|This thousand-year-old oak resides in the forest|
that inspired the South Woods.
I could devote this blog to yet another analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the film, but there's plenty of that going on elsewhere in the internet. So for the moment I'd rather talk about wilderness, how by the end of the film Hunger Games, I was contemplating, once again, the importance of setting in science fiction and fantasy.
The presence of wilderness, and particularly forested wilderness, is often considered a standard trope for classic epic fantasy. Anything written in the tradition of Tolkien is expected to have at least one uncharted forest, beautiful and deadly, filled with magical creatures and dangerous mysteries.
I’ve often thought of modern fantasy, and especially science fiction, as eschewing this trope and being bound more to the urban landscape of a contemporary-style world. Yet last night The Hunger Games challenged this impression. After all, the most intense part of Kat’s journey is undertaken in the deep forest. And when you think about it, hers is not the only example of forest in modern fantasy and science fiction.
|Where would fantasy be without the Ents?|
In the Twilight series, the vampire Edward reveals his sparkly nature to Bella in a shaft of light breaking through ancient trees. J.K. Rowling built Harry Potter’s beloved academy of magick not in downtown London, but in a scarcely populated rural area, with a healthy forest in the backyard. In addition, the forest provides Harry refuge in the days before his final confrontation with Voldemort. And of course, one must only mention the word Avatar to inspire images of Home Tree, along with the vast and exhuberant ecosystem in which it lives.
If these titans of modern fantasy are any indication, the landscapes of our imagination have not been as deforested as I once thought. The deep woods are still a place of exploration, mystery, adventure and danger. Whether or not we ourselves have been to a forest, we like to see our characters go into that living maze, and we like to see them come out awed by beauty, harried by experience and transformed by truth.
During my week at Andrews Experimental Forest last summer, I had the opportunity to contemplate the meaning of forest from both a biological and literary standpoint. I came to the conclusion – admittedly based more on personal experience than statistical data – that the encounter with wilderness can have a unique and important impact on the imagination. Old growth forest, in particular, stretches our understanding of reality, inspires images of the fantastic, and challenges us to relate to the world and to each other in ways that are both novel and unexpected.
|Andrews Experimental Forest: home to one|
of the last remnants of Old Growth in Oregon.
As a fantasy author, I’ve discovered I have a special gift. When I write stories, I can bring the experience of being in the forest to life for my reader.
But no matter how immersed readers feel in Eolyn's forested world, it is impossible for me to capture the full essence of Forest with words.
More importantly, whatever small piece of wilderness I’ve been able to bring to my readers has depended entirely on the fact that there are still old growth forests out there that have welcomed me into their verdant depths, then sent me back to my computer with new ideas and fresh plots.
So as Earth Day approaches, I am going to ask something of you, fantasy readers and fans. I ask you to remember Old Growth Forest. This is not just a place in the pages of our books – not yet, anyway. Forest is a living entity in our world, an active partaker in the art of storytelling. And it is under threat, in the tropics, in the temperate latitudes, in the great expanses of the boreal north.
Educate yourselves about the reasons we are losing old growth forest. Learn what you can do to help, and do it. Our stories are not born out of thin air; they are part and parcel of the organic world in which we live. So if you like your fantasy worlds to have ancient forests, make sure the real world you live in has them as well.
- posted by Karin Rita Gastreich
|The forests of Middle Earth were inspired by old growth European|
deciduous forests of which only small pieces
remain, like this one in Montenegro.