by Robert Holdstock
Robert Holdstock was born in Kent, south-east of London, England, in 1948. He spent his young years in and around the dense woods of Kent, close to where he was born. After nine years of studying in the field of medical Zoology, Holdstock became a full-time writer in 1975, writing mostly science fiction and fantasy. He now lives in London, but escapes as often as he can to the woods he grew up around. His love for the woods is reflected in the settings of many of his books. In addition, many of Holdstock’s books feature ancient settings, often with primitive cultures. Holdstock is best known for the Mythago Wood book series, but is also recognized for The Merlin Codex book series, The Dark Wheel, and The Emerald Forest.
In the deep corners of Ryhope woods exist a place that is barely explored by man, let alone shown on maps. There lives a primitive magic, which makes ancient myths and legends come to life. George Huxley had devoted his life to the exploration of the Ryhope woods and its mythological creatures. Little by little, his obsession drove him away from his wife and two young sons. His extensive research of Ryhope guided him to a part of the woods that was full of animals, but also inhabited by monsters and ancient mythological creatures -- Mythagos. George’s research on the Mythagos leads him to fall in love with a Mythago Amazon, Guiwenneth, who was the daughter of an exile warrior named Peredur. Guiwenneth’s aunt was a vile and heinous woman, who was unable to conceive a child. Because of her greed and desire to fulfill her social status, the aunt kidnapped Guiwenneth. Peredur and his band of warriors, transformed to owls by the magic of the woods, freed Guiwenneth. However, in doing so, Peredur died. For this reason, Guiwenneth was cared for by the owls from that point on.
After George’s death, the youngest son, Christian, fell in love with his own Guiwenneth Mythago. Christian and this Guiwenneth joined each other in marriage. However, since Guiwenneth was a Mythago, who needed the magic of the woods to survive, trying to live as a mortal deprived her of her life. Obsessed like his father, Christian tried to restore life to his wife through the magic in the woods.
Christian’s brother, Steve, returned from France shortly after his father’s passing and found his brother tremendously changed. Christian had started to venture into the woods more frequently and the time spent in there had increased. Determined to find out what mysteries seemed to haunt his family, Steve journeyed into the woods and discovered a world much stranger than he ever could have imagined.
While in the woods, Steve created his own version of Guiwenneth, and the two of them fell in love. That drove Christian to madness, who turned into an evil and merciless brute--bearing more resemblance to a savage animal than a man. Christian became possessed by his desire to have Guiwenneth back. When Steve tried to save Christian from what he had become, Steve faced unimaginable challenges. It turned out that Christian and Steve were reliving an ancient myth in which one of the brothers must die.
Behind this story you find a dramatic family conflict and an overwhelming story of impossible love. I found Guiwenneth to be the most interesting character of the book. I thought it was interesting how Guiwenneth’s character was a function of the imagination of the person who she was in contact with. This is the very nature of Mythagos--just as folklore has as many interpretations as it has listeners, a Mythago has as many guises as it has peers.
Mythago Wood is a book full of adventure and ideas that encourage a wild imagination. The book was captivating and it kept my interest throughout the story. What I like most about the book was the way Holdstock writes. He describes characters and settings in a way that they almost feel real. However, one thing that I don’t like about the book is the extensive use of unusual names. It tends to be a bit confusing at times.
As I really enjoyed this book, I plan on reading several other books by the same author. I enjoy the setting that the author uses and the way in which he presents it. Although the main characters do not remain the same in other books, the stories of Mythago Wood and some other of Holdstock’s books are intertwined.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy, especially someone who likes ancient mythology. My rating of this book is 9 out of 10.