Mythago Wood: The Crowning of the King

Mythago Wood cover, 2003 editionThe book of the month in my Goodreads post-SF/F-class reading group was Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood.  Like in the class that preceded it, we can still post essays but on a voluntary basis, and we have relaxed the requirements for word count.  Here is my contribution (OK, I admit: I actually posted it to the club on June 1, making it a day late!)


The Crowning of the King

Mythago Wood can be read as a story of the need to conquer the Female Principle in order to obtain legitimate status as the Male Principle, the alpha male.

The plot is driven by the need for the Huxley men – the father George and his two sons in turn – to claim sole possession over one woman despite knowing that others have at least as much “right” to. Indeed, each knows that she is a mythago formed by his predecessors’ longings but still calls her “his.” 

Main and point-of-view characters are overwhelmingly men: George, Christian and Stephen Huxley, Harry Keaton, and Edward Wynne-Jones for humans, and the mythagos Sorthalen, the Twigling, the Urscumug, the Fenlander, etc. By comparison, the only women mentioned are Jennifer Huxley (committed suicide years ago, barely mentioned); Anne Hayden, who helps Stephen get her father’s notes; and the mythago Guiwenneth, object of the Huxley men’s passions, plus supporting mythagos like the Life-Speaker and a few Neolithic, Celtic and Saxon village women.

Guiwenneth herself is described as the archetypal huntress, the rebellion leader who evicts the invader, Boudica, Guinevere; in literature, her avatar Boudica is also associated with Elizabeth I, Victoria, Titania, etc. But in fact Guiwenneth is described as small and child-like; although she explicitly appears different depending on who influenced her regeneration, she is never shown in the book as a leader, but at best as a skilled forester and hunter. She serves as the winning prize, and her role in the key parts of the plot is that of damsel in distress, needing rescue.

Mythagos are more influenced by the older occupants of the land, but new invaders eventually take their place. [1]  The theme of the invader frequently recurs in the book; in fact, the Huxleys’ names are clues to this. George, the father, means “farmer” – the early invaders who brought agriculture to the British Isles. Christian’s name is self-evident: the subsequent invasion of culture and belief. Stephen means “the crowned one”, not only the one who will succeed in keeping Guiwenneth’s favour but the once and future king. Jennifer, the dead mother’s name, is even more revealing: it is simply a modern spelling of Guinevere, mentioned as Guiwenneth’s avatar.

In fairly traditional style, then, the invader in Mythago Wood can be identified with masculinity, maleness, while the land is feminine. Ryhope Wood, the untamed forest that evokes the dreaded vagina dentata, the female principle that must be won, dominated or earned, is represented by Guiwenneth as the conqueror is represented by the Huxley men. Only by claiming Guiwenneth, the fierce princess, can the invader become the true king.

References

[1] “I imagine that it is the combined emotion of the two races that draws out the mythago, but it clearly sides with that culture whose roots are longest established in what I agree could be a sort of ley matrix; thus, Arthur forms and helps the Britons against the Saxons, but later Hood is created to help the Saxons against the Norman invader.” Robert Holdstock, Mythago Wood, Part One, Chapter Four.

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