The Darktree Wheel – Rhys Hughes

Published in LEVIATHAN Vol. 2
Edited by Jeff VanderMeer and Rose Secrest
Ministry of Whimsy Press 1998

In pursuit of reviewing the published works of this author.
My previous reviews of Rhys Hughes:

My previous reviews of general older or classic books:

When I read this work, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

16 thoughts on “The Darktree Wheel – Rhys Hughes


    “…he carries two flintlock pistols, a blunderbuss, a rapier and a bag of ginger biscuits.”

    Where have I heard those ginger biscuits mentioned before? Still the highwayman, Darktree, is thinking of when he grows old, like his author does today, getting even older, and that he may be settling down, as he does with someone called Lucy, a woman who lives in Epsom. Or am I getting confused? Best to refer to the review I did of this same story a little while ago when I was less senile, myself. Here:

  2. The name of the character Lucy is pure coincidence. I wrote this story in 1994 but didn’t meet Lucy until 2017 🙂 I have to say that this story is me trying *absolutely* to be like Donald Barthelme. In fact Barthelme’s story ‘Captain Blood’ was such a direct influence I can almost say that I yearned to rip it off. Barthelme’s story is about a pirate; therefore I made my story about a highwayman. I was utterly under Barthelme’s spell back then (and in many ways still am) 🙂 As for the highwayman scene in BARRY LYNDON, that is one of the best highwaymen scenes in cinematic history and the film is beyond superb 🙂

  3. Oh, that’s strange. I don’t ever remember signing copies of this book. But that certainly is my old style signature!


    “On his rapier he impales apples, red ones for himself, green ones for Hannah.”

    Hannah is his mount. An elderly roan with the bumbreezes, it says somewhere. And she often shapes up to kiss him and she effectively rescues him at the end of this story (sorry about the spoiler, unless I am lying!) You know, this is somehow perfect Rhys Hughes whatever the Barth or Barthelme. This work miraculously flows like honey, embalming or lubricating the otherwise endemically natural dryness of words, ANY words. I don’t know what extra inscrutable ingredient is in these pages to bring it even above optimum, but I certainly hope the author can continue to regather this ingredient, in his older age. Darktree, too, here, in 1998, seems to seek different climes away from his native country, to “where women have dark hair […] anywhere south of the equator.” Even if he is suspected of being the captain’s catamite in the ship he takes. Some truly unmatchable classic Rhys Hughes material here. Submersibles, Captain Nothing, mention of Whitby. “I am an empty biscuit tin, he tells himself, a lonely soul, crash of anger shaking crumbs of feeling inside.” And an ingenious glitch where his own notebook is the mote in the eye of Utopia. The rogue element that sets the dominos of perfection falling.

  5. 20D99771-0225-4B25-B2DC-77FACC2F1FB5

    A bear walking the lower prom today.


    “When Robin Darktree is washed upon the Essex coast, he drowns the rocks in tropical tears. He has been carrying African salt in his eyes for two months, waiting for an occasion to spill it. […] Darktree knows that bears live on the coast; […] He enters Clacton-on-Sea in style, seated atop his makeshift cart. […] He rents a room in a cheap hotel, sharing a single with Hannah. He registers her as his wife; the receptionist is blasé. Genuine wives in Essex are rare.”

    The first half of Gatling Gums, is unquestionable genius – but see the last quote from Gatling Gums below! It is doubtless a long lost classic now rediscovered. I hooted and fluted throughout. The bear, included.
    Darktree, then, via St Osyth Priory, goes to Epsom to tempt Lucy with his treasure, Lucy whose marriage had caused Darktree to go to Africa in the first place, it now transpires. 539C6F08-894B-4A82-8F4A-2ACA2EAE8BFFThen onto Hungary, where I sort of lost my way plotwise. Except the bear and other Clactonites did manage to track him down. Some great conceits, such as “Hannah punctuates his tirade with smelly colons.” And the overcrowding where there is only one tree and crucifixion upon it is the sole means of punishment. It is very flat around Clacton, maybe that makes people who live here believe the world is flat, like Darktree. Also some great names like Porlock Sniggervalue and Xelucha Dowson Laocoön, except it should be Xélucha, I think. And a one-legged man who tries to seduce a cello, a male cello at that, heaven forfend! This review written by a bear with a “senile weapon”.

    “He is sane, but his talents are mad.”

  6. Thinking about all this, memories are stirring and you are absolutely right that Barth was an influence as well as Barthelme In fact I was still hugely under the spell of The Sot Weed Factor when I conceived Darktree, so he was partly born of my love for Barth as well as my love tor Barthelme. Also it occurs to me that I ripped off the name “Darktree” from the Roger novel lsle of the Dead which I remember reading in Turkey in 1993, the year before I wrote the first Darktree story.

  7. As well as having an ambition to read, and hopefully real-time review, all the published works of Rhys Hughes, I recently bought this book because the author has announced in the last few weeks that the following Part IV of The Darktree Wheel – a discrete, if not discreet, novelette in its own right – has been chosen to be showcased in the forthcoming ‘The Big Book of Modern Fantasy’ as edited by the VanderMeers…


    “Once a highwayman, then a pirate, and then a bandit, he wants to try his gloved hand at footpad.”

    …and it is indeed a ground-breakingly fine example of relatively recent fantasy fiction (here from its publication in 1998), but I will not spoil its forthcoming deserved wider coverage of readership with a detailed résumé, other than to say…
    maxresdefaultchaud-medley n.
    1. an affray in the heat of passion
    2. the wounding or killing of a person in a chaud-medley without premeditation

    (Figuratively, a bit like the astonishing Gavin Williamson éclat that happened in British politics yesterday?)

    …which perhaps has nothing to do with this work’s ingenious genius-loci of Chaud-Mellé, the walled land that Darktree and the Warrior-Chefs of Otranto penetrate for its culinary festival et al. This is a word-magical rumbustion, a pell-mell, an affray of words…

    “It could be an innocent alpine landscape but Darktree is not fooled. He knows it is the Earth’s rim because, like a tablecloth’s limits, the ends are frayed.”

    And ginger biscuits are part of this novelette’s finale…
    Meanwhile, is Chaud-Mellé a “monstrous umbrella” or a giant gothic helmet? An apocryphal question on my part. Because it is far more than any single reader can imagine. All its new readers need to come together in real-time to triangulate its coordinates of Gestalt. This review is just the beginning of that process. I will have more to say about it later, as part of that triangulation, of its conceits and fictionatronics.

    Loved the whole thing. Been reading it since I got up this morning. A singular mental mêlée.


    “The renovation of his vigor has altered Darktree. He is willing to gamble with his habits. ‘Perhaps I have been cruel for too long and must find an honest job? That’s the way I shall impress my sweetheart. She is a lady and tolerates only clean socks.’”

    …to gamble with his retrocausal habits, as I have just done, by getting a time machine back from tomorrow to read and review this last story TODAY. I feel I am Darktree. Except I have noticed in the mirror that my facial scar has switched sides! I am inside myself! “The liars behind Swansea knit cockles and coal into hats. Those above Porthcawl wear whole sheep instead of coats. […] Besides the world is flat, New Zealand a tale invented to glamorize lambs.” I am not Darktree, though, because he is inside himself just as Lucy is now inside one of the other women pursuing him (“locked within Clarice is a potential Lucy Reeves, a superior Lucy…”) This is a work by someone looking back at his life while he still inside that younger life striving to become who he now already is – or striving against becoming who he now already is. The work is utterly unique but I suspect that the author is not even aware of that fact or even remembers anything about it, as he is now back there then and not here now, or vice versa? Read this and see what I mean. “…truth is a gradation.” Empirical inductive reasoning as a balance of probabilities. And so many utterly mind-fazing conceits in words that sometimes wriggle their way inward like the worms already within you. Sometimes wriggling in an outer, ungraspable, yieldingtree mêlée, beyond you. A weirdmonger wheel, an ouroboros of life.

    “When your readers have gone to bed, creep from the story and steal their valuables. It’s the perfect burglary. Just make sure you act before they reach this paragraph…”


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