Robert Holdstock, 1948-2009

Robert Holdstock, 1948-2009.

SFFWorld is sad to report on the death of Robert Holdstock, aged 61. Robert died at 4am in the morning of Sunday 29 November, having been in intensive care since his collapse with E. coli infection on the 18th November.

Robert was the oldest of five children, and was born in Hythe, Kent. His father, Robert Frank Holdstock, was a police officer and his mother, Kathleen Madeline Holdstock, was a nurse. From the age of seven, Robert started attending the Gillingham Grammar School. As a young adult he had jobs including banana boatman, construction worker, and slate miner.     

As an adult he earned a Bachelor of Science from University College of North Wales, Bangor, with honours in applied Zoology (1967–1970). His first story was published in 1968. He continued his education, earning a Master of Science in Medical Zoology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in 1971. He conducted research at the Medical Research Council in London from 1971 to 1974 while also doing part-time writing. He became a full-time writer in 1976 and lived out the rest of his life in North London.

His science fiction and fantasy works explore philosophical, psychological, anthropological, spiritual, and woodland themes. He received three BSFA awards (Best Short Story in 1981 for the novella Mythago Wood, Best Novel in 1984 for Mythago Wood and the Best Novel in 1988 for Lavondyss) and won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (Mythago Wood) in 1985.

Robert was best known for his tales of mythic fantasy, and in particular Mythago Wood (1984). Based upon a novella published in 1981, Mythago Wood was the winner of the BSFA Award for Best Novel in 1984 and the World Fantasy Award for best novel in 1985.

The first of a series, known as the Ryhope Wood series, there were six other books: Lavondyss (1988), The Bone Forest (1991), a novella and collection of short stories, The Hollowing (1993),  Merlin’s Wood (1994), a novel and two short stories (only published in the UK), Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn (1997) and the recently published Avilion, published in July 2009.

Though the stories are linked, they were not chronologically set. According to Wikipedia,Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn and the novella The Bone Forest are prequels to Mythago Wood, even though they were published at a later date. The novel Merlin’s Wood and short stories in The Bone Forest and Merlin’s Wood have little bearing on the events in the Ryhope Wood.’ Avilion was the first direct sequel to Mythago Wood.

His written legacy is undoubtedly the Ryhope Wood series, which has been recognised as not only a supreme work but one with a wealth of detail and background research. According to Graham Sleight (Locus), ‘His Mythago Wood sequence of books is absolutely central for anyone trying to get a hold on what fantasy literature in Britain has done since Tolkien. It evokes a version of the country’s past that’s rich but harsh and unsentimental, and makes all those old tropes like the Green Man or the Wild Hunt new and threatening again.’

According to Wikipedia, ‘Michael D. C. Drout, a modern J. R. R. Tolkien scholar, Holdstock’s fantasy is a significant part of the fantasy literature genre. This is because (in the Ryhope Wood series) Holdstock has created literary arts containing the power and aesthetic standards of Tolkien’s fantasy without being either a “close imitation of” or a “reaction against” Tolkien. Drout considers Holdstock, along with Ursula K. LeGuin, a worthy inheritor of the fantasy tradition created by Tolkien.’

There were however a great variety of other lesser-known works. Robert also published, from 2001 to 2007, a trilogy of fantasy novels known as the Merlin Codex, consisting of Celtika (2001), The Iron Grail (2002) and The Broken Kings (2007). These were based around the Arthurian Legend.

His other novels include Eye Among the Blind, (1976), Earthwind, (1977), Where Time Winds Blow, (1982), In the Valley of the Statues, (1982) (a short story collection), and Ancient Echoes (1996).

There were also a number of anthologies edited by Robert. These included Stars of Albion (1979) (co-edited with Christopher Priest), and the Other Edens series,  comprising of Other Edens, (1987), Other Edens II, (1988), and Other Edens III, (1989), all co-edited with Christopher Evans.

[LATER EDIT: Robert also wrote a short story for the famous BBC Micro computer game of the 1980’s, Elite. The story was called The Dark Wheel and can be read HERE.]

Holdstock also authored, edited, and contributed to a number of non-fiction works.  These included Alien Landscapes (1979), Tour of the Universe: The Journey of a Lifetime (1980), Magician: The Lost Journals of the Magus Geoffrey Carlyle (1982), Realms of Fantasy (1983), and Lost Realms (1985) with editor and friend Malcolm Edwards. He also contributed to Horror: 100 Best Novels (1998) and the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (not the Clute tome.)

Robert also published in many other series under many pseudonyms. These were many but included The Raven Series Books 1, 2 and 4 (as Richard Kirk), The Berserker Series (as Chris Carlsen) The Professionals series (as Ken Blake) and  The Night Hunter Series (as Robert Faulcon).

He also wrote the novelizations for the films Legend of the Warewolf (1976) and the unfilmed The Satanists (1977) under the pseudonym of Robert Black, as well as The Emerald Forest in 1985.

Many that knew him however talk of Robert’s niceness as a person. It was often recognised that as British genre writers go, Robert was one of the most supportive. Words such as kind, lovely, friendly, humorous, thoughtful and welcoming are throughout the blogosphere about Robert. He will be clearly missed.

[LATER EDIT: The following tributes are typical of those written as the news was heard: 

Paul Mc Auley

Alastair Reynolds

Ian McDonald

John Jarrold

M. John Harrison

Neil Gaiman    ]

Our best wishes go out to Robert’s family. Tributes and condolences can be left on Robert’s official website.

(With thanks to Ansible, Wikipedia, Locus and the Internet.)

Mark Yon, November 2009

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