I intended to publish “Whose woods are these?: How perspective shapes storytelling” today. It’s something I’ve been working on for more than a month. I shouldn’t say that publicly because it might lead you, dear reader, to assume it will be very good. It would have to be if I spent so much time on it, wouldn’t it? But I can’t promise anything because it is currently a thicket of mixed metaphors and random associations, and I am currently swamped in client work and EPIC Carteret podcast machinations.
But it all started with a passage from The Outlaws of Medieval Legend, a 1975 edition by Maurice Keen.
“For Arthur and his knights the Greenwood was a dangerous no-man’s land: for Robin Hood it was sanctuary. The reason for this is that, although their stories belong to the same age, knights of the Round Table and forest outlaws were men of a very different stamp. For Arthur and his knights the forest marked the boundary of an unknown world where the laws did not run and were wicked men and strange spirits found a refuge. But Robin Hood was an outlaw, a man whom society had placed outside the law’s protection: for him it was an asylum from the tyranny of evil lords and corrupt law. For he and Arthur belonged to opposite poles of society: the one was a king, the beau-ideal of a chivalrous aristocracy; the other was a yeoman, the champion of the poor against an aristocracy which failed to conform to its ideal.”
I’ve been thinking about this passage for nearly a year. I’m fascinated by the way that things in the real world – like forests – can become symbols, and how those symbols can be interpreted differently by different people depending on their relationship to the thing (and to each other). Now, any reference to forests or woods will cause me to pause and think: whose woods are these?
I taught The Scarlet Letter for several years in my school marm days. The good wives trembled in their beds at night imagining the devil and his brides dancing in the woods. Hester was no witch, but she was an outlaw, and the forest was hers because she’d rather risk a bear in the forest than a bore in the town meeting hall.
The forest belongs to the old witch in the candy hut, not to plump, juicy children and their god-fearing parents.
It belongs to Merry Men, not noblemen – except in the case of young Baron Cosimo in Italo Calvino’s 1957 novel The Baron in the Trees. But the moment he clambers up into the canopy and vows to never set foot on land again, he rejects human authority and subjects himself to the trees. The forest becomes his, and he becomes the forest’s.
Recently, I’ve been reading Six Walks in the Fictional Woods by Calvino’s friend Umberto Eco. Eco compares narratives to a forest that readers are trying to navigate. And I can’t help think: whose woods are these? The author, planting them like a literary Johnny Appleseed, or the reader, abandoning the rules of normal reality to escape into the dense shade of story.
Anyway, what I have is a tangle of ideas and no clear path, so that particular post will have to wait. Instead, consider hopping over to Carteret Writers where my writer-friend Jen Heironimus published an interview with little, ol me. It includes a cocktail recipe because I’ve been inventing cocktails to avoid working on Queen Hag the last few weeks.
I welcome your thoughts on forests and perspective and on which forests are your favorite. Mine is the maritime forest. My friend Natalie prefers pine barrens. These are things we have strong opinions on. Do you?