There's something brewing in Ryhope Wood. Something old, and deadly, and terribly cruel.
Granted, this is hardly an unusual state of affairs. As Robert Holdstock's novels Mythago Wood (1984) and Lavondyss (1987) demonstrated, Ryhope is the very essence of the Wildwood: an unfathomable repository of humankind's legendary archetypes (mythagos), a merging of past and present where time moves erratically. It is a vast, trackless wilderness of a forest (nestling, somewhat TARDIS-like, within a small privately-owned woodland), a place where unwary and wary travellers alike can stumble into the mythological past - and be brought face-to-face with the archetypal elements of their own psyches. But in Holdstock's third Mythago novel, The Hollowing (1993), the mythagos are springing from a damaged mind: that of thirteen-year-old Alex Bradley, retreating from trauma to nestle in a ruined cathedral, and dream of Gawain and the Green Knight - and Jack.
Alex has been dead for six years when his father Richard is contacted by a group of researchers working in the Wood. Torn between deep scepticism and desperate hope, Richard reluctantly enters Ryhope in an effort to find his son. In so doing, he finds himself up against Alex's murderous creations, and the older, crueller versions of stories of his own childhood (including Jason and his Argonauts). There is some overlap with previous novels in the cycle (one of the characters is particularly obsessed with the wildwood legacy of George Huxley's mythagos, for example), but The Hollowing stands on its own, with rich thematic veins about time, memory, and the role of the Trickster in human mythology. Holdstock's prose, while not poetical, suits the subject well, beautiful and terrible, tangible and gritty - and often witty through the characters (I loved the 'cordon bleu') - in its evocation of brutality, instinct, green life and ancient ways.
Once again, Holdstock reaches down through history and prehistory for his layers of story and symbolism - from our earliest African origins, through Central Asian, Graeco-Roman, Biblical and Norse myth, to medieval Europe and beyond. But this is rich, wild, old mythology, red in tooth and claw. This is Jack and the Beanstalk as you never saw them before.
Take that fantasy mainstay, the fairy, for example:
"A fairy is something corrupt, Richard. Something shrivelled and shrunken. Something so old that the flesh of myth has withered from its bones, and the bones of its story dissolved to a thin marrow. [...] Like the terrible creature which rules them, elementals come from the first of times, the worst of times, the time of the first forests, the first fires, the first language that consisted of more than simple signals. The time of first insight, first irrational fear. First nightmares, if you will."