Robert Holdstock was born in a remote corner of Kent in 1948, sharing his childhood years between the bleak Romney Marsh and the dense woodlands of the Kentish heartlands. In later years, he lived in London but escaped to the forest whenever possible.
Holdstock received an MSc in Medical Zoology and spent several years in the early 1970s in medical research, before becoming a full-time writer in 1976. His first published story appeared in New Worlds magazine in 1968 and for the early part of his career he wrote science fiction, such as Eye Among the Blind and Where Times Winds Blow. However, it is with fantasy that he is most closely associated.
1984 saw the publication of Mythago Wood, winner of the BSFA and World Fantasy Awards for Best Novel, and widely regarded as one of the key texts of modern fantasy. It was described by Michael Moorcock as “the outstanding fantasy book of the 80s”.
It and the subsequent ‘mythago’ novels (including Lavondyss, which won the BSFA Award for Best Novel in 1988) cemented his reputation as the definitive portrayer of the wild wood.
His interest in Celtic and Nordic mythology was a consistent theme throughout his fantasy and is most prominently reflected in the acclaimed Merlin Codex trilogy, consisting of Celtika, The Iron Grail and The Broken Kings, published between 2001 and 2007.
Among other works, Holdstock co-wrote Tour of the Universe with Malcolm Edwards, for which rights were sold for a space shuttle simulation ride at the CN Tower in Toronto, and The Emerald Forest, based on John Boorman’s film of the same name.
His story ‘The Ragthorn’, written with friend and fellow author Garry Kilworth, won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novella and the BSFA Award for Short Fiction.
Robert Holdstock died in November 2009, just four months after the publication of Avilion, the long-awaited, and sadly final, return to Ryhope Wood.
Personal reminiscences and memories of Rob are collected on the Tributes section of the web site.
After his death, three acres of the Woodland Trust’s Victory Wood, along with an oak tree and a bench, were dedicated to Rob with love and affection from his family and friends. Directions on how to get to the site are available here.
- The Guardian obituary by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
- In Praise of Robert Holdstock in The Guardian by David Barnett
- Robert Holdstock, fantasy and science-fiction writer in The Scotsman
Praise for Mythago Wood
‘Indescribably enchanting … a celebration of fantasy’ – The Spectator
‘Sonorous, vivid and utterly enthralling’ – The Times Literary Supplement
‘A new expression of the British genius for true fantasy’ – Alan Garner
‘An absorbingly clever novel … hard-edged fantasy’ – Brian Aldiss
‘No other author has so successfully captured the magic of the wildwood’ – Michael Moorcock
‘For me, this is the outstanding fantasy book of the 1980s, something to read several times and to rediscover the same delight with every new reading’ – Michael Moorcock
‘Holdstock is the only author of the last fifty years who can stand with Alan Garner … to give us something powerful that tells us new-old things about our past and ourselves. The language is powerful and honest … Holdstock picks his words with care – repressed, accurate, observant, pained, and uses them to create a place and people we will never forget.
‘Mythago Wood, a classic of the literature of fantasy, is the cleanest and first expression of Rob’s genius, and the perfect way to discover Ryhope Wood, a place which is, like so many other people and things, bigger and stranger and much more alive and dangerous the further in you go’ – Neil Gaiman (from the Introduction to the 30th Anniversary edition of Mythago Wood)
‘Holdstock has a beautifully subtle imagination that conjures up worlds and events with enviable ease … a writer of both heart and fire’ – Peter F. Hamilton
‘Britain’s best fantasist … these are the visions of a real artist’ – The Times
‘He is a compelling myth-maker, creating new legends, heroes and villains, new wonders to wake our dormant sense of wonder. The Broken Kings is simply magical’ – The Times
‘What lifts Holdstock’s trilogy far above most other fantasy creations is his skill at recreating myth and investing its stock figures with startling reality, emotion and motivation. The Merlin Codex will add to his already considerable reputation as a master fantasist’ – Guardian
‘Masterful. Holdstock brilliantly evokes the vertiginous spirals of history’ – Washington Post Book World
‘The finest writer of metamorphic fantasy now working’ – Washington Post Book World
‘Intoxicating’ – Washington Post
‘Beautifully written and conceived … hard to shake off’ – New York Times
‘Robert Holdstock is a powerful mythmaker … [his] prose has a hauntingly powerful energy that leaves you feeling as though you’re breathing in myth as if it were a physical substance’ – The Times
‘One of the voices at the very heart of modern fantasy’ – Guy Gavriel Kay
‘An inspired and original author’ – Michael Moorcock
‘Robert Holdstock is a wonderful writer’ – David Gemmell