GATE OF IVORY, GATE OF HORN
by Robert Holdstock
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
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 occured when Richard Bradley enterred 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 occured 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 cycle 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 consistantly 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.
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