Images © Charles de Lint & Charles Vess.
de Lint and Vess have had a long and successful partnership as writer and illustrator, and their latest collaboration may be the best one yet. This story began as a much shorter illustrated book for younger readers in 2003 called “A Circle of Cats” which I bought from Mr. Vess then:
Somewhat larger in dimensions, it has pictures on nearly every page. For the new book, some of those illustrations are reused (not all of them), and many new ones are included. The story has the same beginning and end, but is greatly expanded in the middle, adding characters, settings and events, expanding on the life of the heroine, young Lillian, the strange predicament she gets into, and the many ways she tries to escape it.
Lillian lives with her Aunt in the forested foothills of of the southern Virginia Appalachian mountains on a small farm, just the two of them and occasional help from men of the Creek Indians living nearby. Lillian loves the woods and its animals, both native wildlife and the feral cats that have made homes there. She’s kind to the cats, giving them milk often. While out in the woods one day, Lillian is bitten by a poisonous snake and is dying when the cats find her. They work forbidden magic on the girl that turns Lillian into a kitten. This saves her life, but creates great worry for her Aunt, and Lillian desperately wants to be human again. One good thing about being a kitten, though, is she can speak to and understand all the other animals. A friendly fox tells her about a possum witch who may be able to help get her human form back. That leads to all kinds of difficulties and complications, and before long Lillian is making another forest trek to visit first the Creek Indian village, then the mysterious Bear Folk deep in the forest, who don’t like people at all.
A fine story in every respect, and the illustrations are wonderful. Highly recommended!