Mythago Wood (1984)

This is the Science Fiction Book Club first edition of Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood (1984). It concern a family living near the titular forest. Dad’s obsessed with it, Mom is going to pieces because of that obsession, kids are largely neglected. One brother goes to war, the other stays. Mom and Dad die. The war brother comes back years later and find things…strange.

The forest is larger on the inside than it is on the outside. It is also inhabited by unusual people, like Roman centurions, Robin Hood-like huntsmen, barbarians and a giant rage god that is a man with a boar head. These inhabitants are both manifestations of the land’s memory and also somehow connected to the minds of the regular people who enter the woods — everyone brings their own set of mythagos to life. The edges of this are fuzzy and never fully explained. Its the best part of the book and it speaks somehow of a primal human consciousness in such a way that I’ve never really been able to stop thinking about it (even though I have very little desire to read the subsequent novels in the series).

The bulk of the novel consists of a rivalry between the two brothers. The one who stayed has spent years roaming the strange landscape inside the wood (which houses many ruins and a couple of distinct culture groups) as a barbaric reaver who seeks the affections of a young Boudica-like woman/archetype that the war brother also loves (some of the relationship stuff here is yicky, fair warning). Christian’s (ironic name) transformation into a violent, filthy bandit king is striking and also resonates strangely. Things come to a head near the even-weirder heart of the wood and end rather enigmatically (and subverts expectations for a violent score-settling).

Curiously, despite there being like eight books in the series, I don’t ever hear folks talk about them. That, somehow, makes the secrets of this book even more appealing.

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