Monday, December 03, 2007

Review: Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

World Fantasy Award (1985) winning Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock represents a departure from the traditional epic fantasy of its day with elements of science fiction and historical fiction while imbuing an atmosphere all its own. Defying easy categorization, it explores the mythos of humanity in a setting eerily recognizable and reminiscent of something more primal in origin.

Steve Huxley returns from the Second World War to his home in rural England, located at the edge of an untouched, wild wood that has long fascinated his family. His father, a source of familial strife due to his obsession with the wood, has died while Steve was away at war. Christian, Steve’s older brother, has since explored his father’s research into the wood and become more like his father than Steve could have imagined.

The Rhyope Wood is the source of a mysterious energy that creates people and creatures out of the myths of humankind (called mythagos) – particularly myths of British soil like Robin Hood, King Arthur and others long lost from modern memory. Through the proximity of the family home to the Rhyope, the wood’s influence brings obsession, love, pain and death, and ultimately inspires a journey into its ancient, haunted heart where the mythagos have myths of their own.

From the start of Mythago Wood Holdstock reaches into the primal heart of the reader, drawing them into his imagined ghost wood filled with myths remembered and not. The wood itself becomes a dominating character bringing about the realization of just how powerful of a force primeval forests were in ancient times. As someone who traces the majority of their ancestry to that part of the world, there is a sense of this coming being of my past – these mythagos are my own.

Having inspired such a deep connection remarkably early in the book, Holdstock proceeds to tell an inspired tale – a modern myth all its own. Solitary Steve reflects often and subtly on the familial rivalry dominating his past and present while he is seemingly destined to love one of the forest’s mythagos, as did his father and brother before him. The resulting modern sibling rivalry follows the path of myth, as ancient as the myth they both pursue.

Much can be taken from the many of the aspects of Mythago Wood – in some ways it reads as a series of myths, tales, and parables framed by more myths, tales, and parables. Questions are presented, rather than asked and reflected upon more than answered. Contemplation is the result – hopefully lacking the compulsive quality of the book’s characters.

The haunting beauty of Mythago Wood is wonderfully realized as it penetrates to primeval heart of the Britain. The World Fantasy Award it won is well deserved and this timeless tale is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago. 8/10


Jen said...

this is one of my favourite books of all time and i'm happy to see it get recognition. i've loved it ever since i read the translated version of the short story that spawned the book - and that was many years ago.

i also have a personal goal of visiting the forest which is the inspiration for the novels, which is supposedly in kent. too bad i live too far away :D

Neth said...

It would be fun to visit the inspiration for this.


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