on June 28, 1998
Robert Holdstock has created a new sub-genre of fantasy with his Mythago Wood novels. They have a haunting, dreamlike quality about them that defies easy description or classification. To attempt to write a straightforward synopsis of Mythago Wood itself is almost to lose the very essence of the novel, to break away from the ethereal feeling which transcends the book. Yet between the fantasy which touches the deepest part of the human psyche, and the gritty realism of Neolithic man and his squalid lifestyle, he creates a vivid and shocking contrast. The clean-cut comicbook concept of modern fantasy is far removed from the stream of racial subconscious and primal lifeforces which seems to suffuse Mythago Wood. Suddenly here is novel which invades its reader's comfortzones and forces them to realise how life 10,000 years ago must really have been, and how profoundly it affected the people who lived then, so that their only defense against the surrounding darkness was to call up champions and defenders from their own subconscious minds. That these mythagos are still able to manifest from modern man's staid and jaded psyches and transform people's lives as they do, is an eloquent witness to the power they represent. This novel and its sequel, Lavondyss, are outstanding modern works of fantasy fiction.
on October 7, 2002
At the time of this writing this book is out of print which is a shame. It is one of the most intriguing I've read in many a year. For anyone who has an interest in myths and legends, this is a powerful tale of one man confronting such legends and how he's changed by it. Holdstock drinks from the same well as Gaiman and any fan of Gaiman should definitely give Holdstock a go. He also seems to be familiar with many of Jung's Archtype ideas and gives them a believable place to live.
Thus the protagonist begins his journey into the heartwood of a mythic primeval forest and beyond - a journey to find his beloved celtic princess and the Umscrumug - the First Myth - the Myth Before all Others. A myth so ancient, the author says, is now fading even in Mythago Wood as Humanity's Collective Unconcious slowly forgets its past. Mythago Wood, a forest where legends and myths from every people of every time and every land are formed, live and breath. A WW1 soldier inhabits the same land as shamanic tribesmen. A celtic princess from the days of Roman Britain walks the woods from legends out of a much later Robin Hood era. And while it is clear that these beings are not "real" in the same sense that the protagonist is they are still capable of feeling joy, love, pain and sorrow. And are equally capable of killing and being killed.
The characters are human, with both flaws and redeeming qualities and hints of why myths and legends still hold our imagination are part of the entertaining story (If Mythago Wood were real I'm sure Jedi Knights, Klingons and Paul Atreides would now be walking there too).
This book won awards for good reason. If you enjoy stories of myths and legends don't fail to pick it up.
on August 1, 1999
I just re-read Mythago Wood and am further struck by this amazing story of fantasy and, to some extent, horror. The hauntings of Ryhope Wood (the small woodland of the title) emerge from humanity's deepest and darkest senses, and Holdstock presents these "Mythagos" in a manner that excites, intrigues, and terrifies... all at the same time. Having just seen the film "The Blair Witch Project," I recalled the genuine sense of fear I sensed upon my first excursion into Ryhope Wood. After reading the book again, I am further haunted by this magical world of subconscious night-terrors, elusive hopes, and primeval temptations. I highly recommend this book... if you can find it.
on June 15, 1998
Readers obsessed with discovering the next "Tolkein" will no doubt be disappointed by this book. Holdstock eschews the traditional themes of "light vs. dark," melodramatic romance, and charming little people (hobbits). Instead, he employs Joseph Campbell's notion of myth and the subconscious to weave an innovative and sophisticated tale new to the genre of fantasy. Mythago Wood is the story of a young man returning to his childhood home and his fascination of nearby Ryhope wood. The wood, he discovers, generates magical creatures, mythagos, rooted the subconscious mythic archetypes unique to each culture. Embroiled in a love quarrel with his brother Christopher, who himself has in way become a part of the wood, the young man embarks on attempt to save the wood and rescue his love, a exotic whose myth dates back to Roman times. In many ways, this work actually is a successor to Tolkein in its genesis. Readers familiar with Tolkein's writings (including the Simirillion and Book of Lost Tales) recognize the importance of Germanic, English, and Scandavian myths in the construction of the history of Middle Earth. Holdstock, who adopts none of epic themes essential to the Lord of the Rings, likewise greatly relies on myth. Anyone in search of a truly revolutionary fantasy will find this book well worth the while.
on July 29, 2002
Okay, I know! I read this book while I was on a trip in France with my mom and sister. Now we didn't bring our clothes washer with us, so we had to find a laundry mat. (This does get somewhere!) Well, I followed my mom and sister as they weaved their way deeper and deeper into the town-while I was busy reading Mythago Wood, following blindly behind. After finding a laundry mat, and getting everything set up, they decided to leave so I could pick up the clothes when they finished washing.
Eventually the clothes finished, and I came to a fair stopping point in Mythago Wood. (It's too captivating to have a good stopping point.) I got the clothes together, stepped out of the laundry mat, and realized with chagrin I'd been so intent on Mythago Wood I had no idea where I was!
Luckily I was only lost for a little while, only took one wrong turn, but that's what this book can do to you. It will pull you further and further into its shady depths, almost making you wonder what will everything be like when . . . if . . . you ever emerge. After this book, images, ghosts, fairies . . . mythagos . . . will always dance at the edge of your vision, slipping around the periphery.
on August 11, 2000
I read this book in my youth when a friend lent his copy to me, and was spellbound. Years later I finally found it again and it remains just about as consuming as I remember. Be prepared to stay up late reading this one.
on June 11, 2008
Certainly, Mythago Wood is many times better than most of the formula fantasy series out there. Holdstock is attempting literature here, not an exploration of a well-known realm (as in the Dungeons & Dragons series). I commend Holdstock for giving it the old Modernist attempt to "make it new," because the fantasy genre needed (and still needs) a book to come along and clear the air. And there are certainly a lot of good things to say about Holdstock's first major foray into fantasy, Mythago Wood.
Holdstock's word choice and unique descriptions of the mundane and the mystical form the poetic engine driving this novel. He is adept at describing, at a deliberate and measured pace, how something becomes haunted. I also enjoyed the sense of discovering along with the protagonist. When you finish the first two parts of the book, the first one hundred and fifty pages, a year has passed, and it was a satisfying year of mystery, love, violence, fear, and exploration.
It's unfortunate that this trend doesn't continue throughout the rest of the book. Upon reaching part three (the novel is broken into three novellas), Holdstock makes the peculiar choice of changing the book from character-based to plot-based. It's the plot-based monotony, where characters do not ask enough questions or think often enough, that I dislike most about paperback fantasy. Holdstock's character study is largely thrown aside in part three, and the reader is introduced to a dozen or so new-yet-scantily-sketched characters. I found it difficult to care much about them, because they came and went so quickly. The protagonist comes away mostly intact, but he exchanges his curiosity for a sense of reckless duty, which in my opinion isn't a fair literary trade for the reader.
I like that Holdstock tells the story in first person as well as through other media (letters, journals, and tales). It gives the novel a kind of collected feeling, like a mystery being pieced together, and it gives the reader small breaks from the thoughts of only one character.
For those who are interested, there are also braided themes of Freudian psychoanalytical determinism and Jungian collected unconsciousness. The main literary influence of the novel, however, is British mythicism. Most of the critical accolades heaped on this novel come from cultural critics who want history and anthropology to reach a larger audience, and Holdstock's novel certainly has a better chance of this than a jargon-ridden literary essay (I know; I used to write them.). Nonetheless, these intellectual elements don't necessarily make for entertaining reading, especially when the first-person narrative flip-flops, and the protagonist stops wondering about complicated ideas and simply accepts them as fact.
Since the novel is part of a series, I may eventually revise my opinion of the book, but for now I cannot decide if I liked it. I don't think the third novella stands as steadily as the first two, and so my overall experience ended on a sour note.
on June 1, 2001
Mythago Wood is easily the most bizarre book I have ever read. This is probably because of the many different elements which are included which one usually never finds together. The basic reason I suppose is that it is real fantasy, meaning fantasy which occurs in the real world (e.g. Imagine the Old Forest of Middle-Earth being near Orangeville or Kelmscott or wherever - real fantasy is the mixing of the real world and a fantasy world).
The main character is Steven Huxley who, at the beginning of the book, is living in France just after the end of the war having served in the British Army. He keeps contact with his brother Christian who is still living at their old parental home in Oak Lodge which is situated on the edge of Ryhope Forest in England. At length he returns home to live with his brother. He has changed almost beyond recognition and acts strangely and his eyes often have a faraway gaze ... The Forest is not your regular kind of forest. It is primal untouched old forest never penetrated by modern man. It is inhabited by mythagos which turn out to be products of one's mind (in some way). This forest was studied by their father (to the family's regret) and he wrote a detailed diary of his findings. Themes of myth, earth, wood, timelessness and time travel, occult, humans becoming animals and vice versa, love and hate, hope and despair are all intertwined in a most intricate and perplexing manner. Because of all these combinations, particularly the real mixed with the fantasy with some occult and ancient legend thrown in, the book has the power to communicate a unique and unsettling feeling. I'm not quite sure what the point of the story is. There seems to be some idolization of the ancient forest and Celtic times; sometimes it has a New Agey feel. I also wonder whether the name given to the brother "Christian" is purely coincidental ... Purely plotwise it is a gripping read, though because it is so bizarre I did feel the need to put it down frequently and read or do something else, something which I did not have with _Ender's Game_ which is tame and realistic compared with this book, which has a sequel called _Lavondyss_. I may be curious enough to read it. As such the book is also well written though the content often overshadows the good writing style. All in all, I can understand why it won the World Fantasy Award.
Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood is an underappreciated, yet significant contribution to the fantasy genre in many ways. To start out with, the work is well written and conveys a dark and mystical mood in a forest setting. Also the plot of Mythago Wood is anything but formulaic; nevertheless, the events in the book move along at a steady pace.
However, the point of Mythago Wood is not to showcase a fast-paced, action-driven plot. Mythago wood really shines because the work is about a journey "within." It canvasses topics including familial estrangement, biological urges and the inner psyche. The characters that enter the magical Ryhope wood must face the ancient archetypal Mythagos created from the collective conscience of the humans nearby, including themselves.
Throughout the novel Holdstock does an excellent job of incorporating a variety of Celtic folklore and mythology into the mystery. The characters in the story struggle with emotions including love, jealousy, fear, and anguish. Holdstock purposely pits the powers of reason, rationality and scientific measurement against the ever-shifting, human-repelling powers of Ryhope wood. Holdstock leaves enough mystery about the workings of Ryhope wood so that he can continue to reveal the characteristics of Ryhope wood over the course of several very good sequels.
In Mythago Wood, Holdstock has made a significant contribution to the fantasy genre by creating a meaningful novel that is more than run of the mill bestselling "plot-candy." He has also avoided recreating the already well-done good vs. evil theme or the power of language theme. Even though Ryhope wood exists alongside the reality of post WWII England, expect to be completely immersed in the fantasy of the wood.
But don't read Mythago Wood because of its significance within the fantasy genre. Read it to expand and test your mind and to engage your imagination in a new way.
on July 7, 2009
In fantasy, as in any genre, you've got greats and you've got imitators. The imitators are, of course, more numerous, and, more often than not, more financially succesful than the greats.
Here's the way I see it. If you disagree, you disagree.
The masters of fantasy are English (and one Scot), and they all write with a seriousness of purpose, a depth, and a level of invention that is head and shoulders above the others. They are as follows: Tolkien, Lewis, George MacDonald, and Holdstock. That's it.
Robert Jordan, George R R Martin, etc. etc. are all light entertainment compared to these four. There's nothing wrong with these others per se, but its like reading People magazine vs. the Atlantic Monthly. It's like listening to Vanilla Ice vs. Bach. It's like drinking a two dollar bottle of wine vs. a two hundered dollar bottle. Nothing wrong with it, but if you can, why not experience something really really good.
And another thing, only 40 reviews for this? What's wrong with us? And most of Robert Jordan's books have over 1000? Ironically, this book is about 1000 times better than any "wheel of time" tripe, but I guess we Americans like our fantasy like we like our TV shows and fast food: dumb and greasy.