Forests cover almost 1/3 of the Earth’s land surface. Just one-third of those are primeval forests, the essential, special woods populated with old-growth trees that have never been logged. They have canopies layered with trees of different heights and widths, and there’s a wide variety of species. They’re basically tree utopia.
And for longer than memory, those deep, dark forests have been a symbolic, powerful setting for stories. The wildwoods of fairy tales are where we meet Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and Rumpelstiltskin. The Hundred Acre Wood is where we find Winnie the Pooh and his darling friends. J.R.R. Tolkein introduced generations of readers to the Ents in the woods of Middle Earth, and Sherwood Forest gave Robin Hood a hiding place for his merry men.
The duality of the forest, the contrast between its beauty and its danger, resonates with us. The soaring treetops and dappled sun of a daytime forest form a natural cathedral where we commune with Mother Nature. But when the sun is low in the sky, the shadows take over, and the trees become a place of the unknown where almost anything can happen. When the words Once upon a time… are spoken, all bets are off.
In this episode, we explore the meaning of the forest in literature, learn about trees in space, and recommend five books that transported us into the woods, including two fairy tales for adults, a nonfiction book that changes everything we think we know about trees, a white-knuckle thriller, and an ecological novel woven into a family saga.
For a complete roundup of all the books we recommend, plus a full transcript and the other cool stuff we talked about, visit the Episode 31 show notes.
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