Monday, September 14, 2015

#97: Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

Mythago Wood, by the British novelist Robert Holdstock (1948-2009), first appeared in short form in 1981 (for which it received the British Science Fiction Association award for best short story), before being expanded and published as a novel in 1984, which won the 1985 World Fantasy Award.  Going over Holdstock's oeuvre is intimidating due to its sheer size. Under his own name, Holdstock published sixteen novels, two short story collections, two film novelizations, and co-wrote/edited ten anthologies and non-fiction works.  Under various pseudonyms he wrote fourteen novels and seventeen novelizations.

The novel in question is the first in a series of seven novels, dealing with Ryhope Wood, a place of great power in Herefordshire.  Viewed from afar, Ryhope Wood is a small area of ancient growth, one of the few wild forests left in England.  The novel's protagonist, Stephen Huxley, grew up near this wood with his father, mother and brother, Christian.  His father had an intense interest in the woods, often disappearing for weeks at a time, an interest which clearly took precedence over his wife and children, breeding a lifetime of resentment.  Stephen enlists in World War II, and retires to France when hostilities end, only to return home after his father's death.  Now it's infodump time.  Ryhope Wood is a place of great psychic resonance, in which Mythagos (from "myth imagos") are created.  A prominent example of a Mythago is Robin Hood, who is described as a Jack-in-the-Woods type Mythago.  These mythagos come into being as a result of the ancestral memory of within mankind's subconscious, yet they are physically real, though they cannot travel outside the forest for very long.  These mythagos, not only of creatures but of architecture, go back as far as human history on the British Isles (there are similar woods elsewhere in the world).  The main plot of the story, beyond the exploration of the major concept, is as follows:  Stephen's father was obsessed with finding or bringing about the first mythago, at the root of human subconscious.  While doing so, the mythago Guiwenneth came into being.  Both Stephen's father and his brother Christian were obsessed by her, with Christian claiming her affection after his father died.  Guiwenneth died soon after as well, and Christian blames this on the fact that this version of Guiwenneth was created by his father, not himself.  So he journeys into the forest, which expands the deeper you penetrate, to find a new version of her.  He disappears for months upon months.  In the meantime, a version of Guiwenneth appears at the house, and she and Stephen fall in love.  All is well until Christian returns, taking Guiwenneth.  This battle between brothers provides the framework for what remains of the novel.

I left out quite a bit in that summary, a lot of it things that fans of the novel would, rightly, consider important.

To me, Mythago Wood seemed an incredibly British novel, not only in the sense that it dealt with British history, folklore, and geography.  Perhaps "Old world" would be a good term for it.  Because it is based on a continuity, of a single location gradually changing over thousands of years of habitation and changing rule.  In the New World, much of the older myths were lost with the large scaled destruction of the indigenous people, and the new myths were primarily transplants from Europe and Africa.  The characters in Mythago Wood are connected to this mythic world through blood and soil.  In this sense, it seems to speak to a culture that is much more connected to a local, ancient history, both real and fictive, than we generally find in the U.S.

Just the stats:

Pages: 215 (Hardcover, Arbor House edition)
Published: 1984, Gollancz
Awards: 1984 British Science Fiction Award for best novel; 1985 World Fantasy Award for best novel

1 comment:

  1. I read this as a teenager and loooooved it, I think partly because of that mythy intensity of past rooting and feeding into the present. Thanks for reminding me of it. (Also I hadn't known there was a series!)