on 1 May 2003
Mythago Wood is one of the genuine classics of 20th Century fantasy. Steve Huxley returns from World War II to find his brother Christian increasingly obsessed with their father’s investigations into Ryhope Wood — a small, ancient woodland that draws out mythagoes (mythic beings, ancient buildings and even entire landscapes) from those who enter it. But when Steve and Christian both fall for an ancient warrior-princess mythago, Guiwenneth, they find themselves enacting their own parts in an ancient myth that draws them deeper into the heartwood, where they must meet with the inhuman Urscummug, a mythago so old it is not even human.
Mythago Wood is an exciting adventure story and an exploration of the experience of the imagination. Mythagoes are the ancient archetypes we all carry within us, just waiting to be awakened by our unwitting re-enactments of mythic dramas in our daily lives. This book lays them out in all their mystery and magic, their danger and their power to transform our inner lives.
on 14 May 2008
Back in 1981, Robert Holdstock wrote the novella "Mythago Wood". It was so good it was expanded into the World Fantasy Award winning novel of the same name (it won it in 1985). I am so happy to see Mythago Wood reprinted as a handsome hard cover, over twenty years on. The decades have not dimmed the story or the quality of the writing.
Ryhope Wood is a wooded area in the English countryside - but that's not all it is. From the outside, one can walk around it in hours; yet once inside the journey may take weeks. It is also a piece of land that has its roots (pun intended) travelling back not just in time, but to the realms that generate our myths, where the archetypes of legend originate. This book is no rote fantasy. It tells of the passionate obsession and loyalty of the Huxley family, of two brothers and their father. Returning from the War, Stephen discovers that his brother Christian had disappeared into Ryhope, searching for their father. Stephen and his companions follow. But the trip in to the woods becomes a trek, and the hapless travellers become lost and subsumed into the myths they set out to explore.
Mythago Wood engages the reader as all good books should and so few do. Although Holdstock later wrote sequels to this story, Mythago Wood is a standalone novel. It is brilliantly written by one of the UK's foremost fantasists. Buy it. Read it. Love it.
on 29 May 2006
This is the first volume in the Mythago Wood series (before Lavondyss, The Hollowing, Merlin's Wood, and Gate of Ivory), in which the main character, Steve Huxley, tells us of the time short after WWII when he went back to England to help his brother Christian take care of their father's house after the latter's death.
Oak Lodge is at the edge of the Rhyope estate, next to a mysterious wood which intrigued George Huxley so much he dedicated the end of his life, and many journals, to its study. Indeed, in Mythago Wood, images of legendary heroes (mythagos) come to life, created from the folk-tales and collective minds of past civilizations. Among them Guiwenneth, a stunningly beautiful red-haired warrior woods-woman.
In turns, the Huxleys will all fall in love with the girl, and following their father's footsteps, Chris and then Steve will also feel the incontrollable need to try and penetrate deeper into the wood, where time and space expand, only to be rejected by it, as if pushed back and led astray by invisible forces.
I really enjoyed the atmosphere of this book and immersed in it: I could almost smell the forest scents, see the green of the leaves and touch the softness of the moss, as if I were walking in the wood with the heroes. I admit I must have been influenced by John Howe's beautiful illustrations of Mythago Wood... I also loved the character of Harry Keeton, the airplane pilot who helps Steve in his quest. All in all, even though I might not have tied all loose ends, it was a fantastically enchanting read.
on 25 July 2005
Occasionally I'll walk into a bookshop and sift through the shelves until something catches my eye and I find myself buying it based solely on the opening pages. Paperback prospecting you might call it. It's a risky business but every so often it pays off in a big way. So it was with Mythago Wood.
At just over 330 pages, Mythago Wood is far from being the weightiest fantasy book out there, and indeed most fantasy fans with some time on their hands will breeze through it in a day or two, however the story is so beautifully crafted and the characters so memorable that it leaves a tangible mental imprint long after it has been neatly tucked away on a shelf. Furthermore, as with all truly great stories, it will only be a matter of time before you'll find yourself yearning for the strange sense of magic it instills, and picking it up to relive the experience.
In terms of recommended readership, I would say the strength of Robert Holdstock's writing, in this novel more than any of his others, makes it accessible to literally anybody who enjoys a good story. In that sense it could be thought of in the same terms as The Hobbit.
All in all, a magical book that is eagerly recommend to anybody looking for an immersive, satisfying read.
Some times the Book Gods smile on me, and the opportunity to revisit a favourite novel from my dim and distant past arises. The release of Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock as an ebook was the perfect opportunity to reconnect with a novel I read a long time ago.
The thing that still manages to impress is how the novel effortlessly captures the mood of post-war Britain, in the form of Stephen Huxley, but in the same moment also conveys a timeless quality. The relationship between the two brothers, Christian and Stephen, forms the core of the tale. From early childhood memories, to a series of turbulent meetings that leaves them estranged, you get genuine insight into their often-rocky relationship. As the plot develops and they both spend time travelling amongst the mythagos, the strange beings that inhabit the woods, this leaves them fundamentally changed.
The setting of Rhyope Wood is marvelously evocative, a primeval woodland that has existed since the dawn of time. The way that Holdstock's almost poetic writing blends together the myths and legends of the British Isles is masterful. Robin Hood, Jack in the Green and Cernunnos all feature in one form or another.
I noticed when revisiting Mythago Wood with adult eyes that the story seems to have a much darker tone than I remember. There is a more obvious sense of sadness in some of the characters that I don't think I appreciated it when I read it as an adolescent. This is most evident in a character of Guiwenneth. Steven and Christian are drawn to her and she finds herself caught between them both.
It feels as though there is a very deliberate sense of ambiguity surrounding the novel, and the mythagos in particular. Are they ghosts, the living embodiment of legends, or beings out of time? I like to think that Holdstock wanted any reader to come to his or her own conclusion. I'm sure if you asked multiple readers their opinions on the novel there would be some widely differing responses.
I have to admit to being a bit of an unabashed sentimentalist and the narrative of this novel plays right into that. Mythago Wood struck a chord with me the first time I picked it up and decades later many of the same thoughts and feelings resurfaced. I may have taken a slightly different interpretation of events, but the underlying sense of magic and wonder is still very much there. The real success of Mythago Wood is that it works on so many levels. This is a compelling, fantastical adventure that unfolds with the most delicate of touches. I foresee a re-read of Lavondyss, the next book in the cycle, in my very near future.
As I mentioned before, Mythago Wood has recently been released as an ebook and is still widely available in paperback. If you've never read it before I suggest that you do yourself a favour and seek out. Mythago Wood remains a modern classic that is truly worthy of your time. Writing rarely gets much better than this.
on 5 June 1999
This book together with a companion novel, Lavondyss, is set within the borders of a stand of antique woodland so old it stretches back to the original wild wood which once covered the whole of the British Isles. A primal force at its heart seems capable of generating and sustaining a number of mythical archetypes from the past. They can be born anew out of some sort of Jungian collective unconscious or half-forgotten race memory. The twentieth century scientist at the edge of the wood studies this phenomenon and records his adventures in a diary. As he penetrates ever deeper into the trees he comes across lost tribes, trapped within the stories. The forest possesses some peculiar dimensional property so that it is much more extensive internally than the area it occupies on the map. Older and darker legends come to life in subtly different manifestations and it becomes increasingly hard for him to escape back to normality. The author creates an extremely sinister atmosphere and manages to make you wonder if the modern versions of some of our old stories have been sanitised in the way he describes. I particularly liked the evocation of one bronze age religion and the terrible way it might have been supplanted. No written records exist from this period and Holdstock makes his interpretation strange, disturbing and believable. I wouldn't call this a horror story in the conventional sense; the intent isn't to shock. Nevertheless, there is something very disturbing in this novel. Excellently told and highly recommended if you want an unusual fantasy that will give you strange dreams at night...
on 28 March 2015
Mythago Wood was brilliant. I loved every word and every page. Holdstock offers a very original fantasy novel. I loved the concept behind Mythago Wood, an immense wood that can create creatures of myth and legend from the mind’s of humans. Who wouldn’t love to read a book with such a premise? Can you imagine the crazy s*** that could happen? I loved the extracts from the journals of Christian and Stephen’s father. They were intriguing, rambling and fascinating. I loved how Holdstock writes about Christian’s descent into their father’s madness. I loved it when Stephen went running into the woods after his mad brother to save the woman, the mythago he loved. Mythago Wood ticks all the boxes of a great read. Mythago Wood is the first book in a series. I need to read the rest to see what madness spawns from Ryhope Wood next.
Convalescing in France after WWII, Steve Huxley hears of the death of his father, who for many years has been obsessed by the woodland bordering their home. Returning home, Steve finds that his brother Christian has now also been 'infected' by their father's obsession, developing a tendency to roam Ryhope Wood for days or even weeks at a time, searching for...something. As Steve delves into his father's research, he learns the secrets of the woodland and what affect his own desires are having on it.
Mythago Wood, the first book in the Mythago Wood Cycle, was first published twenty-five years ago (when it promptly won the World Fantasy Award) and has become a highly-regarded work over the intervening period. It's not an epic fantasy, but neither is it the kind of twee and fairy-riddled work the synopsis or its reputation as a 'woodland fantasy' suggests. Instead, it's a powerful and effecting look at mythology and language, invoking the origins of pagan rituals and the development of history into myth. It's also a very human story of a father whose all-consuming obsession destroyed his marriage and damaged the relationship with his sons, whilst the two brothers' relationship forms the core of the novel.
Holdstock's Ryhope Wood is vividly described. You can almost feel the twigs snapping under your feet as the story proceeds deeper into the heartwoods, and the sense of dislocated time is conveyed very well. Holdstock also manages an impressive balancing act by having the odd properties of Ryhope Wood described in almost scientific terms, but the central sense of magical mystery remains intact and compelling.
Another interesting side of the story is that whilst Holdstock mentions the traditional English mythological figures of Robin Hobb and Arthur, he also makes use of a great deal of Celtic and Welsh imagery which are less familiar, but equally fascinating, to the casual reader.
If the book has a weakness, it's the near-total lack of scepticism on the part of any of the human characters about what is going on. Whilst it's refreshing not to have to deal with a corny, "But this can't be happening!" spiel every five pages, the total lack of surprise on the part of the central character to much of what occurs does feel a little odd. In addition, a major character abruptly bows out of the narrative just before the end, in a move that feels like it was meant to establish groundwork for the semi-sequel, Lavondyss, rather than entirely make sense within the confines of this novel.
These are extremely minor concerns. Mythago Wood (****½) is a rich and textured novel about myth which is thought-provoking and densely atmosphere. The novel is available in the UK in a new anniversary edition and also as part of an omnibus. It is also available now in the USA.
on 18 July 2009
Only 16 reviews for this fantasy masterpiece?!?!? What's wrong with you people??? You're almost as bad as us Americans! And you bloody invented the genre!! But I see that 623 of you had time to review "Twilight"- a piece of pure drivel written (and badly at that) for hormonal pre-tween girls. Truly disgusting. Come on people- this book is a freakin masterwork of dark fantasy that works on multiple levels: psychological, philisophical, spiritual- it's even a heartbreaking romance on top of everything else. And YET you just LOOOVVVEEDD you some "Twilight" didn't you? Maybe its all the MSG in the Macdonalds you're all eating that interferes with your ability to appreciate a book like this. A little too much Dr. Who perhaps? I mean this is truly on the level of Tolkein et al. And yet it has only 16 reviews. You people have sorely disappointed me.
on 10 June 2016
It's difficult to objectively criticise a book that, like the mythagos within it, has become such a strong foundation text of the fantasy genre. Mythago Wood deliberately harks back to an older manner of storytelling, a drawn-out, unhurried first-person recital that sets the stage with absolute precision before thrusting the narrator - and the reader with him - into uncharted territory.
As the layers of the wood are peeled back, and the layers of the world and the story wrapped around it are revealed one by one, Mythago Wood does become difficult to put down. At its heart, it is an archetypal quest, a dream of fulfillment and a loss of innocence, echoing every story from the Fall of Eden onwards. The logic and explanation of the mythos ties up a large portion of the middle of the book, before our heroes actually begin their quest, and that's the one part that might make the reader close the book and look elsewhere for a faster paced adventure, but that reader would be a fool to do so.
Mythago Wood deserves its reputation, even if its structure actively fights those who seek to enter it...