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  1. #1
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    March 2011 Fantasy BotM: Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

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



    According to Wikipedia:

    Mythago Wood is a fantasy novel written by Robert Holdstock that was published in the United Kingdom in 1984. The conception began as a short story written for the 1979 Milford Writer's Workshop; next a novella of the same name appeared in the September 1981 edition of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. The full-length novel retained the same name and was subsequently released, beginning a series of novels referred to collectively as the "Mythago Wood cycle" or "Ryhope Wood series".

    Mythago Wood is set in Herefordshire, England in and around a stand of ancient woodland, known as Ryhope Wood. The story involves the internally estranged members of the Huxley family, particularly Stephen Huxley, and his experiences with the enigmatic forest and its magical inhabitants.

    Mythago Wood is a type of fantasy literature, especially the fantasy subgenre of mythic fiction. It has received critical acclaim because of its prose, forest setting, and its exploration of the philosophical, spiritual, and psychological. Mythago Wood won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1985.
    Discuss!

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  2. #2
    Urbis Morpheos Stephen Palmer's Avatar
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    A work of sublime brilliance.

    I can say no more.

  3. #3
    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. #4
    Definately one of the worst fantasy books I've ever read. Enjoy!

  5. #5
    lost thing spaziocain's Avatar
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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. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Pvt View Post
    Definately one of the worst fantasy books I've ever read. Enjoy!
    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 by phibbus; March 4th, 2011 at 11:45 PM.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pvt View Post
    Definately one of the worst fantasy books I've ever read. Enjoy!
    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. #8
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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. #9
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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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. #10
    Registered User Jeroen's Avatar
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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. #11
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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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. #12
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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?

    Quote Originally Posted by Erfael
    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)
    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. #13
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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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. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Erfael View Post
    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.
    Hmm, yeah, the symbolism works. I suppose it just felt a bit extraneous to me. Maybe the editor saw something I didn't

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Erfael View Post
    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.
    Same here. The follow-ups just didn't match his opener for me.

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