The new series of Hyddenworld wich William Horwood started publishing last year, will consist of four parts. Originally each part would carry the names of the seasons as their subsequent titles. The first part was thus titled Spring, but the second instalment already steps away from this idea. Instead of Summer it is titled Awakening. Part three will not be called Autumn but Harvest. What's in a title? It is all about the content of the books, and that is - like nearly everything the pen of Horwood brings forth - wonderful!
For fifteen years he hasn't been seen on the path of fantasy, but he is back again to where he once started. Back in 1981 his first novel Duncton Wood – one of the very few of his books that made it into a Dutch translation - turned me into an avid reader for life. Occasionally when I am in a nostalgic mood, I tend to awaken this battered and bruised book from its slumber. Leafing through its contents always brings me back to my adolescent days at my parents' house, where I stayed up nights to read this amazing story. For the first time in my young life the doors opened wide into that vast world of unprecedented wealth, guided by nothing more than letters and words. The magic of the novel was revealed to me by William Horwood, so to speak.
After his world wide acclaimed debut, he published, amongst other books, The Stonor Eagles and Skallagrigg. The Stonor Eagles is a realistic novel with a major fantasy-element and Skallagrigg, a fully realistic novel, will no doubt remain my favourite book ever in the Horwood-catalogue. These books made such a deep impression upon me, that I boldly wrote the author a letter. This led, to my surprise and happiness, to a short but interesting correspondence with Horwood.
Now, thirty years later, I find myself back on the couch ardently reading deep into the night in his Hyddenworld-saga. It holds me hostage in the same way as Duncton Wood did back then and forces me into an almost equal admiration. The same themes that were important in his six Duncton books, reappear in Hyddenworld. Freedom of thinking and acting in contrast to oppression by dictators.
In an essay on the work of William Horwood that I published ages ago I summed the writer's main theme up like this: the value of our life lies in the acceptance of ourselves, with all the good and all the bad that makes up who we are.
The world that Horwood has created in Hyddenworld is filled with mystery, destiny and the search for meaning. Invisible borders near of in the middle of henges, make it possible to cross over from the world of humans to the world of hydden, or the other way around. Habits and sizes are different in both worlds, but their inhabitants still seem to be coming from the same origin. Hydden know about humans and can see them, but humans seem to have forgotten about the hydden and have lost the ability to see them.
What I enjoyed in particular is the sense of purpose that the characters in this book have. Like Bedwyn Stort, a hydden who knows exactly when to be present in a certain place at a certain time. Not by intellect but sensing that he is needed for who knows what. As Bedwyn Stort says somewhere in the book: "(...) You don’t have to understand to do it. Understanding doesn’t help at all. It merely gets in the way." It looks like most of the hydden and some of the humans are fulfilling their destiny like it’s the most common thing to do.
The story is filled with characters that have a very special destiny. It is this expectant atmosphere that makes his work recognizable. In all his molebooks this is present also. Katherine, born a human, and Jack, born a hydden, are writing the history of which humans and hydden in many generations to come will tell stories about.
After the adventures of Jack and Katherine in part one, Awakening starts off with the birth of Judith, their daughter. She is predestined to be ‘the Shield Maiden’, the one who will guide all of the characters in their search and retrieval of the four gems of the seasons. These gems possess supernatural powers and are mysteriously bound with the seasons after which they are named. Through the ages they have been lost, which has let unbalance and chaos move freely in the world. The world is in danger if these gems are not found and brought together in the pendant Judith carries. From the first day of her life, it is obvious that Judith is ‘different’. In what way different, is for the reader to find out.
Bedwyn Stort travels with some of his companions and honourable hydden, between Brum – the hidden dwellings below Birmingham, where freedom is regarded a precious value – and Bochum in Germany, where the Empire rules and hydden are ruled with firm hand by the Fyrd. The gem of Spring has been stolen from Brum and Bedwyn and his gang go on this quest to take it back. The two parties, the free hydden and those who are subjected to the Emperor and the will of the Fyrd, in the end turn out to be less each other’s enemy as everyone had thought.
I won’t go into the story any further, because it is too complex and too surreal to do it justice in one ‘leeservaring’. Take it from me that William Horwood has regained his old self again and is enriching the world with his language, his emotion, his craftsmanship and, above all, his wisdom.