Yarrow. Heal-All. Heal our world of its hurts.
– page 252
Yarrow is Charles de Lint’s sixth book, published in 1986. Though there are many details about the book that date it to the 80s, it’s still a timeless tale that draws on very childlike terrors. In the story, Cat Midhir (pronounced Mi-heer) is a writer who gets all of her inspiration from a dream world, known as the Otherworld in the novel. There she finds Kothlen, a being who gives her most of the inspiration for her stories; he is a father-like figure for Cat, her mentor and best friend in the Otherworld. She is also friends with Tiddy Mun, a gnome and the mysterious horned woman Mynfel. But we enter Cat’s story after she has lived with these beings for years and after the dreams suddenly disappear.
One of the things I loved about this novel was the disjointed nature of the narrative. We are introduced to many characters (though I would argue, almost too many, some of whose stories are never fully fleshed out) and eventually their lives start to connect in unexpected ways. We know, however, that the connector is going to be the disturbing Lysistratus. Lysistratus is a magical being, not unlike those found in Cat’s Otherworld, who is disguising himself as human so he can prey on human dreams. But no dreams are as detailed or addicting as Cat’s.
The story was very suspenseful, if not a little predictable, and I found myself unable to put down the book while I was reading it. De Lint’s prose, though sometimes choppy and awkward, was realistic and descriptive. I would definitely recommend this story to someone who has never read de Lint, but it is not my favorite of his novels. This story is much more grounded in the “real world” than some of his other stories, and I would have liked to spend more time in or to understand better the Otherworld that Cat went to in her dreams.
So what is yarrow? That’s what I really wanted to know. I’m not going to give away what it is in the context of the story, but in the real world yarrow is a fascinating plant that has a long history and many useful properties. The dried stalks of the yarrow plant are used in I Ching and common names for yarrow are death flower, devil’s nettles, eerie and nosebleed (nice, huh?). The most common uses for modern yarrow plants are in herbal cold medicines and eczema treatments. Yarrow also supposedly grows around the grave of Confucius. Cool! It’s a plant commonly associated with the magical and divining and has been used over the years for its supposedly magical properties.
In any case, Yarrow is worth the read. It’s not a masterpiece of de Lint’s, but it’s a suspenseful and interesting story that will keep you reading.