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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 2 of a review by Steven H Silver Back
The Hollowing

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 it's 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.

Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn

With Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn, Robert Holdstock has come full circle with the Ryhope Wood Saga. In Mythago Wood, George and Christian Huxley were shadowy figures in their own right, nearly as mysterious as the wood which Steve Huxley explored. With the fourth book in the series, Holdstock has backtracked to a time before Mythago Wood occurs and presents Christian Huxley as a well-rounded character, perhaps more than previous protagonists since Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn is told in the first person. This latest entry in the series explains what happened to Jennifer Huxley and the role Guiwenneth played in her fate. Although Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn can be read on its own (as can the earlier Ryhope books), the reader will gain the most from the book if it is read along with the other novels.

As his brother Steve did in Mythago Wood, Christian enters Ryhope looking for Guiwenneth. His quest, however, is more complex since he is also looking for his mother, Jennifer and, although he would deny it, his father. While in Ryhope, Christian hooks up with a mighty army, by far the largest group of people so far shown within the boundaries of the wood. He makes a reputation with this group which is not even hinted at during his later foray into the wood in Mythago Wood as "The Outsider." However, Christian has more depth here than in the previous novel and his relationship with Guiwenneth is more fully explored as we discover the origins of the various versions of her mythago which appeared in the first book of the series.

The mysteries of Ryhope Wood have been explored now, in three separate novels and a short story, which means that much of what Christian discovers is already known, in one form or another, from previous books. However, Holdstock is able to give some of his tricks new angles as Christian approaches them from his own viewpoint for the first time.

After the Greek departure which occurred when Richard Bradley entered the wood in search of his lost son Alex in The Hollowing, Holdstock returns to Ryhope's Celtic roots in Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn. He now uses the legend of King Arthur and the Mabinogion as his departure point. This Celtic background seems more at home in Ryhope Wood than the Greek, Native American and other foreign mythologies which have been creeping in since the original volume. Perhaps if Holdstock had made a more specific link from Ryhope to woods in foreign locations they would have seemed more at home, but Holdstock never made that connection.

Some of the more interesting characters in Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn are the outsiders who Christian befriends. Chief among these is Someone son of Somebody, a Germanic mythago whose father died before giving him a name. Until he can discover his father's identity and the name chosen for him, Someone can't claim a name of his own. Someone's search for an identity underlines the quests which have occurred throughout the series. Although lacking in knowledge of his name and ancestry, Someone does have an identity of his own.

Although Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn has a greater reliance on plot than the earlier novels in the series, a vast proportion of the novel is still driven by the mysteries of the Wood. Instead, every sidetrack and flashback conspires to flesh out the spirit of Ryhope Wood, which has always towered above the exploits of the various Keetons, Bradleys or Huxleys who have made their way past Ryhope's outer defenses.

If you are looking for plot, or even character, driven fantasy, the Ryhope Wood Saga will not serve your purposes. If you are interested in an examination of mythology and its hold on the human subconscious, sometimes in esoteric terms, Holdstock consistently manages to hit a bullseye. If you are looking for literature which manages to capture, time and again, a specific mood: mysterious and occasionally dark, the books which begin with Mythago Wood are among the best written in the field.

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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