper died.

Terri Windling weaved a very readable tale of magic and art intertwined. Only by learning the rules and lores of magic, can Maggie Black find her way to solving the mysteries of the desert land.

Terri Windling had one of the characters quote these lines from Katherine Paterson, the author of Bridge to Terabithia:

'If we marvel at the artist who has written a great book, we must marvel more at those people who lives are works of art and who don't even know it, who wouldn't believe it if they were told. However hard work good writing may be, it is easier than good living.'

This is perhaps the key to the theme of the story. As much as we marvel at art and artists, it is the greater art of living that we should honour and celebrate. The story comes full-circle towards the end, with Maggie Black reclaiming her voice as the poet, something she has forgotten along the way; she had been living another life not true to her voice. Only when she rediscovers her artistic self was she able to answer the question of who she is. And one believes her, when she says, "I want the life I have, not another."

Not many of us can say that about our own lives.

In her Author's Note Terri Windling provides the background for the conception of the tale. It was one of a series of novellas based on the magical artwork of British artist Brian Froud. Over time, the story shape-shifted to The Wood Wife as it is published here. This is the nature of magic and art – you rarely end up where you intended.

If you have time, drop by Stainless Steel Droppings for Carl's tribute to Brian Froud.

I don't know about you, but I'm suddenly seized with an urge to re-watch The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and Jim Henson's The Storyteller (Brian Froud was the conceptual designer on them.)

My favourite from The Dark Crystal is the gentle race known as the Mystics:


DesLily said...

ohhh, I loved the Dark Crystal ! I think next year the new movie will be out "the power of the dark crystal"... I hope Froud is involved in that one too

chrisa511 said...

Great review! I always loved the mystics too. They were such gentle giants too me when I was a kid...and Froud's conception paintings are just phenomenal. Like Deslily, I hope that he has a hand in the new movie.

Carl V. Anderson said...

Fantastic review! I am so glad you unexpectedly found the book so soon and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I love that quote too, about wanting the life you have. I found it, as well as the novel as a whole, to be profoundly moving personally. I'll be adding your link to my post as I am planning to link the reviews of everyone else's Wood Wife review to my own review of the book.

Ana S. said...

I love that Katherine Paterson quote.

And I'm going to love this book, I just know it.

darkorpheus said...

Deslily I'm excited about the new movie too. I'm not sure how accurate is IMDB on this, but it does credit Brian Froud as "conceptual designer."


Chris Thanks! The Dark Crystal did not have enough of the Mystics, un my opinion. I love the way they just raise their voices in that deep baritone chant, and even the Garthim have to give way.

Carl I am surprised to have found the book so soon too. You know how some books have the occasional dull moments that you need to skip to move along -- for me, there isn't any dull moments in The Wood Wife. It was just very readable from start to finish.

Nymeth I loved the Katherine Paterson quote so much I had to write it down in my journal.

I hope you find the book as enjoyable as I did.

Anonymous said...

i believe in serendipity too. the wonderful amazing thrills and feeling when things pieced together. somehow something are meant to be.

i remember dark crystal. my heart almost stopped when they took the essence from her.

not sure if you have seen the last unicorn. take care and rest well. quietletters

Andi said...

I have yet to read anything by Windling, which is really a shame given all the great things I hear about the books.

darkorpheus said...

quietletters Oh yes, the draining of essence scene was disturbing (I was a child when I first saw it) It was dark! But that was part of the allure -- you really felt the corrupt and evil of the Skekses.

And yes on "The Last Unicorn" animation. It was one of my favourite animated films when I was young. That and "Flight of Dragon" -- another animated on how we stopped believing in fantasy and myths.

I finally managed to read Peter S. Beagle's "The Last Unicorn" last year. It was a rich and thought-provoking book.

There was one scene in both film and book that I remember. It was when Molly Grue saw the unicorn for the first time, and recognised her for what she is.

Molly Grue just cried out to the unicorn in anguish: Why couldn't she had appeared when Molly was young, when it might have meant something?

That, I thought, was so sad.

Andi Well, until "The Wood Wife", I only knew Terri Windling as the editors of all the fantasy anthologies. Didn't actually know she wrote stuff of her own.

Anonymous said...

I am really looking forward to reading this asap. I just read the manga of The Dark Crystal that came out recently and really enjoyed it. I should be reading the two Return to Labyrinth mangas in the next couple of months as well.

darkorpheus said...

Rhinoa It makes one nostalgic for the good stuff, doesn't it? They don't really make magical movies like The Dark Crystal and The Labyrinth anymore.