When we think of post-apocalyptic fiction we tend to think specifically of science fiction (or at least I know I do). Our vision is usual3.5 – 4 stars
When we think of post-apocalyptic fiction we tend to think specifically of science fiction (or at least I know I do). Our vision is usually either of a near-future survival thriller about the fall of current human civilization into ruin (most often as the result of a nuclear holocaust, an ecological disaster, or more recently due to those pesky zombies), or of the far-future as we witness the after-effects on a society that has fallen into utter barbarity and ruin. We tend to see the apocalypse, understandably, as truly world-ending on a global scale wherein the entirety of human civilization has been laid waste, but what about an apocalypse that is more restricted in its geographical extent? What about one that impacts ‘only’ a single nation or a culture? What about an apocalypse that happens not in the future or near-present, but one that lies in the distant past? We think, or hope, of apocalypses (apocalypsi?) as rare events, something so inconceivable that it could only happen when the blue moon shines, but when we broaden our definitions just a little and look beyond only those events that shatter the globe and also turn our vision from the future to the past we may start to see a world that was riddled with apocalypses; a world where cultures thrived and died on a regular basis. It would seem that in many ways the apocalypse has been a fact of life for humanity since our infancy. Countries, cultures, whole civilizations were destroyed as a matter of course throughout most of human history and Paul Kingsnorth’s _The Wake_ is a tale of one such apocalypse.
1066 is a famous year. Even those ignorant of many ‘major’ historical events likely know that this was the year that William (alternately ‘the Bastard’ and ‘the Conqueror’) of Normandy invaded England and defeated then-king Harold Godwinson and subjugated a people. This subjugation was particularly harsh, even in an age known for the harshness of war, and ultimately involved the destruction (or was it a transmutation?) of a people through the decimation of their language, their rights, and, ultimately for many, of their lives. The Anglo-Saxon culture that then held sway (admittedly itself a race of conquerors on the island) was overcome by the culture of France and a way of life was seemingly decimated almost overnight. Landowners lost their rights and privileges to a crown with new and far-reaching powers; speakers of the Anglo-Saxon tongue found themselves ruled by a people that neither knew, nor cared to know, their language or ways; nearly the entire ruling class was decimated and those beneath them learned that even the yoke they once bore was perhaps not so bad a thing when compared to the new one. What is less well known is that there was, for several years, a guerilla war waged on the Norman invaders by some of the remaining Saxon population. This war, while ultimately fruitless, was the last hope of many for retaining their way of life and it is the story of one such rebel that we are told in Kingsnorth’s novel.
One thing to note before this review goes any further is that Kingsnorth has basically created his own language in this novel and it could be a stumbling block for some. He calls this language a “shadow tongue” since it is a fabricated version of English that incorporates many Old English words and grammatical structures in an attempt to incorporate a sense of verisimilitude with the era in which the story takes place without actually writing it in Old English. It could thus be compared to what Russell Hoban did in Riddley Walker, though I would argue that this is a bit easier to slide into (esp. if you have any background in basic OE syntax and vocabulary). There is also a helpful glossary at the back of the book for some of the more opaque words and terms used in the text. I think, as with Hoban’s use of an invented language, Kingsnorth’s experiment is not merely a gimmick and ultimately succeeds. I find far too often that historical fiction fails due to being little more than modern characters dressed up in historical drag. I wouldn’t say that attempting to recreate a dead language in a way that can (mostly) be read by modern audiences is the sole solution to this problem, but in this case it definitely went a long way towards immersing the reader into what is effectively a different world, and certainly a different mindset. When we have to meet the narrator on his own terms due to the language used we are forced to leave many of our preconceptions at the door. Of course the fact that I have at least a smattering of Old English definitely helped me in acclimating myself fairly quickly, but I would strongly encourage any readers, even without this background, to still put in the effort. Once you’ve picked up the gauntlet dropped by Kingsnorth I think you’ll find that after a few chapters the words that were previously giving you headaches start to roll naturally off the tongue.
We open on the eve of the Norman invasion and are introduced to Buccmaster of Holland (a region of eastern England, not the Netherlands) our stalwart narrator and a “socman a man of the wapentac [who] has three oxgangs” which ultimately translates to “an important man of influence and means beholden to none” (a fact of which he is eager to remind us every chance he gets). Buccmaster tells us his tale of tragedy and woe as he recalls the day that everything started to go wrong and all of the events that followed in its wake. It was, as is usually the case, a day much like any other aside from the fact that he witnessed an omen, a strange bird in the sky, that led him to believe that changes were in the air. His feeble attempts at warning others fall on deaf ears and we soon learn that Buccmaster is an atavism amongst his own people, a man of the old ways as taught to him by his grandfather who has rejected the “hwit crist” and the wave of change that has already come and significantly changed the traditions and beliefs of his people. As a result he is not only something of an outcast and recluse in his own small community, but also already in a position of bemoaning the lost past of his people even before the great apocalypse that will truly decimate his culture has arrived.
It is interesting to note that despite the tragedies that we come to see befall Buccmaster: the loss of his position, the burning of his home, the disappearance and probable death of his sons, the rape and murder of his wife, Buccmaster never becomes a sympathetic character. He is a man, we quickly come to realize, who is neither likeable nor trustworthy. His words always serve a specific purpose - his own perceived best interest – and while it seems fairly clear (to me at least) that he is not deceiving us on purpose it is equally clear that his entire perception of reality and the events that go on around him are skewed. Ironically it is his own words that betray him. As we hear the constant justifications, the repeated assurances of his own worth, power, and rightness, the continual complaints about the wrongs to which he has been subjected (by both his enemies and his friends) we begin to question Buccmaster’s grasp on reality. As Buccmaster falls further and further from his position of relative comfort and influence, or as obstacles to his unquestioned authority arise, we start to hear the voices in his head. These voices whisper to him that the old gods have returned and hand-picked Buccmaster himself to bring back their ancient ways to his people and overcome the invaders. Unable to accept that he is no more than an outcast and outlaw living like a beast in the forest, Buccmaster must instead see himself as the ordained saviour of his people and their ancient way of life.
You might wonder how book with a main character whose catalogue of faults and crimes matches that of Buccmaster could be readable, let alone enjoyable, but I found _The Wake_ to be both. Buccmaster is no saint, he’s not even a likeable sinner, but his story of loss, decline, and madness is a compelling one. As we are given more and more glimpses of both past and present events and the story of his life begins to unpeel like the skin of a rotting onion we start to see the full tragedy of Buccmaster’s life and understand that the last greatest calamity of the overthrow and destruction of his people was simply the final nail in the coffin - the last straw in a long line of sins, disappointments and defeats. It sounds an utterly gloomy tale, and while it certainly isn’t full of a lot of chuckles, I still found it to be compelling and not so much depressing as harrowing. The apocalypse of the Norman invasion may have left the globe at large much as it had been before it occurred – changes in regime happen every day after all – but it was no less world-ending for that to the people that lived through it and came out the other side into a world, a reality, which they could no longer understand.
_The Wake_ is a fine piece of historical fiction that not only incorporates a truly intriguing narrative technique and linguistic structure, but also proves to be a powerful meditation on loss, culture, and the ways we define ourselves as both individuals and members of a wider community. Definitely recommended, though not for the faint of heart....more
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
All of the History of Middle-earth volumes that I have read thus far have been chock full of stories, details, notes, and essays that go a long way toAll of the History of Middle-earth volumes that I have read thus far have been chock full of stories, details, notes, and essays that go a long way to showing the sheer scope of what Tolkien was attempting to create from his formative years up to and beyond the creation of his most famous works (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings), but in many ways this latest volume seemed to be nearly bursting at the seams. This foray through the HoME volumes has been an intriguing journey for me (and one that I’ve enjoyed far more than I would have thought) and now it would appear that the first phase of it has come to a close, for it is in _The Lost Road_ that we reach the point Tolkien had come to in the creation of his original mythology before embarking on what would be perhaps the most important, and undeniably the most famous, (though also arguably the most disruptive) stage in his career: the composition of The Lord of the Rings.
Many nerds such as myself who are intimately familiar with the legends surrounding the lives of the Inklings, that group of Oxford writers that centred around Tolkien and his friend C. S. Lewis, know the story of a discussion the two men had when they decided that there was a dearth of the kinds of mythological and heroic tales that so fueled their own imaginations and thus as Tolkien recalled Lewis saying: “if they won’t write the kind of books we want to read, we shall have to write them ourselves.” Lewis decided to write a story that centred on the intrusion of myth into the world via the vehicle of space travel, while Tolkien was to write a story in which this happened through time travel. Lewis ended up creating the ‘Space Trilogy’ (in my mind his best works of fiction), in which his philologist hero (a probable partial nod to Tolkien himself) is thrust into a wider cosmos in which the beings and wars of the mythical world are seen to be all too real. Tolkien, as was alas often the case, never ended up finishing his story, though the fragments that exist are presented in this volume and make up the first section in which we see the birth of what was to become an important element of his ever-growing and evolving history of Middle-earth: the rise (and ultimate fall) of the fabled isle of Númenor.
Like so many of the elements of Tolkien’s mythology the importance of Númenor seems to be contradicted by the relative scarcity of actual material relating to it. In his published works it is little more than a myth and legend from the distant past whose importance looms large in implication, though less so in apparent fact. Even the posthumously published The Silmarillion has relatively little to contribute on the subject. This was one reason, I think, that the stories which presented an inside look into Tolkien’s conceptions of Númenor (both in this volume and in the book Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth) are especially tantalizing to me. Amongst all of the many writings and ideas left ‘unfinished’ by Tolkien I would probably pair the isle of Númenor with his sparse tales of Tuor, Earendil and the fall of Gondolin as the ‘missed opportunities’ that most torment me. I wish he had written more, and more fully, on these topics and so what I can find on them I treasure.
_The Lost Road_ gives us some early outlines on Númenor as a concept and its eventual fall within the context of his still developing Middle-earth mythology, along with the few chapters that Tolkien actually wrote of “The Lost Road” (his proposed companion book to Lewis’) in which a father and son were to travel back in time and discover their connection not only to this mythical isle, but also to many other significant moments in history which they would vicariously experience through their previous lives. It is in these texts that ‘Sauron’ was first used as the name for the lieutenant of Morgoth and it was perhaps his important role as the key behind Númenor’s fall (along with his off-stage appearance as ‘the Necromancer’ in _The Hobbit_) that may have contributed to his pivotal role in the work which Tolkien was to begin writing soon after and which would become his magnum opus: _The Lord of the Rings_.
The second part of the text returns us to more familiar ground as we see the further evolution of Tolkien’s composition of the Silmarillion proper in the form of an updated series of annals (for both Beleriand and Valinor), a reworking of his ‘cosmogonical myth’ the Ainulindalë in which the angelic beings called the Ainur sing worldly creation into being, and ‘the Lhammas’, a text devoted to detailing the development of the languages of the elves within the fictional framework of Middle-earth (and which I found much more compelling than that description is likely to imply). Finally section two closes with a version of the ‘Quenta Silmarillion’ in which Tolkien again rewrites the entire history of the first age of Middle-earth in a somewhat compressed form…though much of the wording will be familiar to those who have read the published Silmarillion. In contrast to the first two volumes of the HoME series where even many of the familiar stories and characters were sometimes only vaguely recognizable, we now see much that is not only familiar, but often exactly corresponds to what we will see in the published Silmarillion. There seem to be relatively few elements that are yet to change and thus it is much easier to look back across the various volumes and gain a glimpse of how it was that Christopher Tolkien came up with the final text of the published Silmarillion.
The final sections of the book (part 3 and the appendices) will be of primary interest to linguists and others who want to get to the root of the work that, by his own admission, lay behind the creation of all of Tolkien’s writings and were their ultimate key: the invented elvish languages. Along with a detailed set of etymologies, there are lists of names and some details on Tolkien’s second (and final) map of the Silmarillion. There is definitely a lot to be gleaned from these pages, but I have to admit that I skimmed over most of them. Perhaps on a subsequent read I will be more attentive, but at this time it really was the story elements of the earlier portions of the book that held my interest. Again: if you are a hard-core fan then this is definitely for you, if not then why are you reading this review?...more
On to volume 4 of the History of Middle-earth series and we are now starting to come to something that appears, in both form and content, much closerOn to volume 4 of the History of Middle-earth series and we are now starting to come to something that appears, in both form and content, much closer to what we ended up receiving as the published Silmarillion. In the first two volumes we were given Tolkien’s earliest drafts of the tales that would (albeit in an often much transformed manner) ultimately become the main stories of the First Age of Middle-earth all joined together by a narrative framing conceit that tied it in explicitly to our own world’s history (an element that never actually left the tales, but became much less apparent as time wore on). Then we saw Tolkien shift into the composition of several major narrative epic poems that tackled some of the tales that were to prove to be favourites of his (which were, if not complete, at least fairly well fleshed out), along with many poetic fragments of other tales that, as is sadly a common case with Tolkien, never got very far in their composition. Now in this volume we see Tolkien shifting gears and once again composing prose in several different texts, though in a completely new format.
The first of these texts is what Christopher Tolkien calls ‘The Sketch of the Mythology’ which is truly a bare bones precis of the history of the First Age designed as an accompaniment to the long ‘Lay of the Children of Hurin’ poem from the previous volume. Tolkien apparently hoped to have the poem considered for publication and sent along the sketch in order to fill in necessary details of the context of the poem and give minimal explanation of the many events and persons to which it alludes for a prospective editorial reader. Readers of the published Silmarillion will already see something they can recognize here, albeit with much less literary flair: a high level overview of the many adventures, peoples, and events that occurred in what was to become the First Age of Middle-earth.
The next section, called ‘The Quenta’, seems to have evolved almost directly from the Sketch, though it represents a much fuller and more literary detailing of the same events. Instead of simply giving bare bones facts Tolkien allows his poetic side much more freedom and fleshes out details to the point where the text moves from mere summary to something akin to story. As the Tolkien Professor notes in his podcast on this volume some key elements that emerge in the later Silmarillion seem to have their origin here in the Quenta: Beren & Luthien get their somewhat happy ending with Luthien fully embracing the life of mortality (and ultimate eternal union with Beren beyond the circles of the world); Gondolin shifts from being a beacon of hope and place of final refuge for elves fleeing the wrath of Morgoth to an inward looking isolationist community sowing the seeds of its own destruction; and Earendil finally seems to live up to the messianic foreshadowings that have surrounded his birth from the beginning and becomes a successful messenger to the Valar on behalf of the beleaguered peoples of Middle-earth. It is in the Quenta that we probably see the closest analogue in Tolkien’s early writings to what the published Silmarillion became.
Next come a series of maps and accompanying text called the ‘Ambarkanta’ that attempt to delineate not only geographical elements of Middle-earth, but many of the cosmological elements of it as well. I will admit to be largely confused by many parts of this, especially the various types of ‘seas’ that seem to surround and encompass Arda (Tolkien’s created world as whole) and their various roles in the cosmology based on their elemental composition. Tolkien obviously loved both geographical and cosmological details and could seemingly lose himself endlessly in their implications and development, something that was a double-edged sword: it allowed him to return to texts and ideas and refine them to a point where the reality of his sub-creation became truly impressive (something that has been noted elsewhere as nearly the equivalent of one man creating a body of work analogous to the mythological beliefs of an entire people); but it also diverted his attention from actually writing down his stories as he could get caught into endless details and the need to constantly refine and work out fully any and all implications of a given idea or concept. Finally are the two sets of annals: the ‘Annals of Valinor’ and the ‘Annals of Beleriand’, which each give another precis of the major events that occurred in Valinor and the later Elven kingdoms of Beleriand respectively in a year-by-year summary format.
One other aspect of this volume that is intriguing is the inclusion of several Anglo-Saxon translations of some of these texts, a nod to the fact that the overarching idea of the early Elvish histories as the source of a truly ‘English mythology’ transmitted to us by a lone Anglo-Saxon mariner was still an important part of Tolkien’s overall view of his work. These are not stories that are meant to have taken place in 'another world', but are the earliest and forgotten histories of our own. It also shows us that far from being a diversion from his professional life as a philologist and scholar of Anglo-Saxon, Tolkien’s writings on Middle-earth were intimately connected with his professional studies and it seems likely that both aspects of his life deeply informed each other. It is indisputably true that his love of language was the ultimate well-spring of his many tales and, in some sense at least, his contention that they existed 'merely' to give his invented languages a reason to exist and people to speak them is not without merit.
Not my favourite in the series so far, but a truly necessary text (for the Tolkien enthusiast) when considering the ultimate development of the Silmarillion proper in both form and content. ...more
_The Lays of Beleriand_ is a book that I’ve had on my bookshelf for many, many years and quite frankly never thought I’d get to. I think3 - 3.5 stars
_The Lays of Beleriand_ is a book that I’ve had on my bookshelf for many, many years and quite frankly never thought I’d get to. I think I probably got my copy around the time it was first published when I was but a wee sprat simply because it was by Tolkien and certainly at that time the likelihood that I would read a book comprised primarily of two long narrative poems accompanied by copious editorial apparatus was, to say the least, unlikely. As time went on and I got older I still never read it as I didn’t think the ‘History of Middle-earth’ series (or HoME) would hold much interest for me. Why bother reading the ‘preliminary drafts’ of the material when I had already read the finished products, or at least as close as we were going to get to them in the case of The Silmarillion? It took the podcasts of Corey Olsen (‘The Tolkien Professor’) to get me off my rump in this regard and encourage me to actually pick up the series which allowed me to more fully appreciate what the History of Middle-earth series really provides.
I had always thought the series was little more than rough drafts which would only, at best, provide a view into Tolkien’s writing process. An interesting area of study for some perhaps, but it certainly wasn’t my primary interest in him. While this aspect of the series is certainly still somewhat true, I found once I had given the books a fair chance that they offered far more. Ultimately they allowed me to see, in the best cases, much fuller versions of the tales of the First Age of Middle-earth that are given only in precis in The Silmarillion as published. I should have considered this possibility after being blown away by the content in Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth when I read it, but all I remembered at the time were my failed attempts at the first volume in the series, The Book of Lost Tales, Part One, when I was young and as for the current volume in question? As noted above plowing through some very long narrative poems still didn’t exactly recommend itself to me when I considered all of the other items on my to-read list. Well, I will admit that I’m glad now that I *did* read it.
I could nit-pick and complain that instead of yet another version of the stories of Turin and Beren & Luthien (they were certainly the stories that Tolkien seemed to have loved the most and came back to again and again, re-writing, revising and tinkering as was his wont) it would have been great if we had gotten the full epic treatment of something for which we don’t already have a lot of material, say perhaps the story of Tuor…or hey how about Earendil? He was the first character in what was to become Middle-earth about whom Tolkien wrote and his was supposedly the tale that spawned the entire opus of Middle-earth and was, arguably, the cornerstone to the entire story of the First Age and yet we have little to nothing about him! Still, even if we’re visiting well-tread ground here (at least if you’re a Tolkien fan and have read the other material that exists apart from the HoME series) these versions have plenty to recommend them to us. For one thing there is just so much more detail than we get in the Silmarillion versions that you can really start to live inside the tales a little more easily as a result. You also get a glimpse of the true scope of what Tolkien worked on beyond his most famous works the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit; even though this material was all, in some ways, preliminary and ultimately published posthumously, it becomes obvious that this was really what was at the heart of his creative life and it was truly huge in scope.
I was actually surprised when I finished the book to find that I preferred the Lay of Leithian since I normally don’t gravitate as much to the story of Beren of Luthien, beautiful as it is, and the fact that it was written in rhyming couplets could have been disastrous. Luckily there was no twee sing-songiness to the poem (Tolkien really was a fairly accomplished poet) and the chance to see more of both Beren and Luthien in action (not to mention Huan the great hound of Valinor) turned out to be very enjoyable. All those people who think Tolkien didn’t like (or write) strong women really need to take a gander at Luthien. Her tale has been described as the story of a girl and her dog who go out to rescue her boyfriend, and while it is much more than that, the fact that it works well enough as a thumbnail sketch speaks volumes.
If you’re a Tolkien fan, especially one who enjoys poetry, and you enjoy the tales of the Silmarillion then you owe it to yourself to check out the HoME series and this volume does not at all disappoint in that regard. A must-read for the Tolkien completist....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