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Beyond the wood,
This review is from: The Wood Beyond the World (Paperback)
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.