Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock
Orbit Trade: ISBN 0765307294 PubDate: 10/01/03
Review by EJ McClure
336 pgs. List price $ 14.95
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Robert Holdstock’s powerful fantasy novel “Mythago Wood,” winner of the World Fantasy Award, is back in print in trade paperback from Orb. If you missed it when it was last in bookstores, you might consider this an early Christmas present to yourself. “Mythago Wood” draws on the universal archetypes woven throughout English mythology to create a haunting tale of discovery, love and loss that actually seems more relevant during these uncertain times then when first printed in 1984.
Steve Huxley, mustered out of the military after a combat injury during the closing days of World War II, returns to his family home at Oak Lodge to find his younger brother Christian strangely aged. Chris brushes off questions about Guiwenneth, the girl he married while Steve was away at war. He seems more interested in his father’s unfinished work than in his missing wife. Steve uneasily realizes that Christian is in the grip of the same obsession that consumed their father, an obsession fixed on Ryhope Wood, a dense patch of oak woodland that borders their home.
Christian’s abrupt departure in the middle of the night reinforces Steve’s foreboding, but for a time he is able to carry on a domestic routine of solitary contentment at Oak Lodge. Then comes the day he discovers the corpse of a red-haired woman in a shallow grave near the house. Determined now to find out what has been happening at Oak Lodge in his absence, Steve begins combing through his father’s journals for clues. There he learns of the mythagos, beings that grow from the power of hate, and fear, and form in the wood. Sometimes they emerge into the world; other times, they remain hidden in the landscape, figures of hope that empower local people to resist the forces of invasion and change. Steve realizes in shock that the odd characters he has seen about the perimeter of the wood since childhood must be mythagos. Curiosity aroused, he begins to explore the wood himself.
Thus begins Holdstock’s eerie tale of outer and inner journeys so skillfully intertwined that the reader is swept effortlessly across the border between the real and the fantastical . The first-person narration ties the reader to Steve’s perspective as his quest to solve the mystery of Ryhope Wood leads to the unraveling of everything he understood to be “real” and “true.” Students of Joseph Campbell and fans of Lord Dunsany will both enjoy this lyrical fantasy steeped in scholarly knowledge of English history. Holdstock, like Bradbury, has a wonderful knack for making the mundane both glamorous and sinister, a compelling combination for anyone who likes that delicious tingle down the back of the spine when reading alone late on an autumn evening.