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  • Photo du rédacteurChristian Lehmann

In memoriam Robert Holdstock (1948-2009)

Ca, c’est la notice wikipedia.

Robert Holdstock, né le 2 août 1948 à Hythe dans le Kent au Royaume-Uni et mort le 29 novembre 2009, est un auteur britannique connu pour ses œuvres de fantasy mythique. Après avoir étudié la zoologie médicale, il se met à l'écriture en 1975. On lui doit une vingtaine de romans, dont en particulier la série de romans de La Forêt des Mythagos (La Forêt des Mythagos, Lavondyss, Le Passe-Broussaille, La Porte d'Ivoire). La trilogie Le Cycle de Raven été traduite en français, chez les Éditions du Seuil.

Parmi les prix littéraires qu'il a remporté, on compte le Prix World Fantasy du meilleur roman 1985 et le Prix British Science-Fiction 1984 pour La forêt des Mythagos, et le Prix British Science-Fiction du meilleur roman 1988 pour Lavondyss.

Ca, c’est un compte-rendu du premier tome de son chef d’œuvre, la création de MYTHAGO WOOD, qui amène les critiques anglo-saxons à le comparer, avec raison, à J.R.R. Tolkien et à Ursula K. Le Guin.

Le bois de Ryhope, dans un coin perdu de Herefordshire, c'est ce qu'il reste d'une ancienne forêt oubliée qui remonte à la dernière glaciation. Le sous-bois est tellement dense qu'il paraît impossible d'y pénétrer. La famille Huxley vit à proximité de ce bois et l'explorer est devenu pour George Huxley une obsession qui le conduit à négliger sa femme (laquelle se suicide) et ses enfants. Après sa mort, en 1946, ses deux fils Christian et Steven se retrouvent à Ryhope ou l'étrange vérité sur la forêt leur est peu à peu révélée : dans ce coin de l'ancienne Angleterre, il semble que l'inconscient collectif humain soit capable de donner vie aux peuplades des mythes et des légendes. Lorsque finalement les deux frères pénètrent au coeur du bois de Ryhope, ils découvrent un monde dangereux, infiniment plus étrange que ce qu'ils avaient pu imaginer. Et ils deviennent rivaux dans leur amour pour la belle et mystérieuse Guiwenneth. La forêt des Mythimages est un conte fantastique extrêmement original. La nouvelle qui l'a inspiré a valu à son auteur le "British Science Fiction Association Award" et s'est trouvée en bonne place pour le "World Fantasy Award". C'est le meilleur roman de Robert Holdstock. La beauté de son style, inspiré des épopées celtiques, et la finesse de sa construction le placent d'emblée parmi les romans de science-fiction les plus talentueux et les plus imaginatifs.

Hier, 17 Décembre 2009, mon ami Robert Holdstock a eu droit, dans la banlieue de Londres, à un service funéraire païen. Il y eut des larmes, et des rires. Se retrouvèrent autour de son cercueil en saule des quinqua et des sexagénaires qui, il y a plus de trente ans, me prirent sous leur aile et m’acceptèrent dans leur cercle d’amis. Parmi lesquels Garry Kilworth, David Langford, Christopher Priest... C’est en visionnant hier soir « THE BOAT THAT ROCKED », en français « GOOD MORNING ENGLAND » que j’ai fait le lien.

Ceci, donc, est l’éloge funèbre de mon ami.

Hanging in mid-air

( eulogy for Robert Holdstock)

It’s 1977, and my cousin Michael Scott Rohan is getting married in Oxford.

It’s 1977, ages ago it seems now, and for the first time in my life, at 19 years of age, I am surrounded by writers, actual writers who write books and even manage to get them published.

It’s 1977 and walking back from the meeting hall to the party, I fall in step with this guy, with the wide grin, the surprisingly soft voice and the infectious laugh that sounds as if he was stifling a snort.

The guy is Rob Holdstock, and minutes from our first meeting he saves me from being set upon by two drunken thugs on a rampage. Because not only is this guy tall, dark and handsome, he’s also huge, and extremely friendly.

I read his books, send him fan-letters, and over the years we meet at conventions, an endless round of conventions it seems to me now, looking back, Easter-cons, Novacons, Worldcons… It’s always the same: the long agonizing trip from Paris to London through Newhaven-Dieppe, the intoxicating days of friendship, SF talk and booze, and the ghastly trip back in the wake of a post-convention depression.

Rob saved me, as did Garry Kilworth and a few others, from the drudgery of being an extremely lonely medical student and virgin trying to survive in a country where, at the time, SF and fantasy were considered as good for retards and Trekkies.

I remember informal writer’s workshops at the Langford’s place in 1978, where I sat awed listening to my friends reading their works in progress.

I remember Rob’s short story: it’s set in a forest ( yes, I know…), and I still have this image of the warrior throwing a spear ( yes, I told you... I know). I’m not sure what else happens, I’m not sure anything else happens, just this warrior throwing this spear and… I was transfixed. Rob had taken sword and sorcery fantasy and rewritten it as if he was an existentialist New-Wave French author rediscovering the genre. As far as I am concerned, that spear is still being thrown. In that forest, it’s still hanging in mid-air.

Rob saved me because he was serious about his writing but did not treat himself seriously. He showed me, as did my other friends here, that writing could be attempted, that it was worth a try. He also taught me in the ways of manhood, helping me to empty a whole keg of Watney’s Red Barrel down somebody’s neighbour’s fence and sticking to Ruddles Real Ale, the connoisseur’s brand. These were the days of high adventure, when we would take dares and write illegible scribblings on Roy Kettle’s forehead or Greg Pickersgill’s midriff as they lay snoring in the middle of the party. Where Birmingham would suddenly flare into light around midnight because someone had fired mortars from the roof of our convention hotel.

And back here, in France, I saw Rob’s books starting to appear, taking more and more shelf-space. We had talked about that once, how, when he goes, an author leaves behind him or her a certain amount of shelf-space, and that, I guess, is in itself a way of life and a eulogy: you hang in there, you write the books, inch by inch you fill that shelf-space. And then sometimes, if you’re blessed, if like Rob you are in touch with everything that’s churning inside and which he said was like a sieve, an idea will come, something will impose itself on you and you will be blessed with the makings of a masterpiece. I am speaking of the Mythago cycle and what came later. Books that I saw in every bookshop in France, books that earned Rob the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire ( don’t you love the way this sounds?). Books that are still on the shelves of bookshops here today, 25 years later, when sell-by-date best-sellers have come and gone.

“This is my friend, see, this is my friend’s book”. I was a published author myself by then, a mainstream author if things must be named, and in salons and literary fairs I’d point out Rob’s books to colleagues, because I was proud to see them translated in my own language, and because along with a very few others they managed to reverse the tide and give fantasy in France a good name.

In 1989, Rob published “When the music stopped” in OTHER EDENS III, a short story Garry Kilworth and I had written together. It’s about this guy who has an impediment, a psychological disability. When people die, they disappear. Photographs get less and less crowded as people die. Portraits just show backgrounds, curtains, empty spaces. Books turn blank when writers die. Records lose the sound of piano, clarinet, bass, as individual musicians die.

It’s the only collaboration I have ever attempted, written because the idea struck us both, Garry and I, at the same time, one evening, listening to an old Louis Armstrong recording. Rob loved that story.

Well, it was just a story, and nothing like real life.

Because in real life, now, Rob… you’re not disappearing from our photographs, you’re not disappearing from our shelves, you’re not disappearing from our hearts, anytime soon.

As far as I am concerned, that spear is still being thrown. In that forest, it’s still hanging in mid-air.



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