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Mythago wood by Robert Holdstock
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Mythago wood (original 1984; edition 2003)

by Robert Holdstock

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1,444355,198 (3.85)62
richardderus's review
Rating: 5 thrilled stars of five

The Book Report: Go look at Jeffrey's review. I'll never be able to improve on that.

My Review: I have to add a few points to it, though.

The mythopoetic roots of the story are clear, and the entire experience of reading the tale is one of immersion into a vivified version of The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life & Work. Jung's brilliant conceptualization of "The Collective Unconscious" provides the underpinnings of Ryhope Wood, of course, but man-alive does Holdstock do the magisterial idea justice with his fabulation and his enrobement of the ideas in perfectly chosen words.

I don't like that the book is called "fantasy" fiction, since it has none of the horrible cliche crapola that identifies fantasy in my mind. It's mythic fiction. It uses, and reuses, and synthesizes, the myths that support all the ideas you and I have about the world. This is a profoundly creative book, and should not be lumped in with ninety-three volume series books about teenaged girls with Special Gifts and serious badass 'tudes.

This is literature, not writing. ( )
2 vote richardderus | May 16, 2012 |
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I’ve been trying to read more non-Tolkien fantasy lately. Not that there’s anything wrong with Tolkien-inspired stuff, it’s just that it dominates the genre so completely. Mythago Wood, winner of the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, fits the bill fairly well. It’s a story about Steven Huxley, who returns home at the end of WWII to the country house he once lived in with his brother and father. Huxley senior was obsessed with Ryhope Wood, a patch of primeval forest at the edge of their estate, and Steven’s brother Christian has continued his work. Ryhope Wood, of course, turns out to be something fantastic – a place where dreams and myths come true, a place much bigger on the inside than the outside, a dangerous place of magic, and so forth.

The general concept is that Ryhope reaches inside the subconscious of its visitors and makes real the myths and fantasies they have tucked away in there, so it becomes a sort of repository for all of England’s legends – Robin Hood, druids, Royalist partisans, Arthurian knights, etc. Holdstock calls these legends made flesh “mythagos.” The crux of the story revolves around all three men – Steven, Christian and their father – becoming obsessed with “Guiwenneth,” a red-haired Celtic mythago, and about the Steven’s journey into the forest to find her after she is kidnapped by Christian, who has given himself over to the forest entirely.

It’s not quite the book I thought it would be – it’s fairly post-modern, analytical, Jungian. That sort of thing. What might have been an interesting idea in theory unravels because of Holdstock’s fascination with his own anthropology lesson. The plot is unfocused, and relies far too heavily on a poorly-written “romance” between the protagonist and Guiwenneth. The final third of the book, revolving around his journey into the forest to find her, comes completely off the rails and just feels like a trudge through Stone Age tribal warfare and shamanistic story-telling. I wanted to like Mythago Wood, but from the halfway point onwards I realised that wasn’t going to happen, and it became one of those unfortunate reading experiences where I was counting the number of pages left. ( )
  edgeworth | Aug 7, 2014 |
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

After his post-WWII convalescence in France, Steven Huxley is returning to his family's home on the edge of Ryhope Wood, a patch of ancient forest, in Britain. For as long as Steven remembers, his father, who recently died, had been so obsessed with the forest that it destroyed their family.

Upon returning home, Steven finds that his brother Christian is quickly following in their father's footsteps -- both figuratively and literally -- for he has also discovered that this is no ordinary forest! It resists intrusion from Outsiders, time and distance are skewed there (so it is much larger inside than the 6 miles it covers in modern Britain should allow, and time seems to expand), and strange energy fields interact with human minds to create mythagos -- the idealized forms of ancient mythical and legendary creatures, heroes, and villains formed from collective subconscious hopes and fears. So, for example, if you strolled through Mythago Wood (if you could get in) you might encounter Robin Hood, King Arthur, Talos, Freya, or perhaps some more generic version of a popular legendary ideal. You might walk down a Roman road or stay in a medieval castle or a Germanic tribe's hut. And when you come out, you may have been gone only half the time you spent inside Mythago Wood.

The destruction of the Huxley family has been caused by the creation, out of father Huxley's mind, of Guiwenneth, the mythago of an idealized red-haired Celtic warrior princess who occasionally comes out of the woods. Mr. Huxley was obsessed with her (and this is what eventually led to both Mrs. and Mr. Huxley's deaths) and, when Steven arrives, Christian, who has become similarly obsessed, has been making forays into the forest in search of Guiwenneth. Before long, Steven gets pulled into the drama and the strange goings on in Mythago Wood.

I was entranced by Mythago Wood from the first page. The writing is clear, lovely, and unpretentious. The story is told from Steven's viewpoint (first person, with diary entries and letters from a couple of other characters), so the reader feels emotionally involved. The pace is quick. The forest setting is beautiful.

The first two thirds of the novel flew by. During this time, Steven is figuring out what's going on in the woods and he meets and falls in love with Guiwenneth (yes, the same girl that his father and brother loved). All of this was fascinating and highly emotional. I loved the premise of the story -- the wood that forbade entry to modern humans and was bigger in time and space inside than could be explained by it's physical dimensions. The existence in the wood of archetypal heroes and villains from across the ages, all living together at the same time, each in his own clothes and weapons. Cool stuff. I also thought the recollections of Steven and Christian about their father's work and coldness toward their family was poignant.

But, somehow, when Steven and his companion Harry Keeton actually managed to get beyond the defenses of the forest and were traveling through Mythago Wood, it was not as exciting as when Steven was only learning about the forest from his father's notes and his experiences with the mythagos who came out of the woods. Suddenly, it turned into a quest and struggle for survival that was not quite as fascinating as the learning process was, though there were definitely some fun parts.

I did not understand how mythagos, if they are not real, can kill, be killed, or fall in love. Steven and Harry come up some revelations (about mythagos) that seemed to come out of nowhere. I am also not sure why these men are falling for Guiwenneth. The explanation is that she's the mythago of the Celtic warrior princess, and thus men can't help but fall in love with her. Steven mentions that she may be his mythago, but his father and brother fall in love with the same woman. She doesn't do much but giggle. Is that ideal? She has red hair, fair skin, she's slender and uses a knife. Maybe that's it?

I never fully understood Harry Keeton's situation, which was wrapped up much too quickly, but I'm thinking that this will be addressed in a sequel. There were a few elements that seemed thrown in without purpose -- myths that didn't seem to fit, characters who Steven was told had to be "left behind" when he didn't even know they were with him. Perhaps we'll see them again.

So, while I was quickly pulled in and I absolutely loved the first two-thirds of the book, I experienced moments of confusion in the last section. I'm sure I'd benefit from another reading of Mythago Wood -- it's that kind of book. Perhaps some of these things would be cleared up. Or, perhaps not. I believe that the novel was composed of three separate novellas, and that may explain some of the disjointedness.

I'm going to read Lavondyss, the sequel to Mythago Wood. I loved this setting and the characters, and I'm hoping further reading will clear up my confusion.

This review originally published at Fantasy literature's Robert Holdstock page. ( )
1 vote Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
Post WWII in rural England on the Welsh border, a young man returns from the war to his father's home to find his father gone and his brother slightly deranged. The wood has some kind of special power and a young woman has come out of the wood and captured first the father's heart and then the elder son's. The young son returns to find the father and the woman gone. Shortly thereafter the brother vanishes into the wood for weeks and months at a time. The woman comes out of the wood again and has a relationship with the younger brother. The elder returns and kidnaps the woman and takes her into the wood. Thus setting up the rest of the book as a resolution of the conflict between the brother in the quest through the wood for vengence and the woman. Pretty classic stuff told with full knowledge of the underlying Celtic and Saxon myths along with a smattering of Christian ones. You'll find many things in the wood. The story of Cain and Abel, Siegfried and Brunhilde, the Green man, etc. It almost becomes tiring to track all of the symbols. ( )
  stuart10er | Nov 5, 2013 |
Ensorcelled by Ryhope Wood and the idea of the Mythagos, less thrilled with the protagonists and events. ( )
  Jarandel | Oct 17, 2013 |
What a great read! Holdstock managed to come up with something completely new and incredibly old at the same time with his Mythago Wood series. By mining the rich vein of British myth and tying it to both the Jungian subconscious and the magical influence of an acient living forest he managed to create a fantasy work that was both epic in scope and personal in its resonance. It's a work that truly stands the test of time.

In the first volume, _Mythago Wood_, we follow the story of Stephen Huxley who returns home from the war to his ancient family home in the countryside of Britain to find his brother, Christopher, a changed and haunted man. The family estate borders the enigmatic Ryhope Wood, a forest whose mysteries had obsessed their father, and now threaten to consume Christopher as well.

As the story progresses we begin to discover some of the mysteries uncovered by the elder Huxley and see that the wood is much more than a simple forest...it is somehow a nexus for the mythical imagery of humanity and, when people come into close contact with it, can generate 'mythagos', or living embodiments of their mythic figures. In addition we soon discover, through the journeys of the brothers, that the forest distorts both time and space, becoming larger as you go inside and taking you further back into mankind's prehistory.

The story itself becomes a complex family conflict as first the Oedipal battle between Christopher and his father is acted out and then, inevitably, that of Christopher vs. his brother Stephen. All of these battles are undertaken in the name of Gwyneth, an alluring mythago whose charms manage to enamour all of the Huxley men. In addition the desire to uncover the ultimate meaning behind the forest's mysterious power push the Huxley's to overcome the obstacles and traps that the forest constantly puts in their way. ( )
2 vote dulac3 | Apr 2, 2013 |
Rating: 5 thrilled stars of five

The Book Report: Go look at Jeffrey's review. I'll never be able to improve on that.

My Review: I have to add a few points to it, though.

The mythopoetic roots of the story are clear, and the entire experience of reading the tale is one of immersion into a vivified version of The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life & Work. Jung's brilliant conceptualization of "The Collective Unconscious" provides the underpinnings of Ryhope Wood, of course, but man-alive does Holdstock do the magisterial idea justice with his fabulation and his enrobement of the ideas in perfectly chosen words.

I don't like that the book is called "fantasy" fiction, since it has none of the horrible cliche crapola that identifies fantasy in my mind. It's mythic fiction. It uses, and reuses, and synthesizes, the myths that support all the ideas you and I have about the world. This is a profoundly creative book, and should not be lumped in with ninety-three volume series books about teenaged girls with Special Gifts and serious badass 'tudes.

This is literature, not writing. ( )
2 vote richardderus | May 16, 2012 |
A very interesting take on mythology and folklore and a different kind of fantasy novel. I found it very easy to read and it definitely engrosses you in the world, though I found it took a little while to really get going. It wasn't until Steven started to get involved in the Wood that I became really interested. I also have to say I was a bit disappointed in the ending, it is obviously set up for the next book and doesn't really give you many answers, but it does ensure you'll read the next one in the series! ( )
  prettycurious | Feb 21, 2012 |
Steven Huxley returns to his family home on the edge of Ryhope Wood at the end of World War II and finds that his brother, Christian, seems changed in ways that are hard for him to understand. As part of the story narrative, Steven recalls painful and bewildering experiences from their childhood together, the death of their mother, and their father's abstracted indifference to both boys. Christian seems more and more drawn to the wood, as his father was before him, and tantalizes his brother with stories of a beautiful young woman, with creatures who take form from the thoughts of people and who reflect the evolving myths of the human race. Eventually, after Christian's final departure into the mysterious wood, Steven comes to know the young woman, Guiwenneth, loses her and with his friend Harry Keeton, goes on a quest into Ryhope Wood in the hope of recovering her.

This story is a good concept but is never fully realized. It lacks a cohesiveness that would make sense of the fantasy world and simply seems to stagger from incident to incident without an internal logic. The characters are so tepid and lacking in emotion that they are simply not believable. The narrator stands apart and tells the reader how very intensely he, or other characters, are feeling, but there is no evidence of that emotion. It all seems curiously flat and dispassionate. ( )
  turtlesleap | Feb 19, 2012 |
A great fantasy novel. It starts out as a typical 'crossover' novel, but it is done in a very plausible way, and the world he creates is fascinating. ( )
  Karlstar | Jan 29, 2012 |
I found this book in one of the boxes of ABC’s books per kilo sale, not knowing the book or the writer at all. The fact that this was a twenty-fifth anniversary edition promised something good.
And it was. This is the story of a small but ancient forest in England. Strange things happen and over time the research into the forest consumes Steven and Christian’s father. When Steven returns from France after WWII, his brother is also drawn to the forest, to one day enter and never to return. And the strange things happen to Steven though, culminating in an epic journey.
The book has some very interesting theories about myths,the reasons they are with us and how they survive, all while creating and living it’s own myth.
The story took some time to get started, but at the end I felt the last page came too soon. I believe that there are more books that follow on this one, I hope to find them. ( )
1 vote divinenanny | Jul 24, 2011 |
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1759289.html

I think the only other Holdstock novel I had read was the rather odd one about Newgrange spirals turning up on another planet, probably thirty years ago. This is an intense exploration of inner space via an English countryside wedded to past historical periods, and the narrator's own family history of venturing into, and being transformed by, this particular unknown. I felt reading it that I have read both Aldiss and Priest trying to do something similar but not succeeding as well. ( )
  nwhyte | Jun 15, 2011 |
This turned out not to be my favourite book of all time but I still liked it well enough. The idea of the wood itself, building representations of past people's hopes and fears, is tempting. It seems like the fantasy-version of the next step in storytelling. Where in sci-fi you have holodecks, in fantasy you have Mythago Wood. In a funny way the story is actually quite relevant -- 3D, augmented reality and other such developments are trying to offer a similar immersion in stories all the time. Isn't "it felt as if I were there" one of the biggest compliments these days? I didn't get the feeling with this book but the idea was still good enough to maintain my interest to the end. Recommend for anyone into folklore and/or speculative fantasy. ( )
  millata | Oct 9, 2010 |
It took me a little while to get into the world of this book, but when I did, I was gripped. Holdstock paints such a rich and convincing world inside the wood, incorporating layers of British myths and legends, that it begins to feel real. ( )
  bsag | Jul 4, 2010 |
Mythago Wood is about a swathe of ancient forest, with primeval energies which can work with human (adult, male) consciousness to bring forth incarnations of ancient myths - all created from the fear and hope which occurred when one community is invaded by another. So we have Celtic myth-figures imagined into existence to fight the Romans, Saxons against Normans, Roundheads against Cavaliers (interesting definition of invasion there). One of the myths is a seductive Celtic princess, who comes to obsess the members of a nearby household - first the father, and then the two brothers. One after another they seek to find the secret of the woods. But the woods have ways of keeping them away from the sources of their power.

Um, I realise that this makes it sound like the most cliched kind of sword-and-sorcery (especially the seductive Celtic princess)! It really isn't. I don't think it would convert anyone who hates the genre, but for me it was an interesting idea, cleverly developed, well-written and satisfyingly scary. ( )
  wandering_star | Feb 18, 2010 |
I picked up Mythago Wood not expecting to like it. I was right. I didn't like it, I loved it. The prose is so smooth, and the story drew me in so that I was truly lost in this Cain and Abel story played out against a mythical wood populated with archetypes created from our own past histories. It was brilliant, and deserves as wide an audience as LOTR, in my opinion. ( )
  Philotera | Jan 10, 2010 |
Amazing tale of a man who returns home from World War II to discover that the woodland behind his home stretches not for a few miles but almost infinitely, and is populated by "mythagos," beings sprung from the myths created by all the peoples who have lived in Britain. He finds that he is taking part in a quest tale that is part of the mythology of the people who live in the wood, and must fulfil the quest. ( )
  Fledgist | Dec 23, 2009 |
I think it's me, to be honest. Robert Holdstock is an award-winning author, receiving praise from pretty impressive peers. And I'm a highly critical reader, always reading through the eyes not only of a reader, but writer and editor. Can't help it.

While the concept of Holdstock's sentient forest is haunting, even compelling at times, his characterization is, in my opinion, so stilted that the characters themselves prevent the story from unfolding in a satisfactory manner. Or rather that is to say, Holdstock's method of writing characters gets in the way. His people lack credibility. They lack reasonable motivation. They appear to me as automatons employed to drive the plot, but are so weak that the plot stalls and stutters.

There are credibility problems, for me, with the plot as well. If there is a mystical, magical, haunted wood in real-time, post WWII England, then wouldn't there be local legend of this? Wouldn't the extras in the novel, even the main characters, know about the strangeness of the wood? If people disappear in the woods, wouldn't the locals discuss this? If planes can't fly over the woods, especially in the atmosphere of post WWII Gloucester, England, where there was very sharp, immediate memory of German bombing and raids, wouldn't there be cause for the RAF and other authorities to be involved? Absolutley there would! But no. It's taken as something of a surprise that no one can fly over the woods outside of Gloucester, and moreover a surprise isolated to two men only. This is a major flaw in the realization of this novel, and because of that lack of credibility, the remainder of the novel failed, in my opinion.

Other credibility problems lie with the main protagonist, Steven, whose brother, Christopher, goes missing in the woods, and Steven doesn't seem overly concerned about this, and even after months of Christopher's disappearance, Steven does nothing to notify the authorities, put together a search party. A man recently reuinited with this sibling, after the horrors of WWII, would most certainly set about finding his brother, at least in my world he would.

And while Holdstock's exploration of the genesis of myth, and in particular Arthurian myth, is fascinating, his realization of that concept, for me, is blurred and confusing. There is no clarity in the novel.

Lastly, I feel this novel, the second of the Mythago Cycle, should have come first. The third, Lavondyss should have been second, and the first, The Hollowing, should have been third. But that's just me. Clearly thousands of people have felt otherwise. ( )
5 vote fiverivers | Aug 21, 2009 |
Some great ideas but never fully realized. ( )
  kpc1972 | Aug 3, 2009 |
Robert Holdstock managed to grab both the British Science Fiction award and the World Fantasy Award for best novel in 1985 with this book and it has remained on many people's list of favourites since.

The story concerns an ancient woodland of untouched Oak trees, Ryhope Wood in Goucestershire. On the edge of this wood is the Huxley family home and it is to this sanctuary that Stephen Huxley returns after the second world war. It's not long however before the sanctuary becomes something else, Stephen's brother Christian begins to explore the forest following the discovery of his father's notes. Eventually Christian disappears and Stephen sets out to find him.

The key to the story are the Myth Imagoes of the title, these are physical manifestations of mythical creatures, generated by the humans who visit the area. They exist in a sort of shadowy otherworld within the woodland but as the Huxleys become more in tune with the mythago's so the images and forms become more real and their interactions become physical. Drawing on ancient Celtic and British mythology all sorts of Mythagos appear ranging from the harmless to the horrific, elements of Arthurian, faerie and Celtic mythology are mixed together.

To Read the rest of this review visit www.highlandersbooks.com ( )
  highlandersbooks | Feb 7, 2009 |
Really, when it comes down to it, my only real problem with Tolkien is that, as creations, the Old Forest, Old Man Willow, and Fangorn are SO FRAKKIN' AMAZING I wanted a whole series of books just about them.

This'll suit me nicely as the next best thing. :D ( )
2 vote Evadare | Nov 30, 2008 |
This is an interesting and darkly satisfying book. Anyone who is a fan of Gaiman will really enjoy it. A man searches a primevil wood that produces shades from his own subconcious. Combines Jungian archetypes with traditional fantasy motifes. Very interesting and original. ( )
1 vote wallacep | Oct 10, 2008 |
The premise of this story is an old oak forest that, drawing on the power/aura of your mind, can create "mythagos," people from popular legend such as Robin Hood, Norse warriors, etc. Two brothers, Christian and Steven, are following in their father's research on the wood and are being drawn in to the mythago world. As time passes Christian descends into madness and becomes a monster terrorizing the inhabitants of the forest. His younger brother Steven must follow him into the wood and kill him in order to save the mythago woman Guiwenneth, Steven's lover, whom Christian has abducted.

The writing is so-so; I'm not sure how much I like the first-person narrative style in this instance. More than once I found myself rearranging and rephrasing some of the more inept sentences. There are also several ugly typos in this edition. And while Holdstock is perfectly at liberty to create a horrible villain and call him "Christian," I am perfectly at liberty to think that a transparent and clumsy cheap shot.

Overall I think this is a book I will read once and never touch again. Not worth buying and not recommended. ( )
  wisewoman | Dec 27, 2007 |
Mythic imagos--mythagos--deeply imbedded in racial consciousness are somehow brought to life in Ryhope Wood by interactions with the forces in the wood. The wood itself, however, resists penetration by outsiders. Somehow, time and space are distorted within the wood; the deeper into the wood, the more pronounced the effect. George Huxley basically lost his life to his obsessive attempts to penetrate and explore the wood.

George's son Steven returns from World War II to find his brother Christian now equally obsessed with the wood--but because he wants to find Guiwenneth, a female mythago created by his father and taken from Christian--killed--by other mythagos. Christian, who fell in love with Guiwenneth, believes that he can find another genesis of her in the wood--and disappears into it.

Steven waits with increasing restlessness and alarm at Oak Lodge, the family home on the edge of the wood. He finds himself interacting with the wood, creating mythagos. Then, one day, Guiwenneth appears--but this genesis is Steven's. The two fall in love and spend an idyllic several months at Oak Lodge and in the outer fringes of the wood.

Suddenly a warlord and his entourage appear from the wood--an aged, hardened, brutal Christian. He nearly kills Steven and abducts Guiwenneth.

Determined to rescue Guiwenneth, Steven and a companion, Harry Keeton, pursue Christian, finding a way to circumvent the forces that guard the wood and penetrate ever deeper. Together they embark on a strange journey through time and myth, creating their own place in racial myth as they do so.

Mythago Wood is an incredibly creative use of mythology as a basis for fantasy fiction. The writing itself is quite formal in tone, which lends an eeriness to the story and prevents the writign from seeming dated. The "real" characters are fleshed out just enough to carry the story; the ones who are really developed are the mythagos.

Holdstock evidently drew upon Celtic mythology as the basis for his use of myth. But he also makes a very fine use of the classic father-son "myth" to add depth to the story.

Highly recommended. ( )
  Joycepa | Nov 22, 2007 |
I found this in the used book store owned by my best friend's father. It is a very unique modern fantasy story. ( )
  stpnwlf | Jul 17, 2007 |
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