Before I get into the actual review – or before I even write-up the synopsis, I want to make it clear that this is a very hard one for me to review – as this novel truly is a classic in its own right – written in 1894 by William Morris, an author who inspired the likes of some truly amazing and influential artists such as Tolkien and Lord Dunsany. So with that in mind, chances are there won’t be a lot of criticism coming from me– not simply because it is indeed a timeless classic and I almost feel wrong doing so– but because it was quite an enjoyable piece, one where I could find very little to complain about! So, with that out-of-the-way..
“The Wood Beyond the World” by William Morris begins with our hero, Golden Walter – a young man who happens to be in a very unhappy relationship. A man whom, upon coming to the conclusion that his new bride essentially hates him, decides to flee his home and set sail upon one of his father’s ships. This then sets the story in motion – a story that truly begins when Walter lay eyes upon a rather strange and mysterious trio – a trio consisting of a queen, an evil dwarf, and a beautiful maiden. Upon seeing this strange trio, and being completely drawn to them, Walter decides to take a chance – a chance that involves veering off course to find and approach this trio. This is when the adventure truly begins – and when Walter soon finds himself drawn into the strange lands of the Wood Beyond the World – a world different from our own – a world of lies, a world of magic, of love, and of danger.
Upon deciding to pick up this book, I’ll admit I was firstly drawn to the cover – which gave off a very magical and medieval feel; a feel that had me dishing out cash in no time. Though of course, that wasn’t my only motivation for starting this – as I had indeed heard of the author previously from not only websites like librarything, which insist that this his novels are compatible with my taste – but also because of a friend, who has constantly praised the work of Morris. That, and there is also the fact that William Morris is, from what I gather, a very influential author when it comes to the fantasy genre. Putting all that together – I knew The World Beyond the Wood was a book I really needed to get my paws on – and now that I did, I can say that I am very pleased!
To begin, The Wood Beyond the world isn’t your typical sword and sorcery, slash em’ up type of fantasy — not at all. If anything, I’d say this novel is more of a medieval romance – one singed with fantasy elements..such as subtle magic, a queen of a strange world, an ugly dwarf, and of course..a lovely maiden slave whom’ longs to leave the Wood Beyond the World! A maiden whose fate soon intertwines with Walter – as they both fall deeply and madly in love. It truly is the typical fairy tale romance – a damsel in distress – a man who happens to come by to save her — who falls in love with her, as does she. Though I will say, that the uniqueness of the story itself sets it apart from the others – that, and the beautiful language.
Written in a very archaic, Middle-English tone, I was a bit nervous when getting into “The Wood Beyond the World” – and a bit weary that I would spend more time deciphering the language than actually enjoying the story (lots of thees..and thous, and betwixt, etc). Luckily, I soon discovered that the language didn’t hinder my enjoyment at all, but actually enhanced it. After just a few chapters I was completely in love with the beautiful language, and felt as though I were reading something truly magical – something written in a time and place very different from my own – drawn out from a magical world and into my own home. Perhaps that’s a bit dramatic, but in truth, this was such a lovely piece, and the beautiful prose on these pages kept me completely immersed within it’s dream-like quality.
Just as the language kept me engaged, I can also say the same for the characters, especially Walter and the maiden. Firstly, I found Walter to be a very sympathetic and pure character. He was truly good at heart, and while he was deceived and betrayed by his wife – he was still a kind person with a great outlook. A bit naive perhaps, but he was a refreshing character, and his kind actions and personality had me feeling for him, and hoping for the best. The Maiden, as well, was another sympathetic character – one that I also came to care for. I found the dialog between the two at times to be very beautiful, and there was one part near the end that I had to re-read about four times, simply because it made me feel all mushy inside (haha!). I also enjoyed the other characters, including the mistress (the queen), who was actually (and surprisingly) complex as a character, and not your typical “villain”, as well as the dwarf, though I wish he had more involvement in the novel.
Finally, I also must note the artwork, which is truly beautiful and makes this novel even more unique than it already is. I chose to purchase the edition that is based on the original, 1894 Kelmscott press release, and I strongly recommend (can’t stress that enough) that if interested in the book, you do the same. As you can see by the pictures below, even the pages themselves are brought to life by the unique typeface and medieval artwork that decorates each page. This is a one of a kind book, and this edition adds a certain kind of magical charm that isn’t seen in a lot of novels – especially fantasy. So yes, if you get The Wood Beyond the World, get this addition, you won’t be disappointed.
So, with that said, The World Beyond the World is an epic tale of romance, adventure, and love – all set in a very dream-like medieval world – a world that sucked me in and had me absolutely glued to each page. From the ethereal prose, to the beautifully crafted artwork, to the sympathetic and likeable characters, I can easily say that this is one novel that will truly stay with me. If you’re a fairly tale lover like myself – and enjoy exploring the world of fantasy before it was even really a genre, then chances are this will probably interest you. Fans of Dunsany will probably also enjoy this – and now that I think of it, The World Beyond the Wood in some ways resembles “The King of Elfland’s Daughter.” Though of course, it should be the other way around, as this was released quite a long time before! All in all, this was a great experience, and I look forward to reading other works written by the great William Morris.