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Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn

Robert Holdstock

Penguin Putnam Roc Fantasy

US Mass Market Paperback First

ISBN 0-451-45857--5

327 Pages; $6.99

Date Reviewed: 02-24-02

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2002




02-14-02, 03-14-02, 03-26-03

It can be a long treacherous journey from hardcover to a mass-market paperback. Fraught with peril, the voyage may not be complete for years. Robert Holdstock's 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn' took five years to make the trip, but it's been well worth the wait. The latest part of the 'Mythago Wood' series is apparently the first to be re-published; three others (Mythago Wood, Lavondyss, and The Hollowing) are slated to appear again later this year. 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn', is, like the others, a very unconventional novel. Don't look for a group get-together followed by a perilous quest. The experience of read this novel reminded me more than anything of the very first time I read Bullfinch's 'Mythology'. It's an amazing tapestry of stories and legends, woven together in a novel about a young man forced to face his father's heritage.

'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn' was something of a test for this reader. I had read the first two books in the series, but long, long ago. I wasn't sure what would happen if I dropped in to series again. As it happens, the novel works fine as a standalone book, though of course having read the others doesn't impede your understanding. Christian Huxley has returned from the war to live in his family's house on the edge of Ryhope Wood. It is a primeval forest, 12,000 years old, in which the human psyche creates 'myth imagoes' ('mythagos'), living representations of mythic figures from history and prehistory. Long ago, Christian saw his mother run to the edge of the wood; she never returned. His father has gone in and out of the wood, regressing almost to the state of a primitive man, then returning almost to 'normal'. A mysterious girl draws Christian to the wood. But although the novel has a recognizable story arc, it is the experience of reading 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn' that is unique. Holdstock's novel is a hall of mythic mirrors, a tapestry of stories within stories and quests within quests.

As such, you'll not see the kind of page turning propulsion you might be used to in the fantasy genre. Holdstock works by juxtaposition, offering up episodes and variations on a theme. Still, it manages to be cohesive and achieve an overall forward momentum as Christian journeys with the mythagos into the heart of an understanding of himself, his mother, and even his father. Each fully realized story within a story becomes anther step in the larger journey. And, as the reader pulls towards the end of the novel, each step away from the book becomes harder to take. There's a really pleasant, imaginative gravity to Holdstock's work. It grips you and won't let go for days, week, years. Yes, it's been years since I read the first books in the Mythago Wood series, but it won't be years before I go back. 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn' is an absolutely first rate novel that will have you hitting your favorite book search engine to find Holdstock's others before you've even finished this one.