Book Review: The Wood Beyond the World

30 Apr

Genre: fantasy; classic fiction

The Wood Beyond the World, by William Morris

Plot Summary: Description from “Exiled from his house by a faithless wife, Golden Walter sets sail in search of the refuge and unknown adventures of youthful enterprise. When the two houses feud, however, and his father is slain by the kin of the treacherous woman, Walter sets out to return home, only to be blown off course and fall into the hands of a mistress even more insidious. But, in his captivity, he meets a companion truly wise and pure, to whom he looks for his “deliverance from that house of guile and lies.”

My Review (contains spoilers):  Having heard that both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien greatly admired William Morris‘s stories and were influenced by him, I thought I might be interested in picking up this book.  It certainly was not what I was expecting.

Written in beautiful archaic medieval-sounding English, it felt very much the fairy tale. Sometimes it was a little difficult to understand, though I got the gist of things.

I could see some similarities between C. S. Lewis’ “The Silver Chair” and Morris’ “The Wood Beyond the World”. In both stories, the protagonist is taken in by a seductive witch. In “Silver Chair”, once the prince becomes unenchanted and is made aware of the witch’s deceitfulness, he draws his sword and kills her, and afterwards escapes. But in “The Wood…”, Walter knows from the first that the witch is evil, but is instructed by his sweetheart to “play it safe, play along, and bide his time.” I became disappointed in Walter as the story went along because there was never a time he was allowed to BE THE HERO (you know, draw his weapon, kill the bad guy and rescue the maiden… I don’t know– maybe I watch too many cowboy movies!). It was all deceitfulness and “guile”.

Not only was the “hero” dull, he also doesn’t seem very loyal. Still married to an unfaithful woman, he begins his voyage to other lands where he encounters two other women he falls for. One is a beautiful and pure maiden, who becomes his loyal sweetheart; the other is the seductive witch, whom Walter sleeps with to keep up his charade of being her pet. It doesn’t get graphic, but it is made known that Walter and the witch spend the night together.  Therefore, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this to younger readers.

On the other hand, one positive thing about the book is that throughout their travels, Walter and the maiden remain abstinent with each other until their marriage. But still, I have to wonder: what about Walter’s first wife? The story never related that he ever divorced her. Was he a polygamist?

Having the two bad guys kill each other felt like a disappointing ending to the main plot, but the story keeps on with several mini-plots afterward (which made the story feel unbalanced).

And what was the Maiden’s and the witch’s names? These two prominent characters remained nameless throughout the whole book.

Generally, I thought the book kept up good suspense most of the way through. That was what kept me reading– I wanted to find out what happened. I can’t say I enjoyed this book, but it might be of interest to die-hard fans of Lewis and Tolkien, and also to fantasy and classic lit. buffs.

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Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Book Reviews


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