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The Mythago Cycle
Robert Holdstock
Avon and Roc Books
Book 1 Mythago Wood
Book 2 Lavondyss
Book 3 The Hollowing
Book 4 Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn

Gate of Ivory
The Hollowing
Robert Holdstock
Born in 1948 in Kent, Robert Holdstock worked in medical research before becoming a full-time writer in 1975. Author of more than 20 novels, his Mythago Wood won a World Fantasy Award and Lavondyss, a British SF Award.

ISFDB Bibliography
Review: The Hollowing
Review: The Fetch
Review: Ancient Echoes

Past Feature Reviews
Part 1 of a review by Steven H Silver More
Mythago Wood
Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood is an intelligent modern fantasy set in the years immediately following the end of World War II. Brought back to England by the news of his father's death, Steve Huxley discovers his brother has followed in their father's footsteps.

George Huxley had dedicated his life to the exploration of the wildwood which backed up on their home, often to the neglect of his wife and two young sons. Despite keeping meticulous records of his research into Ryhope Wood, he managed to keep most of the strangeness he examined from his family. By the time of his death, his wife had already predeceased him and his sons had come to look upon him with a mixture of loathing and antipathy.

What Huxley had discovered, and his own sons would discover on their own, was the existence of a Jungian playground within the three-square miles of Ryhope Woods. Every folk hero and legend who had ever been known in English history had an analog, or mythago, residing in the woods, whose very existence was tied, not to belief in the legend, but simply to the imagination of the surrounding minds. While some of the mythagos are of popular characters, like Robin Hood or King Arthur, many more of the mythagos encountered by the elder Huxley and his two sons were forgotten except within the confines of Ryhope Wood.

While the woods provide a strong sense of wonder and amazement for both the various Huxleys and the readers, Mythago Wood is also a tale of estrangement. Upon Steve's return to the family home, he is greeted by his brother, Christian. Within days, Christian leaves Steve to continue their father's exploration of the woods. Steve spends much of the novel alone, although he eventually does interact with Harry Keeton at the local air base, Anne Hayden, the daughter of one of his father's friends, and Guiwenneth, the mythago who held a special allure for all the men in the Huxley family. Even when Steve begins a relationship with Guiwenneth and Keeton, he does so in a distinctively distant manner.

Always at the edge of the action, and frequently more centrally located, is Ryhope Wood, itself. Throughout literature, forest has been seen as everything from evil (Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter), to liberating (William Shakespeare's As You Like It). Ryhope Wood takes on various aspects of all these things. A natural part of the Huxley's life, it takes on a sinister aspect when Steve views it from Keeton's airplane. The Wood is a living entity, perhaps more so than any of the mythagos which reside in it. All three Huxley's must fight their way past the wood's defenses in order to explore its overgrown interior. Aerial photography of the woods result in blurred pictures which hint at the strange occurrences within.

Ryhope is not the only mysterious woods in Holdstock's vision. Keeton has experienced a similar wood on the continent after he was shot down during the war. Although it is obvious to the reader that Keeton has his own reasons for wanting to join Steve on his explorations of the wood, Steve's disassociation with everyone around him causes him to ignore Keeton's own purposes.

Perhaps the most interesting character in Mythago Wood is the mythago, Guiwenneth, who manages to capture the hearts of all three Huxley men. Because Guiwenneth is the mythago who is most closely examined in the book, she can be used to help determine something of the nature of mythagos in general. Although Holdstock is careful to point out that mythagos are merely the incarnation of common Jungian subconscious, not limited by actual memory. However, at the same time, mythagos are brought into being by the minds of people who are nearby. Holdstock hints that the Guiwenneth who enticed George Huxley was created by his own mind, while the Guiwenneth who appeared to Christian was created by Christian's mind. The Guiwenneth who Steve falls in love with is definitely different than the one who Christian married and is found, early in the novel, lying in a shallow grave.

Similarly, the question of mythago generation is touched on, although not necessarily in detail as the Huxleys haven't managed to figure out how it is done. When Steve and Keeton eventually enter the woods in search of Christian, they discover that Steve's brother has become a legend among the mythagos. If this gives Christian life as a mythago, does that mean he needs a living mind as normal mythagos, or are mythagos able to create a sort of sub-mythago without intervention?

Holdstock leaves this and other questions unanswered, which also leaves room for several sequels, which he has written. More than almost any other fantasy, Mythago Wood is a novel about an idea. Holdstock manages to reveal just enough of the idea of mythagos to capture the reader's interest and imagination without making them so mundane as to cause them to lose that interest. Similarly, by using so few of the English legends readers are familiar with, Holdstock is preserving a large storehouse of stories from which he can draw. Mythago Wood richly deserves the World Fantasy Award it received and easily ranks among the best and most ambitious fantasy novels of the twentieth century.


While Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood is about solitude and disassociation with family, its sequel, Lavondyss, opens with an older man, Owen Keeton, writing a love letter in the margins of a book to his infant granddaughter, Tallis. While the Huxley family worked to destroy itself, Owen Keeton pleads with the supernatural to spare the life of his granddaughter. Even as the same magic of Ryhope Wood is woven into Lavondyss, Holdstock gives this book a very different feel than Mythago Wood.

Even as Tallis, and later Wynne-Jones, explore the magic of Ryhope Wood and the mythagos who inhabit it, there is still a strong sense of community. Tallis has a family and is shown, repeatedly, interacting with her father and mother. Wynne-Jones has become a part of a community within the boundaries of Ryhope Wood, almost taking on a shamanistic role for them.

This new aspect to the Ryhope Wood series is important. In Mythago Wood, the adventures of Steve Huxley and Harry Keeton were devoid of any link with their contemporary civilization. Lavondyss allows Holdstock to link the mysterious wood to its surrounding and show how the wood is viewed by those who live nearby. Holdstock's decision to make Lavondyss's protagonist the half-sister of Harry Keeton extends that link to the earlier novel.

Holdstock's choice of characters for Lavondyss does create some problems. Through the first half of the novel, Tallis ranges in age from an infant to thirteen. Nevertheless, we are not shown any chronological growth on her part. She learns new information, but her maturity is the same no matter what age she is. In all cases, her maturity is much greater than her age. Furthermore, she is accepted as nearly an equal by her father and Mr. Williams, the musician who befriends Tallis and helps her gain knowledge of the secret names of places. Nobody treats Tallis's interest in mysticism as anything less than a legitimate study.

Another problem is that Holdstock is not able to maintain the otherworldly quality of his writing for the full length of the novel. Strange things happen throughout, especially the second half, but Holdstock's skill, at the time he wrote Lavondyss, was not yet to the point where he could adequately capture the ideas and feelings which he was attempting to get across to his readers.

Ideas and feelings are exactly what a book like Lavondyss is about. Without Holdstock's stylistic license, Lavondyss would be merely another coming-of-age story. For most of the book, however, his writing style manages to transcend the generic quality of the basic story line to raise the book to a higher, more enjoyable level.

Lavondyss does not form the end of the Ryhope Wood series. Holdstock continues to explore the grip folklore has on the human psyche, both consciously and unconsciously. His ability to examine this aspect of the human mind firmly established Holdstock as, perhaps, more a folklorist than a fantasist.


Copyright © 1997 by Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.

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