Review of Mythago Wood (Mythago Wood, #1) by Robert Holdstock

Mythago Wood’s strength was its intense atmosphere, and the author’s use of language to build a forest in the reader’s mind. The setting is convincing, though there were distracting missteps and aggravations that had me rolling my eyes

One example should suffice to make my point: One of the characters receives an arrow in the shoulder. A little while later, the first person narrator feels the need to explain that if this character decided to strap on his pack with the strap across that very shoulder, it would cause him great discomfort and possibly harm. (Really? I never would have guessed.)

To be fair, there are many enchanting set-pieces, and a lot of action to keep the book from being too droll. The author’s priority is exploring his mythologies. While fascinating in healthy doses, the indulgence in historicity creates a lack of character development. Guiwen isn’t a real character. You could argue that mythagos are created out of the minds of men, but that also makes it more difficult to sympathize with them. Steven and Christian’s relationship plays out like a see-saw, and the other characters are very one-note, in my opinion. Their decisions rarely extend beyond bestial desire or morbid fascination. Acting irrationally and in an unmotivated manner is par for the course. As fantasy goes, Holdstock delivers on enough levels to satisfy most peoples’ tastes. However, I am not in agreement with the blurbs that make use of the terms “genius” and “masterpiece.”

Selfish love, the possession of the love object, the damsel in distress are the disappointing propulsive factors. Pagan freedom versus Christian Western societal and historical constraints is the prevailing theme. By cavorting with nymphs the narrator begins to transgress, blaspheme and in the weakness of human nature, sins and enters into a complicated existence, fraught with danger that reaches beyond his ken. Allegorical but not the most original.

The seduction of the woods is the seduction of myths. Our ancestors were more connected to the primeval wilds than are we, and we are called to explore that past. Mythago Wood posits a fascinating scenario revolving around the creation of popular myths, their incarnations, change, and reincarnations throughout history, and uses alluring mysteries to tempt the reader forward. It is full of enticing shadows, and reminiscent of the dream-like aura we fondly remember in childhood confrontations in the face of incomprehensible Nature. It is the urge to return to the Idyllic past.

The romance was tedious, but central to the plot and pacing. I found it trite. The author is trying to express a form of forbidden love, I thought, But the logistics of the relationship were silly, and were utilized deceptively in service to advancing the plotless exploration.

Thankfully, the book is saved by exquisite trees, vines, roots, creatures, crumbling towers, and a virulent whirlpool of intoxicating imagery.

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