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Lavondyss Paperback – January, 1991

Book 2 of 7 in the Mythago Wood Series

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About the Author

Robert Holdstock (1948 - 2009) Robert Paul Holdstock was born in a remote corner of Kent, sharing his childhood years between the bleak Romney Marsh and the dense woodlands of the Kentish heartlands. He received an MSc in medical zoology and spent several years in the early 1970s in medical research before becoming a full-time writer in 1976. His first published story appeared in the New Worlds magazine in 1968 and for the early part of his career he wrote science fiction. However, it is with fantasy that he is most closely associated. 1984 saw the publication of Mythago Wood, winner of the BSFA and World Fantasy Awards for Best Novel, and widely regarded as one of the key texts of modern fantasy. It and the subsequent 'mythago' novels (including Lavondyss, which won the BSFA Award for Best Novel in 1988) cemented his reputation as the definitive portrayer of the wild wood. His interest in Celtic and Nordic mythology was a consistent theme throughout his fantasy and is most prominently reflected in the acclaimed Merlin Codex trilogy, consisting of Celtika, The Iron Grail and The Broken Kings, published between 2001 and 2007. Among many other works, Holdstock co-wrote Tour of the Universe with Malcolm Edwards, for which rights were sold for a space shuttle simulation ride at the CN Tower in Toronto, and The Emerald Forest, based on John Boorman's film of the same name. His story, 'The Ragthorn', written with friend and fellow author Garry Kilworth, won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novella and the BSFA Award for Short Fiction. Robert Holdstock died in November 2009, just four months after the publication of Avilion, the long-awaited, and sadly final, return to Ryhope Wood. www.robertholdstock.com

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


White Mask
 
 
[GABERLUNGI]
 
The bright moon, hanging low over Barrow Hill, illuminated the snow-shrouded fields and made the winter land seem to glow with faint light. It was a lifeless, featureless place, and yet the shapes of the fields were clear, marked out by the moonshadow of the dark oak hedges that bordered them. Distantly, from that shadow round the meadow called The Stumps, the ghostly figure began to move again, following a hidden track over the rise of ground, then moving left, into tree cover. It stood there, just visible now to the old man who watched it from Stretley Farm; watching back. The cloak it wore was dark, the hood pulled low over its face. As it moved for the second time, coming closer to the farmhouse, it left the black wood behind. It was stooped, against the Christmas cold, perhaps. Where it walked it left a deep furrow in the fresh snow.
Standing at the gate of the farm, waiting for the moment he knew, now, must surely come, Owen Keeton heard his grandchild begin to cry. He turned to the dark face of the house and listened. The sobbing was a brief disturbance; a dream perhaps. Then the infant girl was quiet again.
Keeton retraced his steps across the garden, stepped into the warm house and kicked the snow from his boots. He walked into the parlour, prodded the log fire with the metal poker until the flames roared again, then went to the window and peered out at the main road to Shadoxhurst, the nearest village to the farm. He could just hear, very distantly, the sound of carols. Glancing at the clock above the fire he realized that Christmas Day had begun ten minutes before.
At the parlour table he stared down at the book of folklore and legend that lay open there. The print was very fine, the pages thick and of good quality paper; the illustrations, in full colour, were exquisite. It was a book he loved, and he was giving it to his granddaughter as a present. The images of knights and heroes inspired him; the Welshness of the names and places made him nostalgic for the lost places and lost voices of his own youth in the mountains of Wales. The epic tales had filled his head with the sound of battle, war-cry, and the rustle of tree and bird in the glades of haunted forest.
Now there was something else in the book, written in the white spaces around the print: a letter. His letter to the child.
He turned back to the beginning of that letter, where the chapter on Arthur of the Britons began. He scanned the words quickly:
* * *
My dear Tallis: I'm an old man writing to you on a cold December night. I wonder if you will love the snow as much as I do? And regret as much the way it can imprison you. There is old memory in snow. You will find that out in due course, for I know where you come from, now
* * *
 
The fire guttered and Keeton shivered despite it, and despite the heavy coat he wore. He stared at the wall, beyond which the snow-covered garden led to the fields, and that hooded figure, coming towards him. He felt a sudden urgent need to have done with this letter, to finalize it. It was a sort of panic. It gripped his heart and his stomach, and the hand that reached for the pen was shaking. The sound of the clock grew loud, but he resisted the urge to stare at it, to mark the passage of time, so little time, so few minutes…
He had to finish writing the letter, and soon. He bent to the page and began to squeeze the words into the narrow margin:
* * *
 
We bring alive ghosts, Tallis, and the ghosts huddle at the edge of vision. They are wise in ways that are a wisdom we all still share but have forgotten. But the wood is us and we are the wood! You will learn this. You will learn names. You will smell that ancient winter, so much more ferocious than this simple Xmas snow. And as you do so, you are treading an old and important pathway. I began to tread it first, until they abandoned me
* * *
He wrote on, turning the pages, filling the margins, linking his own words to the unconscious child with the words of fable, forming a link that would be of value to her, one day in her future.
When he had finished the letter he used his handkerchief to blot the ink then closed the book. He wrapped it in heavy brown paper and tied it with a length of string.
On the brown paper he wrote this simple message: For Tallis; for your fifth birthday. From Granddad Owen.
He buttoned up his coat again and went back out into the cold, silent winter's night. He stood outside the door for a moment feeling frightened, very disturbed. The hooded figure had come all the way across the fields and was standing by the gate to the garden, watching the house. Keeton hesitated a moment longer, then trudged over to it.
Only the gate separated them. Keeton was shivering inside his heavy overcoat, but his body burned with heat. The hood was low over the woman's head and he could not tell which of the three she was. She must have been aware of his unspoken thought since she looked up slightly, turning to regard him. As she did so, Keeton realized she had been staring past him. A white mask gleamed from below the woollen cape.
"It's you, then…" Keeton whispered.
Distantly, moving down the slope from the earthworks on Barrow Hill, he saw two other hooded figures. As if aware that he had noticed them, they stopped and seemed to shrink into the whiteness of the land.
He said, almost bitterly, "I was beginning to understand. I had begun to understand. And now you're abandoning me…"
In the house, the child cried out. White Mask glanced towards the landing window, but the cry was another transient moment of disturbance. Keeton watched the ghost woman and couldn't help the tears that surfaced to sting his eyes. She looked back at him and he thought he saw some hint of her face through the thin holes that were the eyes.
"Listen to me," he said softly. "I have something to ask you. You see, they've lost their son. He was shot down over Belgium. They've lost him and they'll grieve for years. If you take the daughter, now…if you take her now…" he shuddered, wiped a hand across his eyes and took a deep breath of the frozen air. White Mask watched him without movement, without sound. "Give them a few years. Please? If you don't want me…at least give them a few years with the child…"
White Mask slowly raised a finger to the lips of the chalk-smeared wood which covered her face. Keeton could see how old that finger was, how loose the skin on the hand, how small the hand.
Then she turned and ran from him, her dark cloak billowing, feet kicking up the snow. Halfway across the field she stopped and turned. Keeton heard the shrill sound of her laughter. This time, as she ran, it was away to the west, towards the shadow wood, Ryhope Wood. On Barrow Hill her companions were running too.
Keeton knew the country well. He could see at once that the three figures would meet at the edge of Stretley Stones meadow, where five ogham stones marked ancient graves.
He was both relieved and intrigued, relieved because White Mask had agreed with his request; he was certain of it. They would not come for Tallis, not for many years. He was certain of it.
And he was intrigued by the Stretley Stones, and by the ghost women who were moving to rendezvous there.
The child would be safe
He glanced round, guiltily. The house was in silence.
The child would be safe for a few minutes…just a few minutes…he would be back at the house long before Tallis's parents returned from the Christmas service.
Stretley Stones beckoned him. He pulled his coat more tightly around him, opened the gate, and waded out into the deep snow of the field. He followed White Mask's tracks, and soon he was running to see what they would do in the meadow where the marked stones lay…
 
Copyright © 1988 by Robert Holdstock
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Avon Books (Mm) (January 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0380711842
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380711840
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 4.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,361,780 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

As science fiction, Lavondyss is an excellent mind-bending and eerie story.
Heidi Rankin (heidel@pacbell.net
If you still doubt me, just go through the book and count all the times the characters say, "Of course!"
Matthew S. Cavnar
The second half concerns a quest and it is very abrupt jump from the first half, but you get used to it.
euphbass

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Fenella Paine on March 5, 2007
Format: Paperback
Generally, I consider myself to be more of a science fiction fan than a fastasy fan. Most fantasy novels seem too much the same to me - wizards, knights, fairies, etc. dressed up in flowery language with cutesy names. Too many modern fantasy writers seem to forget that many of the elements of the fantasy genre are based on much older stories, and those stories on others much older than them. Robert Holdstock quite masterfully taps into the essence of myth, legend, and fairy tale, stripping away all of the modern frippery and exposing them for what they really are - deep rooted stories of fear, desperation and tragedy. For those who felt that the story was too violent, I encourage them to do some research into what life was like in the "olden days." It was not a quaint tale of bucolic bliss but short, brutish, and frequently cruel. Although I loved "Mythago Wood," "Lavondyss" is far superior and complex in examining the genesis and evolution of myth. It is an eerie, uneasy, discomforting book and all the more powerful for that. If you're looking for a story that will give you the warm fuzzies, stick to more standard fantasy fare. If you're looking for a book that will challenge your ideas about myth and story and haunt you for many days after, "Lavondyss" is about as good as it gets.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Noibs on July 25, 2004
Format: Paperback
Lavondyss is not as accessible as Mythago Wood; however, for me, it was even more rewarding. It's best if you read it slow, savoring the detail, the imagery and the incredible scope. I've read it several times. Each time, after finishing, it tends to haunt me for days and days. I also find it to be profoundly sad, but not in a bad way. I STRONGLY recommend Lavondyss.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Coray on July 29, 2002
Format: Paperback
With patience and dedication, this is a weird and wonderful book.
Lavondyss delves deeper into myth than Mythago Wood dared go, illuminates intriguing areas left dark, but on the flip side, Lavondyss isn't as exciting, as fast paced, as the first book.
I felt that as an embellishment and continuation of Mythago Wood, Lavondyss is definitely deserving of 5 stars, but as a stand-alone it's only worth 4. I would recommend Mythago Wood first, but if after that book you're intrigued at all, then this book is the answer. (An answer that leaves more questions than before, but isn't that like all the best answers?)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By euphbass on September 14, 2006
Format: Paperback
Judging by some of the other reviews, this book is to complex for some people. But if you think you're up to it intellectualy, this is a truly stunning read that will profoundly affect you.

I read this first, and having just finished it's predecessor, Mythago Wood, I have to say that Lavondyss is by far the more developed and powerful of the two. The imagery is simply stunning, particularly the first half of the book. It evokes wonderful images of nature, mythology and fantasy. The second half concerns a quest and it is very abrupt jump from the first half, but you get used to it. While not as visually stunning as the first half, it is none the less very powerful and addictive.

This book is an emotioanlly wrenching tragedy in the classical sense of the word, and the twists and turns are beautifully and wonderfully convoluted and realised, the sort of book that will take several readings to fully appreciate (if I can bring myself to read it again - it is very emotioanlly draining).

If you have a love of mythology, nature, the wildwoods and truly breathtaking fantasy, read this book.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Brian Rutherford on December 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
If you're one of these readers who have just dropped in and have read the other reviews then stop...Lavondyss isn't like the previous book 'Mythago Wood'its better, much , much better. This is an author who went for years with little or no recognition and then he writes a book based on English mythology and he hits paydirt. What would you do? Write another clone. No, Robert Holdstock fired by his success with 'Mythago Wood' writes the novel of a lifetime. A book he always wanted. Lavondyss is steeped in mythology. A different story occurs almost every page and all from the mind of the author but based on the form of the myth. All of them are brilliant and engrossing, terrifying even because this is not the myth of Tolkien(another scholar of mythology) but a myth based on the great stories of Irish and English Mythology where terrible and amazing things happen. You know its a story but it touches you all the same. He has the capacity to tell a story and leave you thinking Bl**dy Hell! Its long..yes, I'll grant you that but you don't want to leave his world and it has a structure so tightly bound that everything you read leads towards the ending. Maybe you Americans have an adversion to stories that have a unsettled ending but the truth is.. its life . That's the way things are and this book had a great effect on me. If you're tired of Sub-Tolkien stories about elves and fairies then get into the real thing. Robert Holdstock is a genius writer who has been ignored for far too long.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Kelly (Fantasy Literature) VINE VOICE on September 22, 2010
Format: Paperback
I have a bad habit of overusing the word "haunting." Ergo, I worry that when I use it here, it won't pack the punch it really should. Let me just say, then, that when I say Lavondyss is haunting, I mean it. This book settled into my bones like a hard winter. It will stay in my mind forever. I feel like I've lived a whole second life by reading it, and I'll probably read it again at my earliest convenience just to see if I catch anything I missed the first time.

I had trouble getting into the previous book, Mythago Wood, but I was glad I read it and am now even gladder, as it provides lots of background that helps make sense of Lavondyss. Lavondyss feels more like a "straight" fantasy novel, though; while there is still the idea that people create mythagos with their minds and that many of the book's mythagos are personally tied to its central character, to me it feels that this time the story and the world stand more on their own and have more of a life outside of the character's psychology. I feel less like I'm reading a slightly veiled book on Jung and Freud, and more like I've been sucked into a seductive, visceral fairy tale. I'm yet again reminded of a work of nonfiction -- this time Robert Graves' The White Goddess -- but this time the analytical part of my mind was content to curl up by the fire and let Robert Holdstock spin his tale.

In Mythago Wood, Steven Huxley's traveling companion was Harry Keeton. Lavondyss centers on Harry's younger sister, Tallis. Born when Harry was already a grown man, Tallis only knew her brother briefly, but she and her family are haunted by his disappearance. Tallis is an uncanny, precocious girl with an instinctive gift for magic, and it's simply enchanting to follow along as she learns the ways of the wood and its spirits.
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