I accepted the notebook. "My life is full of diaries."
Steven Huxley had just been handed the diary of his sidekick companion Harry Keeton. I am personally fond of Harry because our names are one letter away from being the same Keeton/Keeten. I am actually an impostor, my great great grandfather Thomas Newton Keaton changed his name to Keeten when he was conscripted into the Confederate army. Family lore states that he had a dispute with his older brother Major William Henry Harrison Keaton and that had caused the name change. So despite the fact that I am going to be talking about the Huxley family a lot in this review, because they are the designated heroes of this book, I think we all know that Harry is the understated, but true hero of this tale.
Harry's diary was not the first diary that had impacted Steven's life. The first was written by his father George Huxley. Steven has just returned to the family home after convalescing in France from a bullet wound received in the war. He expects to find his brother, Christian, who is recently married, happily luxuriating in domestic bliss. Instead Steven finds a neurotic brother obsessed with Ryhope Woods, a three mile square section of pristine old world forest that has never been properly explored since the last Ice Age.
This gloomy, compelling stand of forest butts up against the family home, and had also been the obsession of their father. Steven finds Christian's wife in a shallow grave with an arrow through her eye. In the immortal words of Kevin Bacon in the movie Tremors What the hell is going on? I mean what the hell is going on?
Christian in an attempt to explain what IS
going on to Steven has him read their father's diary which is filled with stories and observations that barely make sense. Christian disappears into the woods and each time he reappears he is a different, less civilized, unrecognizable form of the brother Steven knew.
Robert Holdstock was a student of the Carl Jungian theory of the archetype hero. Jung defined his concept of the archetype as a formula that is the result of "countless experiences of our ancestors".
Ryhope Woods is full of mythological creatures, familiar heroes such as Robin Hood, and Hercules, but also mythological creatures that existed before written memory. They are the manifestation of our collective memories of heroes that have been encoded into our unconscious mind by the memories and experiences of our ancestors. As Christian, Steven and Harry spend more time in the woods mythagos are being formed from their own unconscious minds. They exist as ghosts at the peripheral of their vision, but the longer they stay in the woods the more substantial these manifestations become.
Did I mention there is a girl? She is called Guiwenneth. All three Huxley men become intoxicated with her. "Her face was quite startling, pale-skinned, slightly freckled. Her hair was brilliant auburn, and tumbled in unkempt, wind-swept masses about her shoulders. I would have expected her eyes to be bright green, but they were a depthless brown. Her arms and legs were thin, but the muscles were wiry; a fine blonde down covered her calves and I noticed that her knees were badly scarred."
Not exactly the typical girl next door that I had a crush on in high school. "Guiwenneth had a woodland, animal aroma that was startlingly unpleasant, yet strangely erotic."
She does seem to exude a potent musk that the Huxley men were particularly susceptible to. As the story unfolds we discover that the father, though he had died, has merged with a large angry mythical creature from ancient times. An epic battle between the brothers and the father unfolds for the possession of the girl.
I'm having to hold myself back from giving away too many details. For only 252 pages this book manages to convey an epic story. There are many layers and I'm sure I missed some key points. I can see myself rereading this book in a few years and gleaning more wonderful insights. I have a feeling that the books in the series build on each other and my appreciation for the first one will only deepen as I read the rest of the series. Highly recommended to those that like a heavy dose of Jung with their fantasy. The book is elegantly written, and does not bog down with weighty psychological preponderance, but you will find yourself needing to pause in your reading ever so often so the blocks in your brain have a chance to shuffle.