Robert Holdstock,
The Hollowing
(HarperCollins, 1993; Orb, 2006)

When a neighbor who has been missing for a year suddenly appears on the road in front of his car, Robert Bradley has no idea that his life is about to change. Jim Keeton, dressed in a robe and pajamas, had followed his daughter Tallis into mysterious Ryhope Wood and never came back -- until now. Disoriented, often catatonic, Keeton can't explain where he's been, but he seems to have developed a rapport with Bradley's young son Alex, who was a friend of Tallis Keeton.

Soon Alex is caught up in Keeton's nightmare, and Robert Bradley isn't far behind. When Alex is found dead at the edge of the wood, it seems that the nightmare is over for him. After burying the battered body of his son, Bradley finds himself drawn into Ryhope, where, impossibly, Alex is still alive -- if he can find him.

But Ryhope Wood is a place where the images of myth and legend -- mythagos -- come to life, and Alex's damaged mind is creating some of the most dangerous images of all. Bradley is helped by Helen Silverlock and Alexander Lytton, scientists who are studying Ryhope. But while he wants to find his son to rescue him, Lytton has a more sinister purpose in mind.

The Hollowing is the third book in Robert Holdstock's Mythago Cycle (following Mythago Wood and Lavondyss), but it is not necessary to have read the others to follow the story here. The story is sometimes a complex one, with everyone entering Ryhope Wood with their own mission in mind, but mostly follows either Alex or his father.

The idea of a place where anything the mind imagines can come to life is both exhilarating and frightening, because both the good and the bad can come to life -- delicate creatures as well as deadly Jacks. Great legends might turn out to be morally reprehensible men.

The Hollowing is by turns earthy, sensual, beautiful in description and frightening. I will be on the lookout for the other books in the series.

by Laurie Thayer
16 December 2006

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