March 2011 Fantasy BotM: Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

Discussion in 'Fantasy / Horror' started by Hobbit, Feb 28, 2011.

  1. Hobbit

    Hobbit Administrator Staff Member

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    This month's Book is a much-loved classic by the much missed Robert Holdstock.

    [​IMG]

    According to Wikipedia:

    Discuss!

    Mark
     
  2. Stephen Palmer

    Stephen Palmer Author of novels

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    A work of sublime brilliance.

    I can say no more.
     
  3. Haliax

    Haliax Registered User

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    Cool, I found this online in hardcover for only $6 and its on its way. If I get around to it I'll definitely share my thoughts here.
     
  4. Pvt

    Pvt Registered User

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    Definately one of the worst fantasy books I've ever read. Enjoy!
     
  5. spaziocain

    spaziocain lost thing

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    Definitely one of the best fantasy books I've ever read. Enjoy!

    It's a pity I don't have time for a reread so I can participate more constructively in the discussion.
     
  6. phibbus

    phibbus New Member

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    I read Mythago Wood back in high school when it when it first came out and thought it was outstanding. Subsequent re-reads have revealed that its prose is oftentimes much clunkier than I remembered, and some of the concept is made deliberately murky to obscure the author's lack of having a clear handle on it... but I would hardly say it's that bad.
     
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2011
  7. Eventine

    Eventine Uh, Staff Member

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    Care to elaborate? If I recall correctly, you mentioned previously something along the lines of it being all boring discussions in a kitchen - I was pretty surprised then to discover it had swords, fights and damsels in distress.

    I finished it last night, and quite enjoyed the concept. I liked the idea of the layers of myth changing over time, all the way back to a proto-myth. The family interaction with the myth, and how it extended their conflict was interesting. More later when I've a little more time.
     
  8. vgunn

    vgunn Registered User

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    This book just oozed with atmosphere--a beautiful sense of claustrophobia and creepiness. I found Urscumug to hauntingly scary. Very good read!
     
  9. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    I'll be in with a large comment soon, I hope. I haven't gotten time to write it up yet with the other moderating stuff I've been up to lately. Tomorrow or Friday, no moderating until the book club post is made.
     
  10. Jeroen

    Jeroen Registered User

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    I see Mythago Wood as an exploration of myth and the primal forces of our subconscious, but set in an adventure of fantasy and horror.

    Holdstock presents his story as real and rational, as a mystery that should be investigated, and when elements of fantasy suddenly strike it is scary, and should be scary. His story is a lot of things: it starts as a supernatural mystery with a 19th century feel, completely with semi-scientific diary entries. Then it morphs into a horror story, and a highly emotional love story, and finally a quest of discovery, revenge and redemption.

    Holdstock delivers it in elegant, neat and clear British prose. Not often have I read such a rich and gripping novel. I recommend it to everyone.
     
  11. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    This was a reread for me. I read this for the first time at least 8 years ago (not sure when, but it was in my last home, so at least then). Regardless of what writing issues there may be here, Mythago wood is a book tailored for me, I think. The combination of post-War England, primeval forest, myths through time, the conflict in that myth played out within the family (or the conflict in the family that played out in myth).

    The idea of the unconscious mind harboring all of these ideas that once were necessary to the survival of the race is something that most comparative mythologists talk about. There are images that reside deep in our subconscious that show up in dreams and such that cross all sorts of cultural lines. So the fact that Holdstock pulls in The Huntsman or The Ruins and crafts them into this dream-world/forest-world is fascinating to me. The idea that the deeper one went into the forest, the deeper one goes into the racial subconscious is one very much in keeping with the ideas of Jung or Joseph Campbell.

    I don't know if he pulls the family conflict from a real-world myth or not. If not, he's done a very convincing mock-up. Having studied a great deal of myth over the years, he hits the right ideas. I particularly like the accidental killing of Christian at the end. It's very much an Orpheus moment where things have become reconciled and through a small carelessness of the hero he loses that which he only recently gained.

    Another symbolic element I found interesting, and I can only assume Holdstock did this on purpose, is the naming of Christian. Here we have a character named Christian who is slated to be the death of all these myths and the forest. While the Christian church did a lot of absorbing of other myths and traditions into its own over the years, it also did its fair share of destruction of other traditions. There are a great many things lost to us from older cultures due to the restrictive nature of the (particularly) Catholic Church. On some level, Steven is having to save the myths and traditions of England from being lost to the destructive forces of Christian(ity). I wish that this element had been more consciously tied into the greater narrative.

    All in all, the combination comparative mythological ideas and the brooding Englishness of this one made it a real winner for me. I loved it on my first read years back and I loved it even more this time around. This is fantasy that explores the kinds of ideas and concepts that I feel more fantasy should be dealing with (not just hacking with swords and shooting people in the face with fireballs). This is a fantasy novel that makes me feel great about being a fantasy reader.

    That said, I tried to read Lavondyss a year or two back and found it very difficult going. Can't remember why now, but maybe I'll put it back into the rotation here in a bit.
     
  12. Eventine

    Eventine Uh, Staff Member

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    This book didn't quite hit the sweet spot for me as it did for Erf, but I did enjoy it. I found the setting and family structure somewhat reminiscent of something we'd see from Christopher Priest or Graham Joyce, but where they would be very subtle and sparing with the spec fic elements (more at the magic realism / psychological end of the spectrum), Holdstock has taken a very different path, with the realisation and instantiation of not only myth, but myth as universally recorded in the human unconscious.
    I liked how the layering of this myth worked - how we move back through the layers of evolved and developed myth to a root somewhere around the end of the last ice age. It makes sense - stories are twisted and changed not only through the forces of time itself, but also through the experiences of the people itself - this was explored through the various iterations of the invader/defender story.

    I also picked up with the naming of Christian, and drew the same conclusion.

    A question on the three "ghosts" who briefly followed Steven (the skeleton under the rock, the musketman, the knight): What was their import? They were briefly introduced only for Steven to be told they could no longer take part in the story. Why?

    And yet it had hacking with swords as well. Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too (unless your cake consists of facial fireballs :) )
     
  13. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    For the three ghosts, I assume he's passing out of their "time band." He's moving to a place that's too far back for a musketeer or a knight. They wouldn't have existed in that form earlier, so they can go no deeper? Just an off-the-cuff idea there.

    Don't get me wrong, while it hit that sweet spot, it was very much on a conceptual level. Something about the writing, particularly in the 3rd section of the book left me a little cold. I became less interested in the blow-by-blow of the story and more interested in the general concepts going on. I think it's what killed my last try at Lavondyss also. It's more deep-forest stuff that left me wandering a bit.

    The swords/fireballs thing is just my shorthand for so much of the fat fantasy stuff that's on the shelves now. The point of it is just to be what it is. Ideas aren't necessarily explored, or they take a back seat to big fights or descriptions of clothing or explanations of magic systems. Mythago wood is a nice, concise book that sets out to say something and goes about saying it, something I miss in a lot of the books hitting the market now.


    So, those of you who chimed in in the first few days of the month with one-line "discussion" points -- care to elaborate a little? I'd like to hear other people's thoughts as well. If it worked, what do you feel worked? If it didn't for you, I'd also really like to hear that. On what level didn't it work for you?
     
  14. Eventine

    Eventine Uh, Staff Member

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    Hmm, yeah, the symbolism works. I suppose it just felt a bit extraneous to me. Maybe the editor saw something I didn't ;)
     
  15. vgunn

    vgunn Registered User

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    Same here. The follow-ups just didn't match his opener for me.
     
  16. Eventine

    Eventine Uh, Staff Member

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    Is Lavondyss a direct sequel? There're several more sequels right? Anyone read them all?
     
  17. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    Not sure what you mean by "direct" there. The main character is Harry Keeton's little sister. Wiki has this to say:

    "Despite having a new primary character, Lavondyss is a sequel to Mythago Wood because several characters provide links between the novels; the events in Mythago Wood set into motion events that drive the protagonists' actions in Lavondyss. Reading the novel Mythago Wood will illuminate Lavondyss for first time readers."
     
  18. Eventine

    Eventine Uh, Staff Member

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    By direct sequel I meant same characters, setting. Looks like Lavondyss is halfway there. Keaton's sister is an interesting choice of protagonist, which reminds me that I'd been meaning to discuss Keating some more. I'll post on him later...
     
  19. spaziocain

    spaziocain lost thing

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    My post was really intended to mock Pvt's one line, nonconstructive post. I rarely reread books because I'm such a slow reader. It's been 13 years since I read Mythago Wood so most of the details are sketchy to me. I do remember my response to book vividly and I am surprised by some of the discussion here. I remember the book becoming more riveting in last parts of the novel as Ryhope Woods is being explored. I remember the tension that exuded from the lushly evoked atmosphere. I remember the feeling of primal danger that Holdstock creates in the interstices of the ancient and the modern. Yes, this is a book with wonderful concepts, but I also remember it being brilliantly plotted and written.
     
  20. Eventine

    Eventine Uh, Staff Member

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    Keaton's role is an interesting one. At first I only saw two real points in the character: He lets us know there are other Mythago woods apart from Ryhope, and his journal provides external perspective of Stephen's situation. However, in one of his later journal entries he begins to ponder whether he himself will become a myth and this is when I realised he was already filling an archetype - the sidekick.