Robert Holdstock 1948-2009

I was very sad to hear today of the death of Robert Holdstock, one of Britain’s premier fantasy writers. He died of an E. coli infection—he was only 61 and still writing. He will be missed.

He wrote science fiction as well as fantasy, much of it under pseudonyms early in his career. His novella “The Dark Wheel” was distributed with the best-selling computer game Elite, and he used to joke that it was probably his most widely read work.

His Merlin Codex books are well regarded, but his most significant and lasting work is his Ryhope Wood fantasy series, beginning with the World Fantasy Award-winning Mythago Wood, (1984). This was one of the first post-Tolkien adult fantasy novels to have a contemporary setting. It was, like all Holdstock’s fantasy, deeply rooted in the traditions and botany of his native England, mixing Jungian archetypes with local folklore and a sprinkling of Lovecraft. It’s hard to overstate what a significant book it was—many people in Britain felt as if Mythago Wood was as revolutionary and groundbreaking in fantasy as Neuromancer was in science fiction that same year. It was followed by Lavondyss, The Bone Forest, The Hollowing, Merlin’s Wood, Gate of Ivory Gate of Horn, and just this year with Avilion. Holdstock said Ryhope Wood and the mythagos it contained “had a hold on my imagination” and he couldn’t escape it any more than his characters could.

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Half a Crown and Lifelode, and two poetry collections. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.


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