The Hollowing by Robert Holdstock

367 pages, 1993, Roc Press, Penguin Books, New York

Review score: *** out of *****

Twelve thousand years ago, when the ice age was ending and mankind was turning from hunting to agriculture, chopping down trees in the primordial forests that until that time had been untouched, the woodland that became known as Ryhope Wood developed a defense against the stone axes and primitive cutting tools. The wood absorbed the dreams, the fears and the myths of humanity and gave them life. The gods the shamans spoke of walked among the trees and few dared enter the wood and few of those who did returned. The wood remained untouched by man, growing stronger through the millenia and soaking up the mythology of each era. The creatures of subconscience mind and myth that inhabited the wood were named Mythagos by George Huxley, who was the first person to study and chronical the wood in the 1930s and 1940s. After the Second World War, George Huxley's son Christian went to live with his ailing father at Oak Lodge, on the Ryhope Estate in Herefordshire, England. Oak Lodge is on the borders of Ryhope Wood. When George Huxley died, in November 1946, Steven Huxley joined his brother at Oak Lodge. Both brothers disappeared into Ryhope Wood.

Robert Holdstock won the World Fantasy Award for Mythago Wood, the first of his books to tell the story of the dark paths and strange beings that inhabit Ryhope Wood. Mythago Wood was published in 1984 and I have been reading Holdstock's books ever since. Holdstock is a good writer and his characters are vibrant and alive. The title of his 1993 book The Hollowing is named for the "hollowings" that riddle Ryhope Wood. Hollowings are paths through time and space, which can send the unwary traveler into another time and place.

All of the Mythago Wood books are loosely tied together, although each work stands fully on its own. In Holdstock's 1988 book Lavondyss, Tallis Keeton, a girl in her early teens, disappeared into the wood. Soon after, her father, James Keeton, went into the wood to search for her. In The Hollowing, James Keeton reappears, after a year, or at least it has been a year in the world outside the wood. For Keeton, it has only been a couple of days, as he walked the Hollowings of the wood. He is found by Richard and Alice Bradley, who are driving back from a school play with their son Alex. Alex was a playmate of Tallis' before she disappeared into Ryhope Wood. Like Tallis, Alex disappears into the wood, trapped in the timeless center and his father, Richard follows him. The Hollowing is primarily Richard's story, interspersed with Alex's view from the dreamtime in the heartwood.

Holdstock writes well, but his writing is dark. The shadow call of Ryhope Wood fractures lives and consumes families. The dark unconscience walks the wood in the company of blood soaked myths. The endings of Holdstock's stories are almost always enigmatic.

Ian Kaplan - 5/96

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