First edition cover
|Cover artist||Eddi Gornall|
|Series||Mythago Wood series|
|Publisher||Victor Gollancz Ltd|
|Media type||Print (Hardback)|
|Followed by||Lavondyss (1988)|
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.
- 1 Ryhope wood
- 2 Plot summary
- 3 Human characters
- 4 Mythagos
- 5 Literary significance and criticism
- 6 Awards
- 7 Chronology of works in the Mythago Wood cycle
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Ryhope wood is a fantasy world or fictional realm created by Robert Holdstock for his novella Mythago Wood, published during 1981, that became more famous in his novel Mythago Wood, first published in 1984. The novels and novellas (but not short stories) in the Mythago Wood cycle (see subsection below) are all set in the world of Ryhope wood, with the exception of Merlin's Wood which is set in a similarly magical "sister wood" of Brocéliande in Brittany, France.
Ryhope wood is an ancient woodland that has been undisturbed since the last ice age and appears no more than three square miles in area from the outside. Ryhope Wood is an example of a parallel universe that overlaps a section of the real world. The wood is much, much bigger on the inside than on the outside; once penetrated, the forest grows larger, older and more unbearable as one approaches the heart of the wood. Lavondyss is the name of the remote, ice-age heart of Ryhope wood.
The forest is referred to by John Clute as an "abyssal chthonic resonator" because it creates and is home to myth-images, or mythagos, who are creatures (including animals, monsters and humans) generated from the ancient memories and myths within the subconscious memories of nearby human minds. The book itself defines mythago: "myth imago, the image of the idealized form of a myth creature". Mythagos are dangerously real, but if any of them stray too far from the wood they slowly deteriorate and die. Because they are formed from human myths, they will vary in appearance and character depending on the human memories from which they formed; for example there may be, over a period, many different forms of King Arthur, Robin Hood, Herne the Hunter, etc. - all looking and acting differently, yet all with the same basic functions and all acting by the 'rules' set by their defining myths. Because the area around Ryhope Wood is populated sparsely, there are few mythagos in the woodland; but because of his interest in the wood and his deliberate experiments in the 1930s, George Huxley has succeeded in creating more mythagos than would normally be present in the wood at any one time, so causing a greater than usual diversity within the wood. It is revealed in The Hollowing, a sequel, that mythagos may be created by conscious thought and are drawn physically to their creators.
Besides creating mythagos of living, breathing creatures, the wood can also generate ancient archetypal places, from castles to battlefields to small ancient villages. These are referred to as Geistzones in the sequel to Mythago Wood, titled Lavondyss.
The wood contains four tracks that lead to the heart of the wood; without following these tracks, travelers will have extreme difficulty penetrating the forest. In addition to the four tracks, Ryhope wood contains "Hollowings", also described as an "absence of magic," or pathways under the world. Hollowings function as wormholes by transporting mythagos and real humans through space and time within the forest. Time travel occurs when travelers pass through Ryhope wood's Hollowings. Ryhope wood magically repels outsiders by various means including disorientation and physical defences such as thick, impenetrable scrub, huge lakes and raging rivers. There are also airborne 'defences' to prevent aircraft from getting too close, such as vortices of air or air elementals which throw an aircraft off course.
The wood has a slower rate of time than the outside world. For example, a day may pass in 'normal' time, yet a traveler within the wood may have been there for weeks or longer, in comparison. In addition, "Time Slows," or areas subjected to extraordinarily slow time passage, exist within Ryhope wood and are revealed in The Hollowing.
The events of Mythago Wood occur between 1946 and 1948, just after the end of World War II. Stephen Huxley returns from service (after recuperating from his war wounds) to see his elder brother Christian who now lives alone in their childhood home, Oak Lodge, just on the edge of Ryhope Wood. Their father George has died recently; their mother Jennifer died some years earlier. Christian is disturbed, but intrigued, by his encounters with one of the mythagos whereas Stephen is understandably confused and disbelieving when Christian explains the enigma of the wood; although both had seen mythagos as children, their father explained them away as travelling Gypsies. Christian returns to the wood for longer and longer periods, eventually assuming a mythical role himself. In the meantime, Stephen reads about his father's and Edward Wynne-Jones's studies of the wood. Part of his research on the wood causes him to contact Wynne-Jones's daughter, Anne Hayden. Stephen also meets a local man named Harry Keeton, a burn-scarred ex-RAF pilot, who had encountered a similar wood when he was shot down over France and has since been trying to find a city that he saw there. Stephen and Harry try to survey and photograph Ryhope wood from the air, but their small plane is buffeted back by inexplicable winds each time they fly over the forest. Stephen soon has his own encounters with the woodland mythagos (and an older Christian) and eventually, to save both his brother and a mythago girl named Guiwenneth (also referred to as Gwyneth and Gwyn), he must venture deep into the wood, and Harry accompanies him.
- Anne Hayden
- Edward Wynne-Jones’s daughter who is in her mid 30s during the events of Mythago Wood.
- Christian Huxley
- Older brother of Stephen Huxley who enters Ryhope wood as an "Outsider" and plays havoc in the woodland.
- George Huxley
- Father of both Stephen and Christian. George died while in his mid 50's of age from a deteriorating lung disease. It is revealed in The Hollowing and The Bone Forest that George is a tall lean man who is a psychologist who studied with Carl Jung. He also researched archaeology and became obsessed with myths. Over the course of his studies of Ryhope wood, George produces a scientific journal in six volumes, a personal diary and a detailed map of Ryhope wood.
- Jennifer Huxley
- Wife of George and mother of Stephen and Christian. She is only mentioned in Mythago Wood, but her suicide is a major issue in Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn.
- Stephen Huxley
- Main character of the story who would have been born during 1927 or 1928; he is in his early 20's of age during the events of Mythago Wood.
- Harry Keeton
- A local ex-RAF pilot who accompanies Stephen into Ryhope Wood.
- Edward Wynne-Jones
- A researcher in historical anthropology who teaches at Oxford University. Wynne-Jones is a diminutive and fussy man who smokes a pipe. He is approximately the same age as George Huxley. Together Wynne-Jones and George Huxley study Ryhope Wood extensively during the 1930s. Wynne-Jones makes scientific equipment designed to interact with the paranormal in Ryhope Wood. Wynne-Jones disappears into Ryhope Wood in April 1942.
- This male mythago is a hunter with a large hunting dog who encounters Stephen outside Oak Lodge. Cuchulainn's dog leads Stephen to the buried corpse of an early incarnation of the Guiwenneth mythago.
- The Fenlander
- This male mythago is a skilled warrior who commands a group of mythago warriors known as 'Hawks'. The Fenlander and Hawks serve as Christian's personal bodyguards as he travels to the heart of Ryhope wood.
- Guiwenneth of the Green (also Gwyneth)
- This female mythago (usually evoked as an older teenager) is from the Bronze Age and appears in various incarnations throughout time, including protomyth, a girl from Roman Britain, a manifestation of the Earth goddess, young Celtic warrior princess and Guinevere. Each of Gwyneth's incarnations has a varied personality, some dangerous and others alluring, and differing relations with the members of the Huxley family and Harry Keeton.
- This male mythago is a shaman or necromancer who can create and control mythagos, including sylphs, or air elementals. He is also known by the name Freya which literally means "friend."
- This male mythago has red hair and a crown of twigs. He lingers near the edge of Ryhope wood.
- This man-boar male mythago is a representation of the first hero from earliest myth. The Urscumug was generated purposely by George Huxley. The Urscumug is twice the height of a human and is a malevolent and ancient variation on the woodwose.
Literary significance and criticism
Within the fantasy genre, Mythago Wood has drawn critical attention for a variety of reasons over a span of years. Reviewer Orson Scott Card described it as "for readers who are willing to take the time and effort to let a writer evoke a whole and believable world, peopled with living characters.
Place in the Fantasy Genre
One type of literary analysis of Holdstock’s work compares it to other literature with similar characteristics.
Richard Mathews, a literary scholar, states that The Ryhope wood series is considered to be "one of the landmark fantasy series of the late twentieth century."  Another scholar asserts that Holdstock’s work stands apart from “genre fantasy” and that “The sequence as a whole is a central contribution to late-20th-century fantasy.”  In one study of Tolkien's work, Holdstock is placed in a quartet of noteworthy fantasy authors including Ursula K. Le Guin, John Crowley and Marion Zimmer Bradley for writing fantasy books that almost have Tolkien's breadth and depth of imagination, and "in some respects surpass Tolkien." Another J. R. R. Tolkien scholar, Michael D. C. Drout, also asserts that Holdstock's fantasy is significant in the fantasy literature genre. This, he says, is because (in the Mythago Wood cycle) 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. Along with Ursula K. Le Guin, Holdstock is considered to be a worthy inheritor of the fantasy tradition created by Tolkien.
A second type of critical praise and analysis focuses on the quality of the writing. Again, Richard Mathews expresses the opinion that Holdstock’s writing in the Mythago Wood cycle is an impressive mixture of poetic style and sensitivity. John Howe, a modern fantasy illustrator, wrote: "Mythago Wood is a wonderful book written with great style, insight and individuality." A decade after Mythago Wood was published, Brian W. Aldiss stated that Robert Holdstock's wonderful Mythago Wood was full of ancient power, unrivaled throughout the decade of the 1980s. Mythago Wood is also noted for its pairing of sexuality and violence, and is noted as “an earthy, tactile, deeply mythological tale set in an English wood.” In Horror: The 100 Best Books Michael Moorcock states of Mythago Wood: "Holdstock avoids sentimentality ... by offering us tougher questions, moral dilemmas, an imagined world far more complex than anything found in the wood's precursors."
Philosophical & psychological elements
The philosophical and psychological elements of the Mythago Wood cycle have also caused commentary. The mechanism of mythagos being created from the subconscious ties in with Carl Jung’s well-developed philosophical understanding of the psyche. The mythagos embody Jungian archetypes since they are dependent on the subconscious, not on distinct memory. Tying in with this philosophy, Kim Newman notes that the series offers “mind-stretching meditation on the nature of collective imagination." Nicholas Riddick states "Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood can be read as a journey into the heartland of the psyche." The story is also considered commonly as an "inward spiral" in which the protagonists undergo cruel and devastating metamorphoses in a difficult setting. Brian Aldiss said that "Ryhope Wood [is] that terrifying metaphor for our mental labyrinths" in which "phylogeny presides over ontogeny" with regards to an individual's history and destiny. Freudian psychology appears in the narrative when Stephen and Christian encounter the Urscumug, who displays characteristics of their father.
The interior of Ryhope wood is a pre-Christian British setting in which pagan and shamanistic rituals are common, and one scholar notes that death and mortal remains are prominent and disturbing part of these works. Along the same lines, it is noted that Mythago Wood might convey a more disturbing side of shamanry than other fantasy. One critical study examines the pagan spiritual aspect of Mythago Wood, in particular how "elements of the series' thesis resonate with pagan worldviews." This is not because Mythago Wood is specifically written for Pagans, but because the mechanisms of Ryhope wood defy science and allow for events that are readily recognizable to Pagans.
Subject & setting
The setting of a myth-rich magical Celtic forest itself, along with its existence side-by-side with the modern everyday world, are characteristics of particular interest to critics. For example, in a recent study of the fantasy genre, Mythago Wood and Lavondyss have been recognized as being significant because they are pure fantasy works that take place in an innovative and startlingly ordinary realm. According to one modern Tolkien scholar, Mythago Wood and Lavondyss are two of Holdstock’s best works which, as fantasies, have an internally consistent framework of principles. Notably, these works deal with the traditions of the British Isles with originality and deftness by incorporating its unwritten culture. These elements of culture include the Morris dances, the Green Man, Shamanism, Neolithic tribespeople, and pre-Roman Celtic traditions. The archetypal wilderness of Holdstock is noted as remarkable and followed up by the notion that within the fantasy genre of literature, Mythago Wood and Merlin's Wood have been considered essential reading because "Holdstock is a writer who has traveled deeper into the woods than any other mythic writer." Michael Moorcock finds Mythago Wood notable for focusing on the subject of unity, including both the unity of the landscape and its inhabitants as well as the unity of dreams and the environment. Moorcock notes Mythago Wood is influenced by The Golden Bough, modern anthropology and the writer Arthur Machen. Moorcock also observes common elements between Mythago Wood and Ursula K. Le Guin's low fantasy novel The Beginning Place and George Meredith's poem The Woods of Westermain.
- The novella Mythago Wood won the BSFA Award for Best Short in 1981
- The novella Mythago Wood won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1985
- The full-length novel Mythago Wood won the BSFA Award for Best Novel in 1984
- The full-length novel Mythago Wood won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1985.
- La Forêt des Mythagos, i.e. the Mythago Wood collection, won the Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire in the category of Prix spécial in 2003.
- Mythago Wood was published as part of the Masterpieces of Fantasy series by Easton Press, who describe themselves as releasing 'works of lasting meaning, beauty and importance.'
Chronology of works in the Mythago Wood cycle
The order in which the Mythago cycle works were written/published does not necessarily correspond to the order of events within the realm of the Mythago Wood cycle. For example, 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 (1994) and short stories in The Bone Forest and Merlin's Wood have little bearing on the events in the Ryhope wood. See the table below for a chronology of events within Ryhope wood.
|Preceded by:||Chronology of Events in Ryhope Wood:
|Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn||Mythago Wood||Avilion|
- Newman, Kim St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers, ed. David Pringle (Detroit: St. James Press, 1996), pages 285-286.
- Langford, David Supernatural Fiction Writers, Second Edition, Volume 1, ed. Richard Bleiler (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003), pages 445-453.
- Clute, John Look at the Evidence: Essays & Reviews, (Ann Arbor: Liverpool University Press, 1995), page 111. This essay originally appeared in the May/June 1989 (issue 29) magazine Interzone.
- Clute, John Look at the Evidence: Essays & Reviews, (Ann Arbor: Liverpool University Press, 1995), page 111. This essay was published originally in the May/June 1989 (issue 29) magazine Interzone.
- Moorcock, Michael Horror: The 100 Best Books, ed. Jones, Stephen and Newman, Kim, (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc, 1998), page 274
- Larson, Eugene Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, ed. Fiona Kelleghan (Pasadena: Salem Press, 2002), pages 381-384.
- The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, eds. John Clute and John Grant (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997), pages 474-475, 674.
- Pringle, David Modern fantasy: the hundred best novels: an English language selection, 1946-1987, (New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1989), page 241.
- "The Light Fantastic", If, September 1986, pp.28
- Mathews, Richard. Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination. (New York: Routledge, 2002), pages 34-35, 188.
- The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, eds. John Clute and John Grant (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997), pages 475.
- Curry, Patrick Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien: Myth and Modernity, (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2004), pages 132-133
- Drout, Michael D.C. Of Sorcerers and Men: Tolkien and the Roots of Modern Fantasy Literature, (China: Barnes & Noble Publishing, 2006), page 56.
- Jude, Dick Fantasy Art Masters: The Best Fantasy and Science Fiction Artists and How They Work, (London: HarperCollins, 1999), page 43.
- Aldiss, Brian W. Modes of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Twelfth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy), ed. Latham, Robert A. and Collins, Robert A., (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995), page 173.
- Datlow, Ellen and Windling, Terri. Sirens and Other Daemon Lovers: Magical Tales of Love and Seduction. (New York: Eos, 2002), page xxii-xxiii.
- Moorcock, Michael Horror: The 100 Best Books, ed. Jones, Stephen and Newman, Kim, (New York: Carrol & Graf Publishers, Inc, 1998), page 274
- Newman, Kim St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers, ed. David Pringle (Detroit: St. James Press, 1996), pages 286.
- Ruddick, Nicholas State of the Fantastic: Studies in the Theory and Practice of Fantastic Literature and Film (Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy), (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), page 46.
- Holdstock, Robert The Mythago Cycle Volume 1: A Ryhope Wood Omnibus preface by Brian Aldiss (London: Gollancz, 2007), preface.
- Langford, David Supernatural Fiction Writers, Second Edition, Volume 1, ed. Richard Bleiler (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003), pages 447.
- Drout, Michael D.C. Of Sorcerers and Men: Tolkien and the Roots of Modern Fantasy Literature. (China: Barnes & Noble, 2006), page 56.
- Harvey, Graham Shamanism: A Reader, (London: Routlege, 2002), page 447.
- Harvey, Graham, Popular Spiritualities: The Politics of Contemporary Enchantment, eds. Hume, Lynne and Mcphillips, Kathleen, (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2006), page 46.
- The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest, Datlow, Ellen and Windling, Terri (New York: Viking Juvenile, 2002), page 15.
- Wizardry and Wild Romance: A study of epic fantasy, Moorcock, Michael (London: Victor Gollancz, 1987), page 65.
- Aldiss, Brian (1995). Modes of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Twelfth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy) (1st ed.). Greenport, CT: Greenwood Press.
- Clute, John (1997). The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1st ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-19869-5.
- Clute, John (1995). Look at the Evidence (1st ed.). Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. ISBN 0-85323-830-8.
- Curry, Patrick (2004). Defending Middle Earth" Tolkien" Myth and Modernity (1st ed.). New York: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978-0-618-47885-9.
- Datlow, Ellen (2002). The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest (1st ed.). New York: Viking Juvenile. ISBN 978-0-670-03526-7.
- Datlow, Ellen (2002). Sirens and Other Daemon Lovers: Magical Tales of Love and Seduction (1st ed.). New York: Eos. ISBN 0-06-105782-7.
- Drout, Michael (2006). Of Sorcerers and Men: Tolkien and the Roots of Modern Fantasy Literature (1st ed.). China: Barnes & Noble. ISBN 978-0-7607-8523-2.
- Graham, Harvey (2002). Shamanism: A Reader (1st ed.). London: Routlege. ISBN 978-0-415-25329-1.
- Graham, Harvey (2006). Popular Spiritualities: The Politics of Contemporary Enchantment (1st ed.). Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7546-3999-2.
- Jones, Stephen (1998). Horror: The 100 Best Books (2nd ed.). New York: Carroll & Graf. ISBN 0-7867-0552-3.
- Jude, Dick (1999). Fantasy Art Masters: The Best Fantasy and Science Fiction Artists Show How They Work (1st ed.). London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-8230-1636-6.
- Langford, David (2003). Supernatural Fiction Writers (2nd ed.). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. ISBN 978-0-684-31251-4.
- Larson, Eugene (2002). Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature (1st ed.). Pasadena: Salem Press. ISBN 978-1-58765-051-2.
- Mathews, Richard (2002). Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination (1st ed.). New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-93890-2.
- Mendlesohn, Farah (2008). Rhetorics of Fantasy (1st ed.). Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 978-0-8195-6867-0.
- Mendlesohn, Farah; James, Edward (2009). A Short History of Fantasy (1st ed.). London: Middlesex University Press. ISBN 978-1-904750-68-0.
- Moorcock, Michael (1987). Wizardry and Wild Romance: A study of epic fantasy (1st ed.). London: Victor Gollancz. ISBN 0-575-04147-1.
- Morse, Donald E.; Matolcsy, Kalman (2011). The Mythic Fantasy of Robert Holdstock: Critical Essays on the Fiction (1st ed.). London: McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-4942-2.
- Newman, Kim (1996). St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers (1st ed.). Detroit: St. James Press. ISBN 978-1-55862-205-0.
- Pringle, David (1988). Modern fantasy: the hundred best novels: an English language selection, 1946-1987 (1st ed.). London: Grafton Books. ISBN 0-87226-219-7.
- Ruddick, Nicholas (1992). State of the Fantastic: Studies in the Theory and Practice of Fantastic Literature and Film (Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy) (1st ed.). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-27853-2.
- Mythago Wood: the official website of Robert Holdstock (last accessed Feb 3, 2010)
- Mythago Wood title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (last accessed Feb 3, 2010)
- The SF Site series review by Steven H. Silver (last accessed Feb 3, 2010)