The Book of Dreams (Chronicles of Faerie, Book 4)

by O.R. Melling
ISBN: 0141004347

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A Review of: The Book of Dreams: The Chronicles of Faerie
by M. Wayne Cunningham

Irish-born Canadian, Geraldine Valerie Whelan, or O.R. Melling, as we know her in North America (the pseudonym Orla Melling was the birth name of her best friend) has authored the trilogy, Chronicles of Faerie (The Hunter's Moon, The Summer King and The Light-Bearer's Daughter) and now The Book of Dreams.
"We are all part of the Great Tale," a revered character says in The Book of Dreams and adds, "We are all family." Melling illustrates the wisdom of his words in her magnificent romp through history, geography, lore, language, legend and literature-bridging reality and fantasy with an emphasis on the eternal struggle between good and evil, and with prose and imagery that sparkles and dances to rhythms of Melling's own making.
Each of the first three books is set in Ireland with Canadian girls as protagonists, in their early to mid-teens, pursuing their adventures and adroitly dancing between Earthworld and the world of Faerie. The Book of Dreams, a 400-page effort, set in various sites in Canada, urban and wild, unites several key characters from the earlier books. From The Hunter's Moon, comes bubbly, a bit-on-the-pudgy-side, Gwen Woods, and from The Summer King comes the serious, folklore scholar, Laurel Blackburn. Both join disgruntled-with-Canada, Dana Faolan, the 11-year-old heroine of The Light-Bearer's Daughter, now on a heroic quest as a 13-year-old seeking to find a mythical Book Of Dreams and unlock the portals to Faerie, mysteriously and malevolently closed by the forces of darkness and evil. It's a formidable task that only humans, and a person like Dana, the preordained one, can undertake on behalf of the inhabitants of Faerie. Despite the occasional love-hate, push-pull tensions between the two kinds of denizens-tussles and tugs that Melling describes eminently well in each of her books-they must now unite in common allegiance against the Enemy if the portals are to be re-opened. There is also a cadre of memorable characters, good and bad, to aid or attack Dana on her quest. Dana's family, as likeable and dysfunctional a clan as any to be found, sustains her in amazing ways. There's her father, Gabriel, the musician who, while living in Ireland, unwittingly lured Dana's fairy mother, Edane, with his music from her homeland of Faerie until other forces forced her to return, leaving Gabe with the merest of fading memories of her. Dana, by contrast, has full awareness of her mother's world, and is able to transcend time and space at will to join her mother and escape the humdrum of her human existence. Now Gabe is married to an attractive East Indian woman, Aradhana, affectionately known as Radhi, whom we met in The Light-Bearer's Daughter, and the three are settled in Toronto where Gabe teaches at a university. Radhi minds the household and works part-time, and Dana, homesick for Ireland and its magic, struggles to fit in at her highschool in a land she believes to be devoid of wonder and fantasy. Her beloved Gran Gowan lives nearby at Creemore, Ontario, and as Dana discovers, the site is deeply imbued with magic, mystery and the Gowan clan genealogy which becomes pivotal to Dana's quest. It's also home to Dana's delightfully free-spirited aunts, Deidre and Yvonne, fun loving weirdos intent on upsetting politically correct apple carts; one is an artist, the other a musician. They mentor Dana whenever they get the chance, much to Gabe's chagrin and Dana's delight.
As Dana's 13-year-old hormones begin flickering, a 15-year-old French Canadian, hockey-loving exchange student, Jean Ducharme, arrives to fan the flames and speak broken English and occasional French. He attracts Dana because he leads a double life-one as a student to make her life bearable at school, and the other as a loup-garrou to protect and guide her in her quest to save Faerie. As the story unfolds, his magic canoe transports them to the North, South, East and West of Canada, the upper half of Turtle Island, as North America is known in native folklore. But if Jean enlivens Dana's grade nine school days and extracurricular activities, an evil and facially scarred Mister Grimstone, in the guise of a teacher, makes her days in school painful and threatens her life. He's out to get Dana in order to ensure the portals to Faerie remain eternally closed, and he's deadly dangerous. He can transform himself into mists and tentacled monsters, and he has an army of evil-doers to assist him. His scars are mementoes of an earlier fight with loup-garrou Jean, a battle that portends others to come, including one in which Jean must choose whether or not to shape-shift into wolf form and lose his humanity forever.
The Book of Dreams is full of Canadian history. Toronto's Queen's Park is referenced as the site for the statue of King Edward and for the memorial of "battles won, battles lost" in the 1837 rebellions of Mackenzie and Papineau and the 1937 Spanish Civil War encounters of the Mac-Pap Battalion of the International Brigade. The stories of Creemore's Judge James R. Gowan and Edward Webster are given in detail. Etienne Brul and Samuel de Champlain are mentioned along with the Coureurs de Bois and General Wolfe and General Montcalm of the Plains of Abraham. The tragedies of Grosse Ile, the "coffin ships", the Great Famine and the Acadians and their Cajun descendants in the US are all skilfully interwoven into Dana's peregrinations as she vows "to travel the land till I get to know it, till I'm no longer a stranger." "Then hopefully it will tell me about The Book of Dreams."
Adding to Dana's already burdensome responsibility to find the book are various more commonplace dilemmas requiring resolution. How is she to cope with her developing feelings for Jean? And what about their first kiss? "How do you talk to boys?" And what is she to tell her family about her absences during her travels? It's all grist for Melling's storytelling mill and blends well with her book's drama, action and adventure.
Of course, magic, mystery and fantasy are the story's predominant elements. As the Skywoman's Daughter, Dana possesses a gift of light in her hands and can use it as a shield against evil. She has an army of mythical creatures to help her: the elephantine Lord Ganesh of India, the Remover of Obstacles; Chinese dragons, "the guardian angels of the community," Ne-mo-som, the First Nation Grandfather, who talks of u-pes-chi-yi-ne-suk , "the little people", and a host of other magical friends in addition to amulets, potions, incantations and spells.
But as Dana discovers, not all mystery and magic is sweetness and light. Even Jean's canoe is a demon's spirit boat which must be continuously wrestled with for control. In the north where Grandfather Ne-mo-som lives, the evil We-ti-ko and the esprits du mal, and the Bag-o-bones, and Ka-pa-ya-koot, "he who is alone in the wilds," also dwell. D'Sonoqua "kills in the west and eats her prey" and "there are those known to Jean's people, les Diablotins, les feux follets, les lutins, les fantomes and more." Sea monsters assail a boat Dana travels in, trolls attack her on the TTC subway, a family curse is to be overturned and evil deeds and doers in Ireland are to be overthrown.
After criss-crossing Canada and surviving her multiple exciting adventures, Dana finds her elusive book, much closer to home than she had imagined, but major obstacles must be overcome before Hallowe'en, the deadline for the eternal closing of the portals to Faerie. A final pitched battle between all of the forces of good and evil, of light and dark, of humans and monsters is destined to take place in Creemore, "the land of the great heart," where Dana had been foretold she would find The Book of Dreams once she learned to read the land.
As Dana girds for battle in the Creemore graveyard Hallowe'en night, she is surprised to discover in the midst of her forces Canadian Fairies from the country's fields and forests: Daisy Greenleaf, Flora Bird, Alf Branch, Christy Pines, John Trout "who liked to shout", and the BC fairies, "huge, the height of the trees in which they dwelled." They're allied with Trew and his band of TTC trolls, now friends rather than enemies; with Fingal and his giants, Brendan and the warrior-monks of Ireland, a squadron of Chinese dragons and the Old Ones of Turtle Island, the representatives from the Island's Firstborn and First Nations.
But formidable foes align against them as they edge inch by coveted inch towards the portal where Dana must decide to cross over and like Jean lose her humanity in order to open the bridge between Faerie and Earthworld.
There are terrible losses on both sides, but Dana finally gains the portal where she must make her agonizing decision to sacrifice her humanity or permit the portals to Faerie to be closed forever. In the tradition of all the best literature, even as Jean howls his displeasure at her choice, she opts for goodness and light and sacrifices her worldly self. And in the ensuing time, while fairies dance and feast, she and Jean agonize over how to re-gain access to their earthly worlds and human families. The solution to their dilemma is a Solomon's choice of O. R. Melling's, best left for readers to discover.
Readers will also discover that The Book of Dreams is a story of fantasy-folk and fairy culture combined with the tale of a young woman coming of age, accepting responsibility and choosing right over wrong, good over evil. The action never lags; the settings are vividly real; and the dialogue rings true. The characters loom larger than life, and the imaginative blend of history, ancient and modern, offers much to be admired. And who but O. R. Melling could have conceived those Canadian fairies? Both the young and the young at heart will be intrigued and enraptured by this segment of The Great Tale.

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