01/11/2009. Contributed by Pauline Morgan
pub: Gollancz. 339 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0-575-08301-1.
check out website: www.orionbooks.co.uk
Myth making is a process which goes on all the time and has done so from the time when people first began to tell each other stories. The oral tradition lends itself to two effects. One is like Chinese whispers where misheard or misremembered parts change the story. The other is the embellishment to crank up the esteem of the listeners or their ancestors. Not to do so might end in evisceration. Who wouldn't want to think that their forebears had super-powers or were descendents of the gods? With the spread of the written word, it might be thought that the tales would harden into one form but without lines of communication stories could be written down in distant parts and tell similar tales with a different emphasis. The one that suits the situation best is obviously right.
Even with the instant communication we have now, there are still myth makers. The media embellishes, exaggerates and only tells the part of the story it thinks the recipient wants to hear. In some parts of the world, flattery of a country's leaders can create myths as surely as those in the distant pass did.
Robert Holdstock understands how myths work. Twenty-five years ago, in his novel 'Mythago Wood', he created the idea of the myth image or mythago, something that is produced by the mind and that under certain circumstances can take a life of its own. The important factor is Ryhope Wood, a fragment of ancient forest that has never been completely mapped, even from the air. People who disappear into the Wood, never come back. If they do, they are deranged due to their encounters within. Ancient, myth figures have been seen lurking at the edges,
'Avilion' takes place about twenty years on. Steven Huxley has gone into the Wood to seek his beloved, Guiwenneth, and been rewarded by her resurrection and return from Lavondyss, also known as Avilion. They have raised two children, Jack and Yssobel, who are half-human, half-mythago. In Jack, the human or red side is stronger and he has a yearning to find out more about the place at the edge of the Wood where his father and grandfather came from. Yssobel's mythago or green side is stronger and she is more intent on exploring the valley between their home, a ruined Roman villa, and the wall of fire that separated her world from Avilion. One of her friends is a young man called Odysseus, who dwells in a cave.
The idyllic life comes to an end one winter when the Legion arrives. This is a vast army of the dead drawn from battles throughout time. Guiwenneth leaves with them. Yssobel is determined to find her mother and bring her home but understands that somehow she will have to get into Avilion. Once Yssobel has gone, Jack decides that he has to find his sister. His approach is different. He journeys to the edge of the Wood to call the shade of his grandfather. He hopes the old man will have knowledge of legends concerning Yssobel which will give him clues as to how to find her.
The complex plot weaves together elements from Greek and Celtic myth with Arthurian legend and folk tale. Holdstock plays with myth in the same way the storytellers of old did, making them suit the tale being told, wrapping them around the principal characters.
Ultimately, though, Ryhope Wood is a metaphor for the creative mind. Writers are often asked where they get their ideas from. Holdstock has the answer. They are gleams, shadows glimpsed out of the corner of the eye. If you turn, looking for them, they vanish but if you ignore them, they grow, take on flesh and become alive. That is when they can become part of the story. A journey through Ryhope Wood, is like taking a walk through the surreal landscape of another's mind. It can drive you mad or you may become lost in there forever. Sometimes you can emerge, changed.
'Avilion' hasn't got the depth of the previous 'Mythago Wood' novels and is probably a good place to start to understand this weird place. It can easily be read without having experienced the others first.
I always find the way that Holdstock unravels and re-weaves myth to be exciting. This book does not disappoint. So enter the Mythago Wood and come out changed.
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