Friday, November 7, 2014

Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

Today we are visiting the fantasy classic Mythago Wood, by Robert Holdstock. I am going to say at the outset that it took me ten years to really appreciate this book, but that is because I was unable to figure it out. Then I stopped trying to understand it, and began appreciating the utter beauty of Holdstock's work. This power of prose that Holdstock wields is the reason this book is considered to be a cornerstone of any library claiming to contain the truly great masterpieces of epic fantasy.

But First THE BLURB:

Myth and Terror in the Forest Deeps

The mystery of Ryhope Wood, Britain's last fragment of primeval forest, consumed George Huxley's entire long life. Now, after his death, his sons have taken up his work. But what they discover is numinous and perilous beyond all expectation.

For the Wood, larger inside than out, is a labyrinth full of myths come to life, "mythagos" that can change you forever. A labyrinth where love and beauty haunt your dreams. . .and may drive you insane.

There is a a lot of both history and pre-history in this tale. The tale begins just after the end of WWII. At the outset Stephen Huxley returns from military service, after recuperating from his war wounds, to see his elder brother Christian, who now lives alone in their childhood home, Oak Lodge, just on the edge of Ryhope Wood. Their father, George, has died recently. Christian is disturbed but intrigued by his encounters with one of the mythagos, while Stephen is confused and disbelieving when Christian explains the enigma of the wood. Both had seen mythagos as children, but their father explained them away as travelling Gypsies. Christian returns to the wood for longer and longer periods, eventually disappearing into the wood.Stephen reads about his father's and Edward Wynne-Jones's studies of the wood. Part of his research on the wood causes him to contact Wynne-Jones's daughter, Anne Hayden.

The book  defines a mythago as a "myth imago, the image of the idealized form of a myth creature". Mythagos are dangerously real, but if any of them stray too far from the wood they slowly deteriorate and die. Because they are formed from human myths, they vary in appearance and character depending on the human memories from which they formed. That concept was what I struggled with as a reader, but as I grew to understand it, I was amazed at the possibilities such a notion offered. 

Holdstock's prose is lush and beautiful--even when I didn't understand the concept of the meaning behind the Mythagos I loved the words on the page. And later, when I had begun to understand what had happened to Christian I developed an appreciation for the sheer creative genius of Robert Holdstock as an author and builder of worlds. In Mythago Wood, Holdstock gives us tough questions, deep moral dilemmas, and a seriously epic fantasy world that can never be matched or imitated. 

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