The wood sucks at the mind, it sucks out the dreams.
Many times I don’t like sequels because there’s nothing new to learn. Authors tend to give us all of their world-building in the first novel, so I’m often bored by a sequel. But Lavondyss blew my mind. It is, I have no doubt, one of the best fantasy novels ever written.
In Mythago Wood, Harry Keeton entered the forest with Steven and he’s been there for years. We got the sense back then that Harry had some secret personal purpose for going in — it wasn’t just to help Steven. His sister Tallis remembers him leaving when she was four years old. Her parents are distressed and assume he’s dead. When Tallis hears what she believes is a communication from Harry and starts interacting with the wood, her parents think she’s gone batty. But Tallis is determined to bring Harry home.
Lavondyss may be the perfect fantasy novel. First of all, it’s written in Robert Holdstock’s beautiful style. I tend to be picky and demanding about style. A good story will not do it for me if the writing is pedestrian. It doesn’t have to be poetic, but it needs to be interesting and creative — not just, as we say, “serviceable.” Robert Holdstock’s writing style, at least in these novels, is similar to Patricia McKillip‘s: straightforward, but kind of dreamy, too. To me, it’s perfect.
Secondly, Lavondyss made me think. It was complex and convoluted, and I didn’t even know how complex it was until I got to the end. At that point I had to go back and re-read several passages so I could try to understand what had happened. It’s not that it wasn’t related effectively, but rather that Mr. Holdstock does not spoon-feed the reader. He does not divulge everything we want to know when we want to know it. We’re given hints and impressions (and maybe even some false information from unreliable characters?) that must be accumulated and assembled. My brain had trouble bringing it all together in the end. What, exactly, is Lavondyss? Why do the mythagos travel there? What drove Harry into the forest? Who is he there? How is he related to the mythagos? How do Mr. Williams and Wynne-Jones fit in? Most importantly: what is the nature of myth, story, and legend, and where do they come from? (There are lots of other questions I could ask, but I’d be giving too much away.) Instead of leaving me frustrated, I am fascinated, and motivated to find the answers.
Lastly, the story made me feel. The characters are endearing and I experienced their joy, pain, hope, and hopelessness. The ending was sad, happy, chilling, shocking, wonderful, and inconclusive. It stayed with me for days.
I am still confused about a lot of stuff that I was hoping would be cleared up, but I’m happily confused. This is a story that requires a re-read in order to appreciate its richness. I’ve jotted down some notes — stuff I learned in the parts of Lavondyss that I re-read. I will have to go back to Mythago Wood and then read further in the series. I look forward to it and I can’t wait to spend more time in, and learn more about, Rhyhope Wood.