Gene (Rodman) Wolfe Algis Budrys - Essay

Algis Budrys

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Gene Wolfe's The Devil in a Forest] may or may not be a fantasy; there is a passing reference to something that may have been a supernatural incident in objective fact, rather than simply something that haunted the troubled sleep of Mark, the weaver's apprentice….

In any event, this tale of a catastrophic few days in a Medieval English hamlet is told so beautifully, and gathers power at such a nicely controlled pace, that there is no getting out of it once you get into it.

Wolfe is just amazing with milieu…. [He makes] real people out of personalities formed in no world of ours, clothing and housing them, causing them to move and speak with absolute fidelity to verisimilitude. In addition, every board has its creak, every footpath its heelmarks, every tree its leaves. The guy is just an unbelievably effective writer, and a hell of a researcher to boot. (pp. 28-9)

In addition to all that, Wolfe holds your interest throughout, using the viewpoint of young, unsophisticated Mark to tell you what appears to be a simple tale of a time when outlawry and ordinary life were not at all distinct from each other. Only toward the end does it develop that what he has been telling you all along was an inexorable buildup to events of such power, based on such profound superstition, and just possibly on one of the most central of all supernatural events, that you do, indeed, achieve that rare moment when mere words on paper can make your scalp prickle. (p. 29)

Algis Budrys, "Books: 'The Devil in a Forest'," in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (© 1978 by Mercury Press, Inc.; reprinted from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction), Vol. 54, No. 5, May, 1978, pp. 28-9.