* Prices may differ from that shown
Lavondyss, by fantasy and sci-fi author Robert Holdstock, was first published in 1988 and is the follow-up to Holdstock's 1984 work Mythago Wood. Reading Mythago Wood before reading Lavondyss would greatly enhance the reader's understanding and enjoyment of this book. I have reviewed Mythago Wood on this site.
The plot concerns a girl called Tallis Keeton, born in 1944 in rural England. As she grows up, she has a series of strange encounters with creatures that live in Ryhope Wood and surrounding landscape near to her house that affect her life, and the lives of her parents, forever. Eventually, as a young teenager, she prepares for a journey deep into the wood that she is sure will last only a week...
The book opens with Tallis' grandfather waiting in the snow on a winter night, listening to the cries of baby-Tallis coming from the warmth inside the house. Out of the blizzard approaches a silent form that the old man calls White Mask. He begs this apparition to not take Tallis away yet, for it would break her parents' hearts, and to leave her for a few more years. With this mysterious creature apparently agreeing, the grandfather then follows White Mask out into the snow.
The story then jumps forward to a thirteen-year-old Tallis, conversing with a man in the fields and meadows of a warm summer who we recognise as composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, out "collecting tunes" from the countryside, as he really did. We get an introduction to the enigmatic Tallis, seen from Williams' eyes, as she weaves her stories and explains the magic of the landscape to the old man. These are clearly mere childish games, yet he is fascinated with the girl and her astonishing way with a tale. He also seems to see in the bushes a hooded creature with a white face...
We then jump back again to Tallis' early childhood and see her growing up into an odd, isolated girl who seems to live in a world of her own, quite apart from her parents and almost-entirely friendless.
All this I have described is no more than the first quarter of the book and it introduces the characters and themes before the narrative really takes off.
Unlike the previous novel, Mythago Wood, the form of this one is third-person and told largely but not exclusively from Tallis' perspective, as well as separate myths, told partially or fully in many forms. Generally linear, the story does jump forward and back in time occasionally, as well as switching the perspective a couple of times, most notably to a secondary but vitally important character around the middle section of the book.
I will say that this novel lacks the narrative drive of Mythago Wood and instead of that thrilling structure we have more a dream-like tale that deals with the essence of myth in a more poetic fashion. The title, Lavondyss, refers to the mythic landscape also known as Avalon, Lyonesse and Dis (not the little town in Norfolk) to the people of different times and places, and all of which are taken to be representations of the same archetypal concept. The novel deals with how a particular myth may have been first born, in the impossibly remote never-ending winter of an ice age, and how that myth has grown in sophistication through the ages while retaining its essence.
This entire book is written in a wonderful, literary style, with the most incredible descriptions of woodland I have ever read. Like the previous novel, this is not a romanticised view of British woodland, but a dark, earthy, dangerous and wild landscape and the book is filled from start to finish with images of bones, bark and stone and the smell of blood and decay. The writing in this book is incredibly powerful and, without wanting to sound annoyingly ostentatious, somewhat haunting. Reading it leaves me strangely dazed, especially the entire second half and the very end in particular. Holdstock is an extremely gifted writer and he's at the very top of his game here.
This novel will not be to everyone's taste as it is extremely dark in places, even unpleasant. For this reason, despite there not being anything particularly explicit, some people might not find this suitable for children. Although, personally, I wish I had read this as a child myself because it would have had an even more consciousness-expanding effect upon my plastic mind than it did have when reading it as an adult. It's difficult to explain without divulging a lot of content, so I will refrain, but this is quite an unusual book.
This has been out for twenty years now and so there are a fair few editions with nice artwork on the cover, and plenty of second hand copies out there to be picked up cheap. I would highly recommend this book, though would reiterate my advice to read Mythago Wood first. I don't think very many people would be disappointed with either of these wonderful, magical stories. Thankfully, Holdstock has continued to write more tales of the mythagos and Ryhope Wood, the most recent of which was published this year. So get stuck in.