On this ‘re-read’ of Eddison’s fantasy classic I listened to the audio version produced by Librivox. Now normally Librivox recordings, given that theyOn this ‘re-read’ of Eddison’s fantasy classic I listened to the audio version produced by Librivox. Now normally Librivox recordings, given that they are free, can be pretty hit-or-miss. This, I am happy to say, is a case where they stumbled upon an excellent reader. Jason Mills tackles Eddison’s delicious, albeit often difficult and certainly archaic, prose with panache and style. For me his accent didn’t hurt either and leant the reading a somewhat exotic flair (for those of us across the pond at least). The reading was smooth and very well paced, with emphasis and inflection exactly where I would expect it and just the right mood injected into each scene…very well done. If you’ve had trouble overcoming Eddison’s prose due to its idiosyncrasy on the page then perhaps listening to this version might be your best gateway into the Worm.
Ah the Worm...how to describe it? I would liken it to an opera scored by Wagner with a libretto written by Shakespeare based on a story cribbed from Homer. I’ll admit that statement is in some ways blatant hyperbole, but I think it still aptly express the ambience of the book. I’ve written a previous review on the Worm so I won’t go into too much of an overview of the story itself and will instead record my impressions of things that struck me from this re-read. One thing to note in general though: this is without a doubt an elitist work. As far as characters go if you are not one of the great and mighty, whether good or evil in disposition, you need not apply (with the possible exceptions of Mivarsh Faz and the single chapter given from the POV of a common soldier of Demonland and his family, but even then they display a distinctly worshipful attitude towards their ‘betters’). So if you cannot abide a fantasy world that does not model itself along the right-thinking ideals of liberal democracy then you might want to give this one a pass.
I’ve mentioned in my previous review how many of the characters are archetypes – supermen striding across the page generally lacking in psychological realism. I’d still generally stand by that statement, but I did notice that with perhaps the exception of a few of the Demon (good guy) princes quite a few of the characters displayed much more complexity than I had previously given them credit for: Lord Gro of course is an interesting character – a philosopher and courtier so in love with lost causes that he is driven to betray his friends and allies when they ascend too highly on Fortune’s wheel, and who is also the hapless lover of two peerless ladies who may admire him but can never return his love; Corund the stalwart general of the Witchland armies who is no hero, but displays a nobility of character and strength of personality that makes him admirable for all his villainy; his wife Prezmyra a lady of peerless beauty and iron strength of will, utterly devoted to her husband and her brother and who will never back down from her convictions once she has set herself a goal. Corund and Prezmyra are fast becoming my favourite characters in the book and who better to express their virtues than Eddison himself through the mouth of Lord Juss, their enemy:
For royal and lordly was Corund, and a mighty man at arms, and a fighter clean of hand, albeit our bitter enemy. Wondrous it is with what cords of love he bound to him this unparagoned Queen of his. Who hath known her like among women for trueness and highness of heart? And sure none was ever more unfortunate.
It is a book chock-full of cinematic moments against which you can almost hear the swelling score as in the return of Lords Juss and Brandoch Daha to Demonland from their expedition to Impland, or the return of the Demons to the steppes of the Moruna as seen through the eyes of Lord Gro. Not to mention the death of Gro: both in its manner and the actions that precipitate it, which are just so apt, so expressive of who he is and the tragedy of his life, that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry upon reading it. I was struck as well by how much the expedition to Impland made by Juss and Brandoch Daha seemed so similar to something you might read in Malory with its constant procession of tests and marvels that are stumbled upon in the wild and which our heroes must simply accept and overcome. I was also a little surprised to note that Juss’ testing on the mountain of Zora Rach Nam Psarrion had glimmers of the Lovecraftian in its expression of existential horror: “…but that pain was a light thing beside somewhat he now felt within him the like whereof he never before had known: a deathlike horror as of the houseless loneliness of naked space, which gripped him at the heart.” Or again:
The cloud had lifted from the mountain’s peak and hung like a pall above its nakedness. Chill air that was like the breath of the whole world’s grave: vast blank cloud-barriers: dim far forms of snow and ice, silent, solitary, pale, like mountains of the dead: it was as if the bottom of the world were opened and truth laid bare: the ultimate Nothing.
But of course one of the primary reasons to come to this book and fall in love with it is the language. Whether Eddison is describing an epic action of great heroism or villainy, or simply a commonplace occurrence seen with the eyes of glamour he provides the reader with a veritable feast of words. Here are a few choice excerpts I noticed this time around:
On sleeping in:
Corund answered, “Truly I was seldom so uncivil as surprise Madam Aurora in her nightgown. And the thrice or four times I have been forced thereto, taught me it is an hour of crude airs and mists which breed cold dark humours in the body, an hour when the torch of life burns weakest.”
The ambiguity of the fall of night:
Behind them rolled up the ascent of heaven the wheels of quiet Night: holy Night, mother of the Gods, mother of sleep, tender nurse of all little birds and beasts that dwell in the field and all tired hearts and weary: mother besides of strange children, affrights, and rapes, and midnight murders bold.
Sunrise and the hope of morning:
Day goeth up against the tyrant night. How delicate a spirit is she, how like a fawn she footeth it upon the mountains: pale pitiful light matched with the primeval dark. But every sweet hovers in her battalions, and every heavenly influence: coolth of the wayward little winds of morning, flowers awakening, birds a-carol, dews a-sparkle on the fine-drawn webs the tiny spinners hang from fern-frond to thorn, from thorn to wet dainty leaf of the silver birch: the young day laughing in her strength, wild with her own beauty; fire and life and every scent and colour born anew to triumph over chaos and slow darkness and the kinless night.
Dive deeply into Eddison’s fantasy or don’t enter at all. It is like a heady draught of strong wine that pleases the palate as it ennobles the spirit and gosh it’s a lot of fun! ...more
In the Book of Lost Tales, volumes 1 and 2, we have a more or less full picture of the earliest work Tolkien did in the development of his personal myIn the Book of Lost Tales, volumes 1 and 2, we have a more or less full picture of the earliest work Tolkien did in the development of his personal mythology that was to grow into the tales of Middle Earth. It was a mythology meant to provide his country England with something he felt it sorely needed, a foundation myth, and it was a vehicle which allowed him to explore and expand upon his own fascination with the world and stories of Faery and his love for the invented languages of his youth. The frame of the entire mythology at this point centred on the character of an English mariner (initially called Eriol and later Aelfwine each with varying origin stories) who was shipwrecked upon the isle of Tol Eressëa, the last bastion of the Elves who have all but fled the mortal world. Here are recounted to him the ‘lost tales’ of the Elves from prior to their departure from the wider world of men.
While it always remained the case that Tolkien envisioned his Middle-Earth stories to be tales about the earliest, unknown histories of our own world as opposed to stories set on some completely alien fantasy world, the two Book of Lost Tales volumes really point out just how strongly Tolkien initially envisioned this link to be. In the first volume we were presented with some of the more cosmogonic myths: stories of the Valar and the creation of the world, the creation of the two Trees of Valinor and the Silmarils, the creation of the sun and moon, and the ultimate exile of the Elves from Valinor to the wider world. In the second volume things get a little closer to the ground as we hear tales of heroes and their deeds in their attempt to fight against the forces of Melko who would overthrow all that is good and beautiful in the world.
I have to admit that volume 2 had a bumpy start for me with the Tales of Beren & Tinúviel and Turambar & the Foalókë being distinctly inferior to what they were to become in their fuller, more developed forms. In Beren and Luthien two things stood out as road blocks to my enjoyment: Beren as first envisioned was actually an elf of the Noldor and to me this robs the tale of his love of the immortal Tinúviel of much of its tragic grandeur, though it must be admitted that some does still remain; added to that was the fact that Melko’s lieutenant in the tale, and the main opponent to the heroes, was not Sauron of the Ainur and lord of the isle of werewolves, but Tevildo Prince of Cats! It might just be me, but a giant house cat (no matter how large and mean) is a slightly less intriguing villain than one of the greatest of the gods. As I noted in my review of book 1, Tolkien was still working within a model that was much more based on traditional ‘fairy tales’ than what his stories of the First Age of Middle-Earth were to become so this element isn’t exactly unexpected, just not my particular cuppa. As to Turambar, there wasn’t anything specific I could point to as the deciding factor in my relative lack of enthusiasm, but having read what this tale was to become it certainly pales in comparison. For me that can pretty much sum up the points at which I was disappointed in both volumes: these are much paler, thinner, and in some ways shadowy versions of the tales I know. That being said, they have the virtue of being able to show me just how much the constant work and revision, the lifetime of unceasing development, love and thought that went into them truly turned what were inspired, but limited stories into things that truly were comparable to the mythic workings of a people. The depth and reality of the tales of Middle-Earth all started here with something much smaller and simpler, but which would prove to be the seeds of something so much greater. The layers that one can see were built upon these first canvasses give a fascinating glimpse into a creative process that was truly monumental.
So on to what I did like in this volume: the tale of the Fall of Gondolin was almost all I could have hoped for. While I still weep at the unrealized potential of the rewrite to this story that Tolkien had started but abandoned far too early as presented in Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth, I at least was able to see the story of Tuor and his flight to the doomed city of Gondolin just as it is about to be overcome by the forces of Melko in a complete, and I must say rather satisfying, version. Tied in with this is the story of the Nauglafring, or the necklace of the Dwarves, which in itself is a rousingly Germanic tale of greed, curses, and doom that also allows for two of the great love stories of Tolkien’s mythology to this point (that of Beren and Tinúviel on the one hand and of Tuor and Idril on the other) to dovetail into each other and become the genesis for the tale of Eärendel which was in many ways the very heart of Tolkien’s mythology from the beginning. Eärendel himself was the child of Tuor and Idril who falls in love with Beren & Tinúviel’s granddaughter Elwing and whose great mission is to be the only mariner able to sail to the land of Valinor. Interestingly in some early versions of the tale as presented here Eärendel is sometimes either unable to make his way to Valinor or finds that his journey there proved unnecessary and ultimately this is another case where Tolkien’s later development of the tale proved to be more satisfying than what we initially find, but it is still an intriguing (and more importantly a fuller) glimpse into what would otherwise be little more than some bare bones references in later works.
The final chapter of the volume is made up of scattered notes and poems that relate explicitly to the frame narrative and the life story of the mariner Eriol/Aelfwine. To me the greatest value these fragments hold is in showing how strongly Tolkien initially wanted to tie in his tales of Faery with the history of our own world (and specifically with England). I myself don’t worry too much about this aspect of Tolkien’s work, but it was obviously hugely important to him. Even in the later development of the tales of Middle-Earth which seem rather distant from any kind of mythological history of England we can see that the ‘historical’ element remains: specifically in the frame narrative of the ‘Red Book of Westmarch’ which lies as the pseudo-historical source of all of the published tales of Tolkien.
All in all while a bit uneven, this book gave some intriguing glimpses into Tolkien’s art, especially in places where a later development of a given tale was either never done or where what does exist is only fragmentary. Definitely something of primary interest to the Tolkien aficionado. ...more
My first attempt to read _The Book of Lost Tales_ was made way too early in my life and made certain that my response was to put it on the sh3.5 stars
My first attempt to read _The Book of Lost Tales_ was made way too early in my life and made certain that my response was to put it on the shelf and decide that all of this background stuff, especially taken from this early phase in Tolkien’s life as a writer, was way too different from the Middle-Earth stories that I loved for me to waste any time on it. Looking at where the book mark from my first attempt still sat when I picked it up again, I noticed that I didn’t even get much beyond the first several pages of the introductory chapter “The Cottage of Lost Play”. I remember thinking that it was just altogether too twee for me, what with the Eldar of Middle-Earth still being referred to as ‘faeries’ and the, to me, bizarre structure of a wanderer coming to a tiny cottage (bigger on the inside than the outside) peopled by dancing and singing children and adults who primarily sat around telling tales and reciting pretty mediocre poetry. It wasn’t really Middle-Earth now was it? Well, at the time I put down the volume and decided that I’d stick with the ‘real’ stuff of LotR, The Hobbit and The Silmarillion and that, as they say, was that for probably about two and a half decades. Then it came about that I discovered my greatest love vis a vis Tolkien’s work was growing to be the posthumously published The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth, both of which contained some of the most beautiful and powerful of Tolkien’s writing. I looked at the corpus of ‘The History of Middle Earth’ with something of a new eye and decided that I might just dip into it and see what it was like. I consciously chose to first read those volumes that dealt with the matter of the First and Second ages of Middle-Earth and were latest in the chronology of composition thus presumably assuring that I was coming across ideas and stories that were closer in tone and content to the ones with which I was so familiar and that thrilled me with their mythic reverberations. I ended up loving what I found in Morgoth's Ring and The War of the Jewels and decided that maybe this huge work undertaken by Christopher Tolkien to present the works of his father in toto wasn’t an altogether bad idea after all (especially given my hunger for more material regarding the tales as told in The Silmarillion).
So now I find myself re-embarking on the journey from the beginning and tackling the very Book of Lost Tales (part one) that defeated me in my youth. I’m glad I came back. Pushing through past the point in the first chapter beyond which I never made it before I actually found a fair bit to like, even though it wasn’t the undiluted Middle-Earth vintage I had initially wanted. I was actually reminded a bit of William Morris’ medieval romances that so influenced Tolkien as I read about the journey of Eriol the mariner upon the Isle of Tol Eressëa and once the tales themselves began to be told I saw that there was a surprising amount of coherence between these earliest versions of the myths of Middle-Earth with what eventually came to be published in The Sil. The differences themselves were intriguing and I found as the chapters sped on the framing device didn’t bother me half as much as once it had. I will readily admit that much of the poetry in this volume leaves something to be desired. I am not one of those readers of Tolkien that skips over the poems, and I think that many of them are quite beautiful (esp. Bilbo’s poem of Eärendil sung in Rivendell), but the early ones showcased in this volume are not really my cup of tea (though one can certainly see Tolkien’s word-craft in them improving as time went on). The Cottage of Lost Play itself took on greater interest as well as I started to see some parallels between it and the ultimate development of Elrond’s house of Rivendell as “a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all’. Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness.”
Eriol the mariner, a man from medieval England who has found his way to the magical isles of the west, sits in this pleasant house and has recounted to him many of the tales of the elder days when the Elves were alone in Middle-Earth, or mankind just arising from their ages long slumber. All of these tales are ones that a reader of The Silmarillion will already be familiar with: the creation myth of the Music of the Ainur, the building of Valinor and creation of the Two Trees of Light, the battles against Melkor (here named Melko) and his initial imprisonment, the coming of the Elves to the blessed lands and their ultimate rebellion and return to Middle-Earth in pursuit of Melko, and the myth of the creation of the sun and moon upon the death of the two trees. Some of these are not very far from the more final versions that were presented in The Silmarillion, while others display drastic differences (such as the expanded legend of the sun and moon, the extensive bits that deal with cosmology and the make-up of the world, and the inclusion of Valar who mate and even include in their number some gods of war), but it is very safe to say that unless you have a deep and abiding love for Middle-Earth, and especially tales of the elder days, you probably won’t get much out of this book. I would agree with those who claim this is really only for aficionados of Tolkien’s tales who want more and who are interested in seeing the development of his mythology. It is indeed a fascinating peek over the shoulder of Tolkien as he writes his tales and we finally start to get a glimpse of the sheer magnitude of the effort that his son expended simply in producing from the jumble of inter-related texts about the legends of the Elves a volume as slim and relatively cohesive as The Silmarillion.
I’m looking forward to tackling Book II of the lost tales and proceeding with the history of Middle-Earth texts at least up to volume 5 to continue to get my fix and maybe even get a taste of some legends of the elder days that I haven’t already experienced in another form. Recommended for hard-core Tolkien fans who don’t mind critical apparatus and multiple versions of tales....more
One of the best of the 'classic' Arthurian tales. Gawain is presented a bit differently here from many of the other ones. Usually he's a bit of a bragOne of the best of the 'classic' Arthurian tales. Gawain is presented a bit differently here from many of the other ones. Usually he's a bit of a braggart and kind of a jerk, especially to women, but here he is presented as the perfect exemplar of courtoisie. He's also a bit young and still untried, so maybe that explains it for those who want to be able to have a grand unified theory of Arthuriana.
Anyway, you probably all know the story: Arthur is about to have a New Year's feast, but according to tradition is waiting for some marvel to occur. Right on cue in trots the Green Knight on his horse, a giant of a man who proceeds to trash the reputation of the entire court and dare someone to cut off his head as long as he gets to return the favour. No one makes a move and Arthur decides he better do something about this until Gawain steps up and asks to take on this quest himself. Everyone agrees and Gawain proceeds to smite the green head from the Knight's body. Everyone is fairly pleased with the result until the Green Knight gets up, picks up his smiling head, and says: "See you next year, G. Don't forget that it's my turn then." (I paraphrase, the middle english of the poet is far superior.) Needless to say everyone is a bit nonplussed by this.
The year passes and Gawain doesn't seem to do much of anything until he finally decides it's time to get out and find this green fellow and fulfill his obligation...hopefully something will come up along the way to improve his prospects. What follows is a journey to the borders of the Otherworld as well as a detailed primer on just how one ought to act in order to follow the dictates of courtliness. Gawain ends up being the guest of Sir Bertilak, a generous knight who says that the Green Chapel, the destination of Gawain's quest, is close by and Gawain should stay with them for the duration of the holidays. We are treated to some coy (and mostly chaste) loveplay on the part of Bertilak's wife from which Gawain mostly manages to extricate himself without contravening the dictates of politeness, as well as the details of a medieval deer, boar and fox hunt with nary a point missing.
In the end Gawain goes to the chapel and finds that his erstwhile host Bertilak was in fact the Green Knight. Gawain submits himself and is left, after three swings, with only a scratch as a reward for his courteous behaviour in Bertilak's castle. Despite the apparent success of Gawain, he views the adventure as a failure since he did not come off completely unscathed and he wears a girdle he was gifted by Bertilak's wife as a mark of shame to remind himself of this. Harsh much?
The language of the Gawain poet's middle english is beautiful and I highly recommend reading it in the original with a good translation at hand to catch the nuances of meaning. The poem is replete with an almost dreamlike quality that is made real by all of the exquisite details of medieval life that are interspersed throughout the text. This is a great book to read at Christmas time....more
So declares Prof. Sven Agaard, an old-school historian of former glory, now an outcast at his own university.3.5 stars
“I have a son who’s a monster.”
So declares Prof. Sven Agaard, an old-school historian of former glory, now an outcast at his own university. His audience is Prof. Jack Winesap, the academic star of the moment and expert in the somewhat rarefied (and questionable?) area of “psycho-history” (no, not Asimov’s). He is Agaard’s polar opposite, sitting happily on the other end of the academic spectrum in terms of both popularity and academic rigour. Despite the animosity that Agaard displays towards Winesap and his field he ends up inviting him to his home. For his part Winesap is intrigued, who or what can this monster be? Why is this obviously antagonistic man even speaking to him? Of course he accepts. Thus Gardner sets up the mystery that will lead us into the first part of the novel which plays out this uncomfortable, though enlightening, scenario.
In the course of an evening where Winesap is snowed in and forced to partake of Agaard’s ‘hospitality’ he comes to learn the answers to some of his questions. Freddy, Agaard's son, turns out to be an outcast himself. A giant of a boy, he not only has a physical appearance that sets him apart, but is apparently subject to rages that make his cohabitation with others somewhat dangerous. At the boy’s own instigation locks and bars are kept on all of the doors and windows of Agaard’s drafty old house, meant not to keep Freddy in, but to keep others out. What at first seems like a horrific confinement comes to take on a different colour as we learn more about this small family and come to see that Agaard is not just a crusty old man hiding an unwanted child from the world, he is a father sick at heart over the pain he has seen Freddy suffer whenever he has been exposed to the world at large. Freddy has thus learned to be an introvert with an intellectual bent. His entire experience of the world has come from books and his room is cluttered with them, along with the various drawings and dioramas he has made based on their contents.
It also appears, much to Agaard’s chagrin, that Freddy is something of a fan of Winesap’s and so he has called in this man, whom he views with nothing but disdain and contempt, in the hopes that he can reach out to his son who otherwise remains locked in an ivory tower of his own making. Their initial meeting does not seem to go well. Winesap is nonplussed while Freddy is virtually silent, doing his best to hide his enormous bulk from view. Ready to set the matter at a dead loss as he readies himself for bed, Winesap is surprised when Freddy creeps up to his room in the dead of night and leaves behind a present for him. It is the eponymous book of the title, and is also, perhaps, the only method Freddy has learned of communicating freely with another person.
What follows, and which contains the bulk of the novel’s content, is the text of Freddy’s manuscript that is half fable and half history, detailing the adventures of a 16th century Swedish Knight and his conflict with the devil. I’m a little uncertain of how to proceed with this review. Gardner packs so much into this relatively slim volume that to cover all of the ideas he explores would be counter-productive. Suffice it to say that this is an existential novel and as we follow the main character Lars-Goren in his travails we touch on a host of philosophical and political issues that run the gamut of human experience. Lars-Goren and his cousin Gustav Vasa begin the story watching as their kinsman Sten Sture and his fellow revolutionaries are slaughtered for their revolt against the Danes that currently rule Sweden. Lars and Gustav barely escaped this fate and long to avenge the deaths of their family and friends. At this point the devil appears and, taking Gustav under his wing, the road starts to be paved for the rise of King Gustav and the expulsion of the Danes from Sweden. Lars-Goren, a man who has known no fear in his life, suddenly becomes gripped by this unknown sensation. Of what is he afraid? Upon examination he realizes it is neither his death, nor eternal damnation that worries the knight. Just what it is proves to elude him and his search for an answer takes up the rest of the story.
Into the tale of Gustav’s rise comes another major figure: Bishop Hans Brask, an old confrère of the devil’s and a man able to easily weather the numerous instances of political turmoil his nation has undergone with equanimity and safety. He is a man ahead of his times, an ironic and disillusioned cynic in the dying days of the age of faith. The idealism of his learned youth has given way to realpolitik on a political scale and nihilism on the metaphysical. Brask first uses Gustav for his own ends, lending his support to his rise when it suits his purposes, but willing to let him hang when he is no longer of use. Much to the chagrin of both Brask and the devil Gustav turns out to be a much wilier fox than they had anticipated. Lars-Goren can do little more than watch in dismay as his cousin moves from idealist to tyrant. He wishes for no further part in things, especially as they concern the devil, and wants only to return to his own family and demesne.
Gustav is convinced that it is only the prince of darkness that stands in the way of his true success as king, for it seems that everything he touches goes astray and every plan he makes goes awry…whose fault could it be other than the devil himself? As a result Brask and Lars-Goren get thrown together by Gustav and tasked with the impossible commission of killing the devil. Thus we have the seemingly simple, though deep thinker Lars-Goren, who still wants to believe in the good of the world with Brask, the man who has seen it all and is certain that the world ultimately holds no meaning. What will they learn from each other, and how in the world will they kill the devil?
Gardner (or, if you wish, Freddy) uses each of his characters to evaluate the different ways of looking at the world and struggling with its eternal questions. One can see in this novel a real cry of pain from the post-modern man who has at once both embraced the view that all of the old meanings no longer hold sway and that new methods are leaving even the concept of ‘meaning’ as a questionable one at best, with the nostalgic looking-back to these beliefs with a yearning that is nearly all-consuming. I’m not really quite sure what answer, if any, Gardner comes up with. I will have to think about this book a lot more before I even pretend to have an opinion on that, but there is ample food for thought here. My biggest complaint would probably be that we never return again to “our” world and see Freddy, Winesap and Agaard again. I’m fairly certain that Gardner felt that any answers we wanted about Freddy’s life, and any meaning he derived from it, were contained in the text of his tale of knights, kings and devils, but I would have liked to visit him again for some kind of closure to his own tale.
I am not quite sure where my previous 5-star rating for this book came from. I love Holdstock’s Mythago Wo2.5 - 3 stars (downgraded from a previous 5)
I am not quite sure where my previous 5-star rating for this book came from. I love Holdstock’s Mythago Wood, but on this re-read I found the second book of the Mythago cycle to be a sl-o-o-o-w burn which unfortunately never really seemed to ignite. I may simply not have been in the mood for this book at this time, but I think it’s more than that. There are significant pacing issues that drag the book down and Holdstock’s desire to both go deeper into the meaning of Ryhope Wood and also maintain an air of mystery and the unknown for as long as possible seem to work against each other.
Instead of being a direct sequel to Mythago Wood we are told the story of Tallis Keeton, the half-sister of a secondary character from the first book (Harry Keeton), who seems to have been marked in some way by the magical wood that swallowed the Huxley family years before. Eventually we also come to meet Edward Wynne-Jones, the former collaborator of George Huxley who was also tangentially mentioned in the first volume, but no resolution to the stories of Christian and Stephen Huxley is to be found. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but I don’t think Tallis was a strong enough character to support the book (at least not the ponderous first half of it) and ultimately I think that the book Holdstock gives us ends up being all build-up with relatively little pay-off. There doesn’t even seem to be any real action until more than half-way through the book and even then calling it ‘action’ is a bit of a misnomer. Granted Holdstock is writing a more cerebral take on fantasy (literally so since the wood itself, the main magical element of the tales, is all about the manifestation of the myth-images from our collective unconscious), but much of what we are told is not new for any reader coming to the story from volume one and the story of Tallis’ childhood spent under the ever increasing sway of the wood starts to drag as Holdstock dwells on far too much detail with significant repetition. Alas Holdstock seemed to be trying to structure the story as though it was a mystery with a gradual (and I mean *very* gradual) build-up of tension and parsing out of knowledge. Unfortunately a lot of the mystery just wasn’t present for me (perhaps because I was a re-reader, but also I think because if you’ve read the first volume you *know* what the wood is about so a lot of the mysterious elements and slow build seemed highly unnecessary). In the end I think that half the time spent showing us Tallis’ childhood could have been cut/reduced without any reduction in the facts learned.
In a nutshell we witness the birth and first years of Harry Keeton’s half-sister Tallis who grows up on a farm located near the mysterious Ryhope Wood under the shadow of Harry’s strange disappearance when she was only four years old. Having read the first book we know where it is that Harry went, but Tallis only slowly comes to understand this as she is apparently taken under the wing of tutelary mythagos and ‘trained’ by them to become something of an avatar for the forces of the wood (or at least for some of them, the eldritch presences spawned by the wood apparently always being in conflict). This then spins out into a tale of tragic love, divided allegiances, and the quest for the mythical Heart of the Wood, where all of the characters hope that their desires will be granted and questions answered. Of course it’s not as easy as that and the true nature of the wood’s heart, which mirrors the deepest and darkest levels of the human psyche, may be much more perilous than anyone imagines.
One other thing that really bugged me, but that turned out to be more of a nit-pick in the long run, was the characterization of Tallis’ parents. It revolved around their utter powerlessness in the face of Tallis’ growing strangeness and apparent inability to do anything at all resembling a responsible parental action. This is an ever-present danger when using very young characters as your heroes, especially when you are not writing a YA novel. In a YA story I might be more willing to accept that the genre itself demands that the young child-hero Tallis have parents who are little more than feckless spectators whose useless obstructions are easily overcome. In a novel meant for adults, however, I would generally expect a somewhat more responsible, and conceivably effective (or at least proactive), response from her parents. Instead we see them apparently accept the changes and behaviour in her that, seen from the outside and with the lens of any ‘normal’ parent, would seem to be a descent into psychosis and mental illness without interfering in her ‘adventures’ and it rang particularly false. Given the fact that her father had already lost one child to Ryhope is it really likely that he will sit idly by while his daughter also seems to come under the sway of the wood with little more than a feeble complaints and disagreements? Granted that her father’s father was known to have a strange relationship with the wood and perhaps her family is thus more inclined to accept it as something other than mental illness, but I still had my suspension of disbelief strongly strained (perhaps due to the fact that I am now a parent) by the thought that any parent would let their child freely fall into the strange behaviours that the wood prompts in Tallis with little more than a concerned look and occasional ‘disagreements’.
So a fair amount of disappointment for me on this re-read, though I will readily admit that Holdstock still manages to work with his mythic material in an effective and fascinating way. The resolution to the story is as ambiguous and circular as was the one from the first volume…I haven’t yet read further in the Mythago cycle (and must admit to being less inclined to now), but I hope that Holdstock managed to overcome his desire to keep spinning out the mystery and supplied some real answers, or at least resolutions, to the still hanging threads of the story of Ryhope Wood....more
What a great read! Holdstock managed to come up with something completely new and incredibly old at the same time with his Mythago Wood series. By minWhat a great read! Holdstock managed to come up with something completely new and incredibly old at the same time with his Mythago Wood series. By mining the rich vein of British myth and tying it to both the Jungian subconscious and the magical influence of an acient living forest he managed to create a fantasy work that was both epic in scope and personal in its resonance. It's a work that truly stands the test of time.
In the first volume, _Mythago Wood_, we follow the story of Stephen Huxley who returns home from the war to his ancient family home in the countryside of Britain to find his brother, Christopher, a changed and haunted man. The family estate borders the enigmatic Ryhope Wood, a forest whose mysteries had obsessed their father, and now threaten to consume Christopher as well.
As the story progresses we begin to discover some of the mysteries uncovered by the elder Huxley and see that the wood is much more than a simple forest...it is somehow a nexus for the mythical imagery of humanity and, when people come into close contact with it, can generate 'mythagos', or living embodiments of their mythic figures. In addition we soon discover, through the journeys of the brothers, that the forest distorts both time and space, becoming larger as you go inside and taking you further back into mankind's prehistory.
The story itself becomes a complex family conflict as first the Oedipal battle between Christopher and his father is acted out and then, inevitably, that of Christopher vs. his brother Stephen. All of these battles are undertaken in the name of Gwyneth, an alluring mythago whose charms manage to enamour all of the Huxley men. In addition the desire to uncover the ultimate meaning behind the forest's mysterious power push the Huxley's to overcome the obstacles and traps that the forest constantly puts in their way....more
I find Poul Anderson pretty uneven. I tend to either really like his books, or be left cold by them. I also tend to enjoy his fantasy much more than hI find Poul Anderson pretty uneven. I tend to either really like his books, or be left cold by them. I also tend to enjoy his fantasy much more than his science fiction (for which he is probably better known). This book is obviously in the former camp. For my money it's probably his best book (even better than _The Broken Sword_ or _Three Hearts & Three Lions_ which mine a similar vein). In essence this is a novelisation of the fragmentary saga tales of the Danish King Hrolf Kraki. Pulling together elements from various sources, Anderson creates a unified tale of a Nordic King Arthur...actually going back a generation in order to set the stage for this tragic tale.
I think that Anderson's greatest achievement here is his ability to convincingly portray the world of the mythic North. He gives us vivid details that truly bring it to life and the harsh grandeur of Midgard is effectively protrayed as equal parts the land of men and playground of the gods. It's a work that, for me at least, really captures that "Northern thing" that so enamoured Tolkien and Lewis and satisfies me when I'm hungering for such a thing myself.
The characters are sufficiently mythic, yet still flawed and human enough to hold the reader's interest and the encroachment of the supernatural into the human world is never overdone, displaying the characteristic wildness and unpredictability of the sagas from which they come....more
Another love-it-or-hate-it book. Mannered in its language, weird in so many ways, and chock-full of larger than life characters acting in ways that moAnother love-it-or-hate-it book. Mannered in its language, weird in so many ways, and chock-full of larger than life characters acting in ways that most people just don't get. If you have a problem with something written in an archaic style, then you probably won't get much out of it, but if you like that kind of thing I think the book repays reading and is definitely worth it.
First off a caveat: it took me two reads of the book to appreciate it and a third to decide that I thought it was genius.
The Worm is definitely unlike almost anything else out there and is a throw-back to much older works. The first sign, as mentioned above, is the prose itself. Eddison uses a faux-Jacobean that is certainly foreign to most people's preference for Hemingway-esque 'transparent prose'. Don't worry overmuch about this though, for Eddison knew what he was doing and he is one of, if not the, only writers post-Renaissance who actually can get away with this style. He knows what he's doing, as opposed to the myriad other fantasy authors who try to add 'realism' to their stories by sprinkling it with 'thee's' and 'thous' without knowing how to properly use the language. This was a man who intimately understood the archaic form of the english language and used it to perfection...he was a stylist and thus anyone who hates stylistic prose will not likely be drawn to him, but anyone who appreciates the crafstmanship of language (think Morris & Dunsany) has to at least appreciate if not love Eddison. Reading this book is analagous to partaking of a sumptuous feast, so long as you enjoy devouring words.
The characters are not perhaps as 'psychologically realistic' as what is generally expected these days, but I'd definitely say they are more than just names. Think of them as archetypal 'supermen' striding across the pages performing great deeds for their own sake. They don't really want to save the world, just experience it to the full, so they may not be particularly sympathetic according to your world view. I always found that they generally had very distinctive characters, but they did each generally represent one dominant trait or way of looking at the world.
If you want a larger than life adventure in exquisite prose then I think _The Worm_ is great. If you want something else you should perhaps skip it.
This is the first work that showed us how Tolkien's obsessive perfectionism was a double-edged sword. On the one hand it gave us the wonderfully deepThis is the first work that showed us how Tolkien's obsessive perfectionism was a double-edged sword. On the one hand it gave us the wonderfully deep world and implied distances of The Lord of the Rings; and on the other hand it left us with a jumble of tales in various states of revision and development that had to be compiled by Tolkien's son Christopher into some form as The Silmarillion...a jumble of tales that, if they had been finished, would have given us a truly staggering body of work. Just reading the fragment that makes up the entirety of "Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin" makes me weep for what might have been. Given the chance to expand even half of the partial tales from _The Silmarillion_ into something equating the full treatment of the LotR would have been a wonder indeed.
Even given the incomplete nature of the works herein, the reader is greatly repaid the effort of reading them even though many tantalizing questions are left unanswered. We get perhaps the only significant view of the land of Numenor in the Second Age; intriguing glimpses into the nature of the Istari, the Woodwoses, and the Palantiri; and expansions on the background of the Third Age and the events that led up to both The Hobbit and the LotR.
A really amazing work and enjoyable read if you're a die-hard Tolkien fan....more