Wild Sanctuary and The Handless Maiden
Tunes for a Monday Morning

Tales of the Forest

The Forest Tarn by John Bauer

In Gossip from the Forest: The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairy Tales, Sara Maitland writes:

"Forests to the [early] Northern European peoples were dangerous and  generous, domestic and wild, beautiful and terrible. And the forests were the terrain out of which fairy stories, one of our earliest and most vital cultural forms, evolved. The mysterious secrets and silences, gifts and perils of the forest are both the background to and source of these tales....

"Forests are places where a person can get lost and also hide -- and losing and hiding, of things and people, are central to European fairy stories in ways that are not true of similar stories in different geographies. Landscape informs the collective imagination as much as or more than it forms the individual psyche and its imagination, but this dimension is not something to which we always pay enough attention.

A detail from East of the Sun  West of the Moon by Kay Nielsen

"I believe that the great stretches of forests in northern Europe, with their constant seasonal changes, their restricted views, their astonish biological diversity, their secret gifts and perils and the knowledge that you have to go through them to get anywhere else, created the themes and ethics of the fairy tales we know best. There are secrets, hidden identities, cunning disguises; there are rhythms of change like the changes of the seasons; there are characters, both human and animal, whose assistance can be earned or spurned; and there is -- over and over again -- the journey or quest, which leads first to knowledge and then to happiness. The forest is the place of trial in fairy stories, both dangerous and exciting. Coming to terms with the forest, surviving its terrors, utilising its gifts and gaining its help is the way to 'happy ever after.'

Lost in the Woods by Charles Robinson

"Now fairy stories are at risk too, like the forests. Padraic Colum has suggested that artificial lighting dealt them a mortal wound: when people could read and be productive after dark, something fundamental changed, and there was no longer need or space for the ancient oral tradition. The stories were often confined to books, which makes the text static, and they were handed over to children.

Thumbelina by Adrienne Segur

"The whole tradition of [oral] story telling is endangered by modern technology. Although telling stories is a very fundamental human attribute, to the extent that psychiatry now often treats 'narrative loss' -- the inability to construct a story of one's own life -- as a loss of identity or 'personhood,' it is not natural but an art form -- you have to learn to tell stories. The well-meaning mother is constantly frustrated by the inability of her child to answer questions like 'What did you do today?' (to which the answer is usually a muttered 'nothing' -- but the 'nothing' is cover for 'I don't know how to tell a good story about it, how to impose a story shape on the events'). To tell stories, you have to hear stories and you have to have an audience to hear the stories you tell. Oral story telling is economically unproductive -- there is no marketable product; it is out with the laws of patents and copyright; it cannot easily be commodified; it is a skill without monetary value. And above all, it is an activity requiring leisure -- the oral tradition stands squarely against a modern work ethic....Traditional fairy stories, like all oral traditions, need the sort of time that isn't money.

"The deep connect between the forests and the core stories has been lost; fairy stories and forests have been moved into different catagories and, isolated, both are at risk of disappearing, misunderstood and culturally undervalued, 'useless' in the sense of 'financially unprofitable.' "

The White Stag by Helen Stratton

In "Turning Our Fairy Tales Wild Again," Sylvia Linsteadt asks:

"When we walk, holding stories in us, do they touch the ground through our footprints?What is this power of metaphor, by which we liken a thing we see to a thing we imagine or have seen before -- the granite crag to an old crystalline heart -- changing its form, allowing animation to suffuse the world via inference? Metaphor, perhaps, is the tame, the civilised, version of shamanic shapeshifting, word-magic, the recognition of stories as toothed messengers from the wilds. What if we turned the old nursery rhymes and fairytales we all know into feral creatures once again, set them loose in new lands to root through the acorn fall of oak trees? What else is there to do, if we want to keep any of the wildness of the world, and of ourselves?”

Frolicking fairies by Arthur Rackham

And in Wild: An Elemental Journey, Jay Griffiths remind us:

"What is wild cannot be bought or sold, borrowed or copied," "It is. Unmistakeable, unforgettable, unshamable, elemental as earth and ice, water, fire and air, a quitessence, pure spirit, resolving into no contituents. Don't waste your wildness: it is precious and necessary."

It is indeed.

Catskin by Arthur Rackham 2

Pictures: "The Forest Tarn" by John Bauer (Norway), "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" by Kay Nielsen (Denmark), "Lost in the Woods" by Charles Robinson (England),"Thumbelina" by Adrienne Segur (France), "The White Stag" by  Helen Stratton (England), frolicking fairies and "Catskin" by Arthur Rackham (England).

Words: The quotes above are from Gossip From the Forest: The Tangled Roots of our Forests & Fairy Tales by Sara Maitland (Granta, 2013); "Turning Fairy Tales Feral Again" by Sylvia Linsteadt (The Dark Mountain Project & Resilience, 2013); and Wild: An Elemental Journey by Jay Griffiths (Penguin, 2008); all highly recommended.  Maitland's book was published in America under the name From the Forest: A Search for the Hidden Roots of Our Fairy Tales (Counterpoint, 2013). All rights to the text above reserved by the authors.

Related posts: The Dark of Forest, Storytelling and Wild Time, and The Enclosure of Wild Time.


Wonderful selection of artwork today, Terri. Is the first picture an oblique comment on the Manchester art gallery's removal from display of Waterhouse's 'Hylas and the Nymphs' by any chance?

(John Bauer was Swedish, not Norwegian ;) ) If youre interested in Norwegian folklore based art (from around the same time period as Bauer) I recommend Theodor Kittelsen!

My grandfather grew up in 1920s rural Norway, and to him as well as the older generations, the forest represented something to be used as a resource (and dont get him started on the topic of wolves and other "vermin", lol). By the 1920s no one believe in the old folklore of course, but it was still a completely different world from ours with plenty of traces of the old way of life. I think a lot of our old folklore was based on fear and a need to explain phenomenons what we often could not understand. In old sources you rarely, if ever, hear of people venturing out into the forest to enjoy "nature" - that seems to be a modern notion. It is easy to romanticize the past!

Colum saying the children feel 'I don't know how to tell a good story about it, how to impose a story shape on the events' is something I've never thought about before, sadly too late for my own children.

Hi Terri

This is exceptionally beautiful and inspiring. I have been renewed by this piece and can relate to the wisdom and guidance of the forest or merely the idea of one. This morning in the parking lot of a shopping mall, I saw a beautiful tree, on its own, little island with a few leaves dangling on its branches and three small but sleekly shining birds. They were mesmerizing as they flitted between the branches. all poise, agility and joy. The slender trunk of the tree was moss-stained and the bark was peeling. Eight weeks ago I fell in another parking lot and broke my knee cap. Luckily, I did not need surgery but required intense therapy, a brace support and pain relief. I was able to shed my brace on Monday but was left with a stiff leg that did not know how to walk normally. Its natural inclination to bend and land, heal-toe, heal-toe into rhythmic stepping with the other leg, had been erased or forgotten. I literally am learning how to walk again with ease and agility. It's getting there with patience and practice -- but seeing those birds and that tree, a small rendition of a greater forest, deeply inspired me and brought joy.

After Shedding The Brace

there are characters, both human and animal, whose assistance can be earned or spurned; and there is -- over and over again -- the journey or quest, which leads first to knowledge...
Sarah Maitland

I found a figment of forest
in the parking lot
where the winter tree
dangled its few

amber leaves -- and sleek birds
flitted among branches
scented with moss stain
and peeling bark. Their beaks fine
as the nibs of a fountain pen,

their plumage black
as India ink. And for that, I prayed
let their bodies become

the concentrated ink
of flight -- with some, just some
of it falling between
my fingers in wisps. A subtle way

of telling my hand
how to write hope --
( that long-awaited poem)

and rub know-how
into my ignorant knee.
The bone healed enough
to lift and follow the left.

Step paired with step,
the sudden, beautiful launch
into wings.
Thank you!

Thanks so much for this this morning, Terri. I've been talking about much of this in my Myth & Symbol class and find it very helpful to back up my claims with words from others, hehe. Wonderful images today as well.

Thank you so much for this wonderful blog. I am working on next month's Barking Planet blog with the heading, The Forest Never Ends -- and I visit you, and I am introduced to Sara Maitland and Gossip from the Forest. What good fortune. I am ordering Sara Maitland's book.

I am also writing (next month) about you, your wonderful work and your joining Patreon. I am currently reading the outstanding stories in Black Thorn, White Rose.

Best wishes Bob McCarty

lovely post, both words and images!

Colum's perspective touched me as well a window and offering that might become a story to craft. I was born to listen and eavesdrop on stories as a young girl suspecting, but never quite sure then, these were gifts to grow with time.

Early Modern Humans were creatures of the savannas. When we first encountered forests, there were Neanderthals in them. The EMH hunting style with the thrown spear and atlatl was geared to open country where you could see (and kill) game from a long way off. The Neanderthals were ambush predators, ambushing large game and stabbing it to death with spears at close range, a hunting style eminently suited to forests. Right off the bat, for EMH's, the forest was full of short stocky men with nasty pointed sticks that leapt out at you. I wonder how much of this racial memory found its way into myth, legend and tale. . . .

What the Stories Tell Us

If you sit weeping in the cinders
waiting to be rescued,
all you get are dirty hands,
dark smudge beneath your eyes.

If you stand handless
in the middle of a meadow,
waiting to be fed, all that happens
is you starve.

Take up the broom,
sweep your own windling path
through the dark woods
till the very dawn sings.

Reach into the water of life
with the broken ends of your arms.
Touch a curl of wave.
Grow your own silver hands.

Tears do not build a kingdom,
sweat does, though to the reader
they may look the same.
But only one will earn your freedom.

Only one will make your name.

--for TW who found the path,
grew back hands of silver
and a golden name

©2018 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

"Figment of forest"???I love you, Wendy. WOwser.


Hi Jane

Just lost my response to this beautiful poem due to browser's temperamental
techie attitude but here's most of what I was saying. This is gorgeous and so true -- It's about determination, depending on our own ability to think and achieve. Especially now in recovery, I understand that so well. It's as much mental as it is physical energy. We have to work toward our goals and our own survival.

Take up the broom,
sweep your own windling path
through the dark woods
till the very dawn sings.

Reach into the water of life
with the broken ends of your arms.
Touch a curl of wave.
Grow your own silver hands.

Love this,

Hi Jane

Thanks so much for reading my poem and for the lovely kind words. "figment of forest: -- still trying to fully understand that phrase myself. The line just happened as I observed that tree and was a direct reaction to the scene before me. Anyway, your support always help me stay on track.

Again thank you,
my best always
Love Wendy

Hi again Jane

Well, between pedaling the bike and doing squat thrusts on the exercise bar this morning in physical therapy, I figured it out. I had one concept in mind but for some reason my brain substituted another word, it was a malaproposition type of thing. Where I said "figment" I was thinking " a fragment or piece of forest. And since I like the use of smaller syllables, it would read as this for the opening line --

I found a "piece" of the forest
In the parking lot

Indeed, "figment" would connotate a fantastic notion of something and mythical idea formed in my imagination. So I suppose I envisioned the magic forest existing that singular tree but still I did mean a piece of or fragment. Interesting how the brain works from time to time especially when taken with the enchantment of sudden glimpse into nature's simple yet finest source of beauty.

Again, many thanks

Hi Mokihana

When you said --

I" was born to listen and eavesdrop on stories as a young girl suspecting, but never quite sure then, these were gifts to grow with time."

I could relate so well because I rather did the same thing. I was always inspired by what I heard or observed. Later, they reappeared in some of my poems or stories. Thank you for remembering this.

My Best

Isn't that something. I have just finished reading the novel Girl on the Leeside a first novel by Kathleen Anne Kenney. It is her character Siobhan who eavesdrops on her way to coming of age. A beautiful story set in an isolated Irish countryside, I saw, I remembered how much eavesdropping is and was for me, and many other shy ones, a way to hear between the lines. Piecing stories together, in my ears I began to write.

Thank you Wendy.

I'm smiling at this one. Smiling big!!

And I,too, Mokihanna

Smiled at this revelation and thought how wonderfully human, unpredictable the brain can be -- unconsciously erring and maybe for the simple reason to give me something to laugh about, especially to laugh at myself.

Thanks for repsponding

Thanks always, Wendy. Back from five days in NYC and exhausted. Good exhaustion,but much to think about.


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