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Wow. What an antidote to the large never ending fantasy books about nobles and tolkien rip-off worlds. This is a classic of modern fantasy and should be read in schools. The main character returns to his childhood home shortly after the end of the second world war. His father is dead and his brother missing. Alone he starts to investigate the strange magical woodland that surrounds the house and the strange people that live within it. At first he avoids the woods, but then he seeks to understand his fathers obsession with it and it slowly draws him in.
Robert Holdstock's writing style is clean and he keeps the story moving along at a good pace. The main character is believable and you really feel for him. The descriptions of the wood are done very well - you could almost believe that it is a real place. I must have read this novel a dozen times over the years. I cannot recommended it highly enough.
As soon as I'd read the first few pages of this book, I didn't want to put it down. It's one of the best fantasy books I've ever read.
The protagonist is Stephen Huxley, who, on his return from World War 2, finds his brother obsessed with the wood beside their house, in the same way that his father was while the boys were growing up. Stephen discovers that inside the wood, images of people from legends, known as mythagos, come to life, borne out of the unconscious memories and folk-tales of the people who go into the wood. In the wood, space and time expand, so a year in the wood flashes by in only a few weeks.
One of these mythagos is a beautiful girl called Guiwenneth. All three of the Huxley men fall in love with her, and are drawn into the wood in pursuit of her, and in turn play their own role in the myths that come to life in the wood.
Mythago Wood is an imaginative, beautifully written tale, that transports the reader to another place and time, and the only problem with the book is that it is too short!
"Hood is back - like all Jack-in-the-Greens, is a nuisance, and several times moved into the ridge-zone around the hog-back glade. He shot at me, and this is becoming a cause of great concern! But I cannot enrich the oak vortex sufficiently with the pre-mythago of the Urscumug. What is the answer? To try to enter more deeply, to find the wildwoods? Perhaps the memory is too far gone, too deep in the silent zones of the brain, now, to touch the trees."
Mythago Wood is a novel by Robert Holdstock originally published in 1985. It concerns the experiences of a family living next to an ancient woodland that contains a very strange power. This is a book for adults but would also be suitable for older children and, indeed, may succeed in blowing their tiny minds.
I will give you the barest of outlines just to whet your appetite. There is very much more to it that this...
It is set just after WWII and begins with the protagonist Steven Huxley returning to his family home in rural England after recovering from his war wounds in France. His father has died in his absence and, as his mother died years before, there is only his older brother Christian living in the old place. Steven is told that his father, a scientist who had for years been researching the ancient, primeval Ryhope Wood that borders their family estate, had become increasingly obsessed with the nature of this woodland and because of this had gone gradually insane before his death through illness.
Christian, too, seems to know something about Ryhope Wood, but will not tell Steven directly. Instead he directs him to their father's journals (an excerpt quoted above). As Steven reads them and decrypts the strangeness of the text, he also begins to understand some of what is happening.
Soon, Christian begins acting much like their father had done before him, becoming obsessed and venturing into the wood for longer and longer periods. Despite himself, and without awareness of it, Steven also begins to fall under its spell...
Holdstock's writing style is wonderful, combining simplicity with poetry. There are different voices within the novel - the first-person narration of Steven, the journals and correspondence of George Huxley, and the ancient stories of the 'people' we meet on the journey - and each is expressed beautifully, from the practical voice of Steven to the poetry of archaic myths. As we move into the events of the later book, the author's powers of description and evocation become astonishing, and we are drawn deep into a very tangible and believable world. It is of major credit to Holdstock that his fantastical creation feels very realistic and plausible throughout the entirety of this amazing story. In fact, I see this that this book is usually classed as 'fantasy fiction', and that is something I absolutely disagree with, as this book does not fit with any other type of novel in that category, and I see this more as a work of literature that transcends genre. In fact, Brian Aldiss says (somewhat pretentiously, it must be said), "Mythago Wood is neither fantasy nor science fiction. It is sui generis... we have here a powerful and profound work of creation which I believe will be read, not merely in the present but in a hundred years' time, and in the eternal entanglements and winters yet to come."
Through Holdstock's gift for description, the wood becomes a character in itself - the smell of its earth, of fungus, the crawling of beetles in rotting logs, the living, decomposing leaf litter underfoot, the thorns and tangles of the undergrowth and the imposing, suffocating trunks and canopy. This is not a friendly place. This is the ancient, terrifying woodland of the Neolithic, in which lurks all your darkest fears. As Michael Moorcock puts it, "No other author has so successfully captured the magic of the wildwood."
This novel is about myth and folklore - the nature of myth itself. What has been its role within the societies of the past? How do the stories pass on down through the ages, and while the details and context continue to evolve, what are the essentials that stay the same? Answering these questions entails exploring the archetypes that exist in each of us - the personification of ancient themes and fears. This is a fascinating and totally engaging subject and one I have never seen explored in this way - the journey into the immensely complex unreality of the ancient woodland is of course a journey into the human mind. Steven's fears are personified and he must battle the demons of his psyche in a very real, physical sense. This journey of exploration is vividly absorbing.
And yet, for all its artistry of prose and deep subject matter, this is most definitely a thrilling, fast-paced read. To utilise the obvious clichés, it's a real page-turner and is absolutely unputdownable. The plot is, at its core, a quest-tale, or you could even call it a form of revenge thriller. Also at its heart is a love story. But despite taking this standard form, the book is full of surprising turns, some of them very uncomfortable and distressing. Throughout and especially toward the end, you will be rooting for Steven and willing him to succeed.
There are quite a few paperback editions of this out there, most of them have some lovely artwork on the cover (there is an edition of Mythago Wood together with the next book, Lavondyss, and this is full of wonderfully evocative mini-illustrations by the great Alan Lee). The older second-hand editions can be picked up quite cheaply on the internet. If you're very lucky you'll find a copy in a charity shop and this should be purchased immediately.
This book is not just a one-off, either, it is the first of a whole series. And as great and original as this book is, the follow-up (not a direct sequel, as such) Lavondyss, is something else altogether. Lavondyss is a book quite unlike anything else I have read.
Mythago Wood is one of those books that permanently changes the way you look at the world. Not least it will awaken the magic of the woodland of Britain - even the over-managed public places we have today will have a different sort of feeling to them. But more than this, it will surely change the way you look at stories - by that I mean the nature of stories - for good. This is no small thing. Also, it will bring to life the remnants of British mythology that continues to bubble under the surface of our culture to this day. Holdstock himself quotes Ralph Vaughan Williams (who was talking about his discovery of folk music) as perfectly describing the way Holdstock discovered folklore itself, "I had that sense of recognition. Here was something which I had known all my life, only I didn't know it."
Somewhere in the South West of Britian lies the strange and ancient Ryhope wood. If you circle it from the outside, it's not so very big. Ordinary people live on its permieters and its close to a very old village called Shadox. But those few people who go into the wood, often don't come out again. 'Mythago wood' is a gloriously strange tale of magic, myth and possibility. It's beautifully written, if flawed. One of the problems in talking about it, is that any description of the plot ruins some of the surprises, but I'll do my best to keep it minimal. This is the sort of book where you don't even want to have read the dust jacket! George Huxley is a man of science living on the edge of Ryhope in the 1940s, with his sons. Along with his friend Wyn-Jones, Huxely has been exploring the wood and making notes on its properties. Eventualy, both men seem to simply vanish into the small wood, never to be seen again. Huxley's son Christian seems to know something about it -he's not been on the best of terms with his father, perhaps a murder mystery is at the heart of the tale. Christian has fallen in love with a red headed woman who came out of the wood one day, a woman his father also loved and who sparked fierce rivalry between the two. After a eries of strange events, Christian himself goes into the wood. What role has the ebautiful Guinneth played in the dissappearance of first father and then son? Steven, the remaining child, has to find out, encountering the mysterious and alluring Guinneth for himself. Steven must discover who and what Guinneth is an unravel the mysteries of the wood if he is to have any hope fo reclaiming his lost Father and brother. But Ryhope is a strange place with many secrets, and once a person has entered it, they find it very hard to leave again. When Steven goes into the wood finally, he does so in the company of a young man called Harry, shot down in the war, horribley scarred,
and aware of something about the mystery of Ryhope that he's keeping rom his companion. What follows is an incredible tale of adventure, love and emnity. This is an eery and peculiar tale, full of twists, turns and surprising developments. It's richly described and based on some truly fantastic ideas. There's just one flaw - folklore is important in this tale, but Holdstock clearly knows little about it, and to anyone who does, this can be rather frustrating. On the plus side, this is not a problem in the sequel -'Lavondyss' which is much better researched. If you've ever felt other presences in a wood, or wondered what the trees dream of, or whether things always stay just as they are when you aren't looking at them, if you've ever wondered where myths come from and how they stay alive, then this is the book for you. This is fantasy, but it's rooted in our landscape and myths. It's not like any other fantasy novel I've read, it's refreshingly original and a very fine read. Heartily reccommended to just about anyone who doesn't mind having to think about their fiction.
Mythago Wood is arguably one the best fantasy novels,(the first of a series),ever written. Written by Robert Holdstock and published in 1984, it tells the story of George Huxley and his two sons, Steve and christian. The family live in a detached house with a wildwood called Ryhope wood, backing onto their property. George is obsessed with this wood and dissapears into it for days, weeks or months at a time,the nature of his dissapearances he keeps to himself and his diary,much to the consternation of his sons. George has discovered another world or dimention deep in the heart of the wood and in his drive to find out all he can he shuts his sons out of his life until one day he fails to return. Christian leaves Steve to go in search of his father and it is not long before he starts to glimpse the Mythago's. These creatures seem to take on the guise, or indeed to be,the very people and legends that make up much of the local folklore,i.e Robin Hood, Guiwinneth and King Arthur etc. At first he sees only glimpses of someone in the periphory of his sight, but as he gets deeper the sightings become more physical and more real(Dangerous in some cases). Holdstock is clever enough to give his readers just enough of the idea of Mythago's to whet their appetite and provide intrigue, thus saving enough for sequels. Mythago Wood won the prestigious World Fantasy Award and rightly so, I guarantee once you start this book you won't put it down.