Wild Imaginings

How the forests grew darker

See the eyes lurking as poor Mole is lost in the woods. This illustration by Richard Johnson for the classic tale of Wind in the Willows shows the dark side of the wood. For centuries early man had lived a tough but harmonious existence alongside or within the Wild Wood, but by 5000 BC, ideas of a different way of living had spread from Syria to northern Europe.  This revolutionary concept enabled man to settle: no longer pressured to continuously move for food or shelter, no longer would they have to succumb to the will of nature, man could now control it. 

And so, over time, the trees were felled and the land was levelled, bringing in the age of farming; arguably the most important cultural catalyst which would sow the seed of the modern world.  Man had torn himself from the bosom of nature: although he was now the master of his own destiny, he was now alone and the forests grew darker.   

But the call of the wild was never totally extinguished: a dim flame still fluttered deep within the subconscious, stirring primal memories and surfacing in our dreams, our darkest fears, and our imaginings.   

“There seemed to be no end to this wood, and no beginning, and no difference in it, and, worse of all, no way out”

Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

In the Wind in the Willows the Wild Wood is portrayed as a dangerous place, home to the cunning and unruly animals, and although Mole was destined to lose himself within the "terror of the Wild Wood", he eventually found safety with a fellow ground dweller and friend, Mr Badger.  Unfortunately in other popular woodland tales, the hero must suffer further hardships before there is any sign of a 'happy ending'.

"Hansel reached up above, and broke off a little of the rooftop try how it tasted, and Gretel leant against the window and nibbled at the panes.  Then a soft voice cried from the parlour - nibble, nibble, gnaw, who is nibbling at my little house?"

The Brothers Grimm, Hansel & Gretel

So who's house was innocently being eaten?  Only a cannibalistic witch!, (they really don't make children's stories like they used to).  The authors, the Brothers Grimm, consistently used the Wild Wood as a chilling setting; where cross-dressing wolves predated on certain little red shawl wearing girls, and witches tempted beautiful princess' with poisoned apples.

As with a lot of our dearest literature, many stories weave in actual tales of myth and legend.  None more so than in 'A Gest of Robyn Hode (c.1500), which is a collaboration of ballads from one of our greatest arrow-slinging legends.  But for Robin Hood and his Merry Men, the forest was far from a place of separation and torment, for them it was their sanctuary, their refuge, and their home.

So far in this Wild Wood series we have looked at the wood as Nature's City and how man's early relationship with the forest has been expressed through folklore, mythology, and literature.  In the next and final instalment we will delve into woodland mysteries, and other unexplained forest phenomenons.                 

Explore the DM Woodland Collection with greeting cards, art prints, coasters and placemats.

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