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Holdstock, Robert P

Entry updated 12 June 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1948-2009) UK author with an MSc in medical zoology from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He spent 1971-1974 in medical research before becoming a full-time writer, though he had published his first story, "Pauper's Plot", for New Worlds as early as November 1968. He wrote much of his short fiction soon after. Among the more notable stories are the novelettes "Travellers" (in Andromeda 1, anth 1976, ed Peter Weston), a Time-Travel tale, and "The Time Beyond Age: A Journey" (in Supernova #1, anth 1976, ed Philip Pollock); others are collected in In the Valley of the Statues (coll 1982). After the mid-1970s his writing broke into two superficially incompatible categories. Under the House Names Ken Blake and Richard Kirk, and as Robert Black, Chris Carlsen, Steven Eisler and notably as Robert Faulcon, he published [see Checklist] at least twenty novels, novelizations and works of popular sf "nonfiction", almost all of them hasty commercial efforts but most of them infused, nevertheless, with a black intensity of action that gave even clichéd Sword-and-Sorcery plots something of a mythic intonation. At the same time, under his own name, he began to publish sf novels like Eye Among the Blind (1976) and Earthwind (1977), in both of which he uneasily attempted to accommodate the compulsive mythologizing of his dark fantasies within the frame of "normal" sf worlds. The result was a series of books whose narrative energies seem greyed down with decorum: the interplay between Aliens and alienation in Eye Among the Blind is effective but ponderously expressed; Earthwind utters slow-moving hints at the powers of a "chthonic" atavism; and Where Time Winds Blow (1981), the best of these early books, ornately but without much movement initiates the narrative plumbings of the nature of Time through the depiction of an alien world whose surface (or linear) reality suffers arbitrary transfigurations through Time Distortions (see Zone).

With the publication of Mythago Wood (September 1981 F&SF; exp 1984), however, Holdstock's two careers suddenly and thankfully converged in a tale whose elaborate proprieties of rationale are driven by narrative energies and an exuberance of language previously restricted in crude form to his Berserker novels, written as Chris Carlsen. Much expanded from his short 1981 fantasy of the same title, Mythago Wood is Fantasy rather than sf only if it is inappropriate to think of the creation of a rational model for conceiving racial archetypes as a proper subject for sf, or if it is fantasy to articulate the hard pain of desiderium so many English people feel for an Ur-land that never existed (see discussion of Sehnsucht below) but which seems still to pulse through what remains of the astonishingly dense world of Britain. The Mythago Cycle, which this tale initiates, can be understood as treating mythopoeisis in terms of Cosmology. The frame of the tale is indeed obdurately rational in tone, and the "mythagoes" discovered – and transmuted – by the contemporary protagonist are appropriate expressions of what might be called the unconscious tale of the race: they are that tale made animate, and each mythago bears a name or names – and enacts the nature – of those archetypes that embody the permutations of that tale. The wood from which they come – like the interior lands for which the protagonists of much UK fantasy long – is a classic Little Big heartwood [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], huger inside than out, and the more ancient the further one penetrates inwards (see Time Abyss), and in describing it Holdstock engages in language of a metaphoric density rarely encountered in marketable fiction. Mythago Wood was a joint winner of the 1985 World Fantasy Award for best novel.

The next volume in the Mythago Cycle, Lavondyss: Journey to an Unknown Region (1988), only increases the intensity of the Chymical Marriage between rational discourse and desiderium or Sehnsucht (a term C S Lewis employed to describe the melancholy longing for "something that has never actually appeared in our experience", and by which he meant to designate the impulse behind certain kinds of fantasy). The longing of the protagonists of Lavondyss to enter the "unknown region" – Holdstock's term here for the wood within (and prior to) the world – is absolute, and it gives the book much of its obdurate potency. "Toward the Unknown Region" (1906) is a choral work by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), a composer whose evocations of a longed-for Britain are refreshingly muscular; Holdstock's citing of this piece of Music is therefore heavily loaded (Vaughan Williams himself appears in the novel); and the obdurate Sehnsucht of his music conveys to most listeners what Holdstock at his best conveys: a sense that the Matter of Britain is a Story that can be told.

The title novella in The Bone Forest (coll 1991), and the title novel in Merlin's Wood; Or, The Vision of Magic (coll 1994), continue the Mythago Cycle in modes closer to conventional fantasy, as do The Hollowing (1993) and Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn (1997; vt Gate of Ivory 1998); the last completed book in the sequence, Avilion (2009), returns directly to the central knot of story of Mythago Wood and Lavondyss, continuing the Huxley family tale through deaths and resurrections that amount to a grave-song for England, though the wood continues. Holdstock's further singletons (listed below) are also fantasy, including the Merlin Codex sequence beginning with Celtika: Book One of the Merlin Codex (2001). [JC]

see also: BSFA Award; Devolution; Gothic SF; Mythology; New Writings in SF.

Robert Paul Holdstock

born Hythe, Kent: 2 August 1948

died London: 29 November 2009


under his own name


Mythago Cycle

Merlin Codex

individual titles

collections and stories

under pseudonyms

as by Robert Black

as by Chris Carlsen

as by Richard Kirk

as by Steven Eisler

as by Ken Blake

as by Robert Faulcon

  • The Stalking (London: Arrow Books, 1983) as by Robert Faulcon [Night Hunter: pb/]
    • Night Hunter (New York: Charter Books, 1987) as by Robert Faulcon [vt of the above: Night Hunter: pb/]
  • The Talisman (London: Arrow Books, 1983) as by Robert Faulcon [Night Hunter: pb/]
    • The Stalking (London: Century, 1987) as by Robert Faulcon [omni of the above two: Night Hunter: hb/uncredited]
  • The Ghost Dance (London: Arrow Books, 1984) as by Robert Faulcon [Night Hunter: pb/]
  • The Shrine (London: Arrow Books, 1984) as by Robert Faulcon [Night Hunter: pb/]
    • The Ghost Dance (London: Century, 1987) as by Robert Faulcon [omni of the above two: Night Hunter: hb/uncredited]
  • The Hexing (London: Arrow Books, 1984) as by Robert Faulcon [Night Hunter: pb/]
  • The Labyrinth (London: Arrow Books, 1987) as by Robert Faulcon [Night Hunter: pb/]


works as editor


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about the author


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