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The multitalented William Morris is reknowned for many things, but in literary circles he's known for having created the first real fantasy stories, even before Dunsany and Tolkien. Though heavy on prose and light on plot, "The Wood Beyond The World" is an intriguing look at the baby steps of the fantasy genre.

After a disastrous marriage to an unfaithful wife, Walter sails away on a ship, but catches a glimpse of a beautiful queenly woman, a misshapen dwarf, and a lovely young slave girl. When he arrives in a distant land, he encounters all three in a beautiful house in the Wood Beyond The World, where the sexy, manipulative Lady is currently living with a cold-hearted prince.

Walter stays there as a guest, and falls in love with the beautiful Maid, despite her mistress's jealousy. But the Lady has taken a liking to him, and despite his love for the Maid, Walter is drawn in by the Lady's magical charm. And breaking free of the jealous sorceress could be fatal for himself and the Maid -- even if they escape, they still have to deal with the savage wilderness of the Wood Beyond the World.

"The Wood Beyond the World" has the distinction of being the first fantasy-quest novel, although it hasn't had nearly the effect on fiction that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis have had. However, it is an interesting read, especially when one considers that Morris had no mold to work with -- he thought it all up himself.

Morris chose to write in a very formal style, with plenty of phrases like "then waxed Walter wood-wroth," whatever that means. It's not a light read, and it gives the story the feeling of a minor myth rather than a straightforward fairy tale. And despite its formality, the book has plenty of exquisitely described moments, such as Walter eavesdropping on the Lady and her boytoy.

Unfortunately, Morris loses his grip on the plot in the last fourth of the book: the Lady and her evil dwarf are dealt with way too quickly. Boom, they're gone. The primitive Bear tribe is an intriguing idea that Morris brings up, and then drops. And the last chapters of the book feel contrived, as if Morris were trying to think up a happy enough ending. And he also seems to forget that Walter is already married, albeit unhappily.

"The Wood Beyond the World" suffers from a rather weak last quarter, but it's an intriguing and often beautiful read. And if nothing else, a literary milestone.
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on 18 September 2006
Golden Walter leaves his loving father and his loveless marriage to seek adventure in foreign lands. He has a vision of a stately woman accompanied by a dwarf and a beautiful maid, just as he's about to take ship. This vision haunts him on his travels and somehow, he is driven to seek these 'creatures'. His quest takes him to The Wood Beyond The World, where terrible dangers await him. He falls in love almost instantly with the first woman he meets there and it becomes clear that he was drawn to the house of 'The Mistress' by some kind of magical power, though no-one admits responsibility for taking this liberty. As difficult and hazardous as it was to get to the wood, he could find escape far more dangerous. And what might he find beyond The Wood Beyond The World? More dangerous adventures of course.

It's a short and simple story with no character development and very little explanation of why the things that happen happen. There are plenty of things you could criticise about it. It's not politically correct for one thing - the dwarfs are evil and ugly, a king is chosen partly on the basis of his physical beauty - that sort of thing. But whatever accusations might be thrown at Morris's fantasy stories, he was a trail-blazer, writing fantasy before there was a fantasy genre, laying the foundation stones for later fantasy writers. I love his stories and the archaized language he uses. There are some oddities, as the previous reviewer has mentioned. I looked up 'wood-wroth' in my best dictionary and the nearest I could find referred to wind and sea being moved to a state of turmoil and commotion; violently stormy. There's a wood of huge poplars on the land behind my garden and when there's a howling gale, they thrash about like a stormy sea. Morris probably invented the term, intending it to indicate that Walter was extremely vexed. It works for me but it's fair comment that it won't be to everyone's taste. I'm inclined to give the book 5*s, not because it's the most wonderful story or that it will be widely appreciated but because I enjoyed it very much and I'm grateful to William Morris for inventing a genre that is well beloved by many many people, some of whom will not enjoy this book.
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on 30 August 2013
This is a fantasy written using deliberately archaic language (e.g. 'thou wouldst') which I found hard going at first. The aim is clearly to create a 'past times' setting of sailing ships and courtly love, without placing it in a specific historical period or exact place.
The hero, Walter, sails off on an adventure and eventually comes to another place where a Maid is being held in thrall by a Lady, who is both wicked and glamorous. This part of the story drew me in and reads like old Celtic folklore. However sadly the Lady is overthrown all too easily and the rest of the story presents our hero with a few dilemmas which are equally easily solved.
As a story therefore it is rather disappointing. However, it is worth reading as a piece of literary history, as it is said to have influenced both C.S. Lewis and Tolkien.
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The multitalented William Morris is reknowned for many things, but in literary circles he's known for having created the first real fantasy stories, even before Dunsany and Tolkien. Though heavy on prose and light on plot, "The Wood Beyond The World" is an intriguing look at the baby steps of the fantasy genre.

After a disastrous marriage to an unfaithful wife, Walter sails away on a ship, but catches a glimpse of a beautiful queenly woman, a misshapen dwarf, and a lovely young slave girl. When he arrives in a distant land, he encounters all three in a beautiful house in the Wood Beyond The World, where the sexy, manipulative Lady is currently living with a cold-hearted prince.

Walter stays there as a guest, and falls in love with the beautiful Maid, despite her mistress's jealousy. But the Lady has taken a liking to him, and despite his love for the Maid, Walter is drawn in by the Lady's magical charm. And breaking free of the jealous sorceress could be fatal for himself and the Maid -- even if they escape, they still have to deal with the savage wilderness of the Wood Beyond the World.

"The Wood Beyond the World" has the distinction of being the first fantasy-quest novel, although it hasn't had nearly the effect on fiction that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis have had. However, it is an interesting read, especially when one considers that Morris had no mold to work with -- he thought it all up himself.

Morris chose to write in a very formal style, with plenty of phrases like "then waxed Walter wood-wroth," whatever that means. It's not a light read, and it gives the story the feeling of a minor myth rather than a straightforward fairy tale. And despite its formality, the book has plenty of exquisitely described moments, such as Walter eavesdropping on the Lady and her boytoy.

Unfortunately, Morris loses his grip on the plot in the last fourth of the book: the Lady and her evil dwarf are dealt with way too quickly. Boom, they're gone. The primitive Bear tribe is an intriguing idea that Morris brings up, and then drops. And the last chapters of the book feel contrived, as if Morris were trying to think up a happy enough ending. And he also seems to forget that Walter is already married, albeit unhappily.

"The Wood Beyond the World" suffers from a rather weak last quarter, but it's an intriguing and often beautiful read. And if nothing else, a literary milestone.
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on 3 May 2010
i was quite disappointed on receiving this book because of the way it has been printed. the book itself is much larger than i thought it would be, as in fewer pages but taller in length so that it doesn't fit on my bookshelf! the cover is shiny and the pages are stark white, not what i was expecting at all. it is a brilliant old book printed like a modern school text, thoroughly unartistic.
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