by Robert Holdstock
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
At the end of Lavondyss, Tallis and Jim Keeton disappeared into Ryhope Wood, never to be seen again. The Hollowing, the third book in the Ryhope Wood series, opens a year later with the re-emergence of Jim Keeton from the wood and his subsequent death. More important than Keeton's death is the disappearance, shortly thereafter, of Alex Bradley, for once again, as with Mythago Wood and Lavondyss, the Keeton family merely provides the link between the stories. Alex is declared dead when a badly decomposed body is found with head trauma a year after his disappearance. His story doesn't end there, for seven years later a visitor tells his father, Richard, that Alex is alive within Ryhope Wood and in need of his father's aid. The Hollowing is the story of Richard's search for his son.
Mirroring Tallis's search for Harry in Lavondyss, Richard's quest for his own son is a reminder that even as people are coming together, the magic of Ryhope Wood continues to tear apart families. Ryhope Wood has its own agenda and seems to summon people who have an aptitude towards mythagenesis in its attempts to refresh itself. At the same time, the Wood's defenses against the incursion of civilization are at work to keep out the humans who live in the area. One of the things which makes Holdstock's take on the idea of mythagos interesting is the fact that his characters are trying to apply modern logic and scientific process to a supernatural event which would have been accepted as such throughout much of its history.
As the Ryhope Wood series continues, Holdstock needs to reveal more and more about the conditions in the woods. In The Hollowing, he refers back to the journals of George Huxley first referenced in Mythago Wood. While this helps inform the reader of Holdstock's rules, at the same time it lessens the innate mystery which creates much of the mood of the series. Ryhope Wood openly incorporates non-English mythology for the first time in The Hollowing, going as far afield as North American myth and ancient Greek legend.
The majority of The Hollowing is set in 1968, when Tallis and Alex would have been twenty years old. Robert Holdstock was also twenty that year, so he has moved into a period within his own adult recollection. He is able to add bits of trivia and cultural touches which shows the world outside the wood to more complex than the previous novels. This also serves, in conjunction with the information he gives about the wood, to move the series more into the mainstream.
Although its true that after three novels, the plots of the Ryhope Wood series are getting redundant and predictable, the plots are not the important part of these books. Holdstock's focus is the meaning the Wood holds for each individual. In Mythago Wood, Stephen Huxley enters the wood to search for his lost love while Harry Keeton tries to make sense out of what happened to him in Belgium. In Lavondyss, Tallis Keeton enters to rescue her brother and instead comes of age. In The Hollowing, Richard Bradley recovers his own life, missing since his son's disappearance.
Richard's quest is broken with occasional forays into the dreams of Alex Bradley. These dreams seem to be the voice of Ryhope Wood making itself known to the boy while he waits for rescue by his father. At the same time, Alex is remaking Ryhope Wood to such an extent that the scientific team delving into its mysteries become aware, and afraid, of him.
Holdstock includes some literary references, most notably the early introduction of Helen Silverlock. Her name, she claims, is taken from the white in her hair. However, John Myers Myers's novel Silverlock deals with many of the themes of legend and myth which Holdstock has examined in the Ryhope series. Silverlock's companions, Lytton and Lacan also have names which evoke legends and history.
In addition to the novels, Holdstock has written a short story, "The Bone Forest" which deals with the Huxley's encounter with Ryhope Wood. The Huxley's are also the protagonists of Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn, the latest addition to the Ryhope Wood series.
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