Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock (book review).

There are some books that leave a lasting impression. Particular scenes or ideas transcend the ordinary. These books are the ones worth keeping in print and introducing them to a new generation of readers. They become classics. This is what TOR is trying to do with this ‘Essentials’ imprint.

Robert Holdstock’s ‘Mythago Wood’ was originally published in 1984 and the writing is as fresh now as then. The setting is soon after end of the Second World War. Steven Huxley returns to his childhood home of Oak Lodge in Herefordshire after the death of his father.

On the edge of the property is Ryhope Wood. It is a fragment of Ancient Woodland and walking around the outside suggests that it has a finite size. Once under the canopy, though, the atmosphere changes. As children, Steven and his brother, Christian, didn’t venture inside, though they saw strange things at the edge of it. Reading his father’s diary and listening to what Christian tells him, Steven begins to understand that the wood is populated by mythagos. These are myth images, created by human minds.

Their father spent time journeying into the wood in search of a way to the centre because the wood is much larger than it seems and appears to actively try to prevent people penetrating its secrets. Christian had fallen in love with Guiwenneth, a mythago created by their father. She was killed by others from the wood and Christian is determined to penetrate the wood to find another version of her.

After Christian disappears into the wood, Steven tries to find out more about the wood, especially when a feral girl begins to haunt Oak Lodge. A lasting image is of Steven and Harry Keeton, an aerial photographer and RAF veteran, trying to fly over Ryhope Wood to see it from the air and being caught by the wind generated by the forest which throws the plane away, almost causing them to crash.

Steven falls in love with the new mythago of Guiwenneth and when Christian abducts her, Steven and Keeton venture into the wood to try and find her. The deeper they venture into the forest, the stranger it becomes. As they penetrate towards the centre, they encounter mythagos created further back in history. They are back-tracking along the path of development of the creation of folk tales and myth.

Mythago Wood’ is an exploration of creativity but it is also much more. Not only does the imagination affect the way we see ourselves and the things around us, but the minds of those past still affect the present day and how we continue to create myths. The book deservedly won a number of awards including the World Fantasy Award (1985). It is still a work that resonates and thoroughly deserves to be included in this imprint. It is essential reading.

Pauline Morgan

September 2022

(pub: TOR Essentials, New York, 2022. 318 page enlarged paperback. Price: $17.99 (US), $23.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-250-79092-7)

check out website: www.tor.com

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