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Strange Horizons

 

Review of Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood

by James Palmer

(originally published in Strange Horizons)

Winner of the World Fantasy Award, _Mythago Wood_ has been considered a classic since it was first published in 1984. Now Tor’s Orb imprint has brought it out in an attractive trade paperback edition. For George Huxley, Ryhope Wood became an obsession that cost him his wife and alienated him from his two sons, Christian and Steven. Now, after his death, Christian continues his father’s studies, with terrifying results. Steven returns home from World War II and learns of the Wood’s mysterious properties. According to their father’s notes, the primeval forest uses the minds of those around it to create mythagos, mythical figures from the collective unconscious that go all the way back to the last ice age. Christian has fallen in love with one of them, a flame-haired beauty named Guiwenneth. She was killed by an arrow before Steven came home, but Christian is convinced that she has re-formed in the wood somewhere, and sets out to find her. What follows is one of the strangest fantasy novels I have ever read.

Guiwenneth emerges from the forest and she and Steven grow close during Christian’s months-long absence, falling in love with each other. When Christian comes to take her away, wounding and almost killing his own brother in the process, Steven vows to find her, even if it means killing his brother. With the help of a Royal Army airman, he penetrates the deepest parts of the wood, and becomes a myth himself.

I found Holdstock’s writing style a bit dry, but don’t let that stop you from reading what is arguably the most original fantasy ever written. The idea of the collective unconscious has always been a great mine for stories, and Holdstock makes good use of the concept here. Kudos to Tor for bringing this back out in a handy trade paperback, so that a new generation can experience this magical adventure story.

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