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Cloven Hooves
Megan Lindholm
Voyager Classics, 360 pages

Cloven Hooves
Megan Lindholm
(a.k.a. Robin Hobb)

Megan Lindholm was born Margaret Astrid Lindholm in California in 1952. At the age of about 9 she moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, where she graduated from high school. Later, after a brief stint at the University of Denver where she majored in Mass Communications, she married and moved back up to Alaska, where she started writing under her maiden name. She started publishing her short stories about twenty years ago in small magazines. Shortlisted for 1989 Nebula Awards in the categories of novella (A Touch of Lavender" - also a 1990 Hugo Award nominee) and novelette ("Silver Lady and the Fortyish Man"), this year she is nominated for the Nebula for her short story "Cut." As Megan Lindholm she has written a number of successful fantasy novels, including Cloven Hooves, The Ki and Vandien Quartet and Wizard of the Pigeons before taking the name, Robin Hobb. Assassin's Apprentice was Robin Hobb's first novel, and was followed by the equally successful Royal Assassin and Assassin's Quest. She lives in Tacoma, WA, though retaining her former home on a small farm in rural Roy, WA. Mother of three adult and one younger child, she lives with her husband, Fred, who is currently chief engineer on an ocean going tug. Her tastes in music have included psychedelic rock n' roll, twisted trad and quirky Celtic, and Sufi drumming. These days she is rediscovering the music of Janis Ian and continues to enjoy Gordon Lightfoot as "comfort music." Currently scrambling to meet a deadline, she cites Spirited Away as the movie she's most enjoyed this year and Coraline by Neil Gaiman the book she's most enjoyed lately.

Author's official site

Cloven Hooves-1
Cloven Hooves (in German)
Farseer Trilogy-1
Farseer Trilogy-2
Fool's Errand
The Limbreth Gate
Luck of the Wheels
Mad Ship-1
Mad Ship-2
The Reindeer People
The Reindeer People and Wolf's Brother (in German)
Royal Assassin
Ship of Magic-1
Ship of Magic-2
The Windsingers
Wizard of the Pigeons-1
Wizard of the Pigeons-2

1, 2

ISFDB, 2, 3, 4, 5

1, 2, 3, 4

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

Read a hundred pages into Cloven Hooves and you'd be convinced you were reading a very conventional, if well-written, mainstream novel: an everyday story of a woman, Evelyn, and her odyssey from an unfettered and imaginative childhood in rural Alaska to a crumbling marriage among her husband's family in Washington State. The remainder of the book, however, chronicles her passionate relationship, mating, and bearing a child to a woodland satyr. Certainly, as with her urban fantasy Wizard of the Pigeons, mainstream readers said, "what's with the fantasy element?" While fantasy readers said, "what's with the 100 pages of character development and the mythology that's as old as the hills?" Ultimately the poor sales of her novels under the name Megan Lindholm, by her own admission, led her to recast herself as Robin Hobb, author of standard-as-you-please fantasy, much more financially successful, much more critically acclaimed, but certainly not terribly original. Certainly, sexuality and Greek mythology were preeminent in earlier fantasy works such as MacArthur's After the Afternoon (1941 -- complete with a sadomasochistic gay relationship) and Thomas Burnett Swann's many mythology-based novels of the 70s, but Lindholm's story contrasts strongly from them by being set in the here and now. However, originality isn't everything, and if I'm telling you to go out and grab this book while you can, I'm going to have to give you some good reasons

First, Lindholm uses a first person narration throughout, so we are in on Evelyn's thoughts and motivations, her character's development from a child to a grown woman. Not being a woman myself, I can't comment authoritatively on the verisimilitude of her depiction, but it certainly had me very much convinced. The use of the first person also brings out the fact that there are a number of similarities between Evelyn's fictional life and that of the author herself, though where this leaves off only Megan Lindholm knows. In her The Reindeer People (and its sequel Wolf's Brother) a young healer woman is overly protective of her son, while in Cloven Hooves a young woman loses her son in a farming accident -- did both these have parallels in the author's life? I'm not in a position to say. However, the novel gave me the impression of writing that, besides being semi-autobiographical, was cathartic, laying out a lot of personal pains and frustrations and seeking a meaning or purpose to life. Perhaps part of the reason the author recast herself as Robin Hobb is that she had worked out her demons as Megan Lindholm, and needed to move on. One way or the other, the author's passion for her character and apparent self-investment makes Cloven Hooves a great read.

Megan Lindholm has a sense of the fey awesomeness of wild places and, in particular of the forest, and is very adept at depicting it. This sense is something that one acquires, if one can, by exploring woods on one's own as a child, free of adult and societal prejudices. Certainly part of the reason this novel really resonated with me is that when I want to really unwind, re-energize, refocus myself, I go bushwhacking alone in the woods. To someone who doesn't "get it," I might try to describe the primordial atmosphere, but there are always those to whom the sound of the wind in pine trees reminds them of the sound of a distant expressway -- they haven't a clue. Authors like Richard Jefferies (Wood Magic. A Fable), Algernon Blackwood (e.g. "The Wendigo"), and Opal Whiteley (The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow) knew, and were able to depict this awesomeness... Megan Lindholm is another.

Cloven Hooves thankfully doesn't suffer from political correctness. Evelyn, when she does begin breaking away from her husband's stifling family, goes out and gets repeatedly fucked to crashing orgasms by her friend the satyr and isn't altogether that remorseful. I do not use the word "fucked" unadvisedly -- rather than "made love" or "copulated" -- because it much better captures the unbridled lustfulness of the coupling. If that weren't enough to outrage those of the straight and narrow persuasion, she lives with her satyr-friend-lover in the wild, abandoning her husband, and ultimately bearing and breast feeding her satyr-lover's child. The sex in Cloven Hooves is fairly graphic by fantasy standards, and probably not entirely appropriate for younger readers. Given the amount of sex that occurs and its frank description, if I hadn't known better, I might have thought the author European (though she is of Scandinavian descent), certainly not American. The sex is not gratuitous, but presented in context and in a manner which resorts to a minimum of "dirty words" while still depicting quite clearly, but not pruriently what is going on.

Of course one can read a number of other things into Cloven Hooves, the dichotomy between the instinctual, primeval world of the woods and the reasoned, structured world of life in a civilized society. Part of this dichotomy, is the sense that Evelyn is always an outsider, even when she tries her best to fit in. She grows up to puberty ignored by her mother, who sees her as largely self-sufficient, alienated from her siblings and schoolmates. She performs competently the tasks imposed upon her by society, school and relationships, but it is always clear she is an outsider. Even when she runs with a bad crowd as a teenager, she is never caught, always observing on the sidelines or melting into the crowd. When she is among her husband's family with their romance novels, patriarchal supremacy and devotion to "the American Way," she can only play the part so long. Part of her feyness and adaptation to a forest life and unfitness to "normal society" is depicted through her enhanced use of the more "feral" senses of smell and taste, over hearing or seeing. What hearing she does do is of the sounds of the forest, but when it comes to her husband's family there are several instances of her being unable to understand them or of simply tuning them out altogether. Again, one can speculate that this well depicted sense of alienation and differentness was informed by Lindholm's own life.

While Voyager Classics is to be commended for reprinting this fine title, giving it a tasteful and simple cover when a "sex sells" cover might have chosen, my copy had rather unevenly dark and light portions in the printed text. On the other hand, Cloven Hooves was free of the typos frequently encountered in another current series of fantasy classics reprints being published in England. So if you're the sort of reader who sees fantasy lurking just outside everyday life, "knows" the forest, enjoys well developed, engaging characters, and is vehemently opposed to cloning of fantasy novels, Cloven Hooves is for you. Even if you are none of these, you owe it to yourself to expand your horizons to encompass the beauty and eloquence of Cloven Hooves.

Copyright © 2002 by Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.

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