The Self and The Other

OCA study blog | Andrew Fitzgibbon

A5: research | literature and myth

There are numerous tales of mysterious and magical woodlands in literature, which perhaps influence our perceptions of being in the woods. And even shape our beliefs and fears. In English literature these are with us from an early age, including AA Milne’s Whinnie the Pooh and Enid Blyton’s The Magic Far Away Tree. And they follow us through life with Shakespeare and Tolkien. In this post I examine how we might identify with woodlands through the culture of tales.

Weronika Laszkiewicz (2017) examines the significance of trees and forests in fantasy fiction, using examples to show the ‘roles and functions ascribed to fantastic trees and forests’. The tree as a symbol of regeneration or ‘the tree of life’ is used across religions and traditions in various forms. There is the ‘tree of knowledge of good and evil’ represented in the Old Testament. Laszkiewicz talks about the forests as ‘as a place of testing, survival, and sacrifice’; something taken into popular culture with the film versions of Lord of the Rings and even echoed in Harry Potter. Cultural associations regenerate like the trees themselves! She observes that not all tales are concerned with fear and dread, but also ‘where people can live in harmony with nature and the wilderness’, like Robin Hood or the Greek god Pan, later alluded to in JM Barrie’s Peter Pan (https://greekgodsandgoddesses.net/gods/pan/). In her conclusion is the statement:

Trees offer us the shelter of their shade and the comfort of their rustling leaves. Forests are places of reprieve and mystery, which stimulate our imagination with their green shadows. To ignore all of that is to disrupt our connection with the world around us.

Weronika Laszkiewicz

This speaks to the idea of interconnectedness I discussed in my essay in respect of notions of self.

Cultural references to trees, forests and woodlands are ubiquitous, in all forms. Perhaps because they are so significant to our existence and survival and they dominate (or used to) our landscapes. I personally feel a close connection with woodlands as I grew up with them in rural Somerset and have mostly lived in rural areas. It will be interesting to see if any portrait subjects are city-dwellers and how / if they experience a similar connection.

Quick references

Laszkiewicz, W. (2017). INTO THE WILD WOODS: ON THE SIGNIFICANCE OF TREES AND FORESTS IN FANTASY FICTION. Mythlore, 36(1), 39+. Retrieved from http://link.galegroup.com.ucreative.idm.oclc.org/apps/doc/A514884481/ITOF?u=ucca&sid=ITOF&xid=48e740f7

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