Stories of Trees, Woods, and the Forest

Edited by Fiona Stafford
Look inside
Hardcover
$24.00 US
4.9"W x 7.45"H x 1.35"D  
On sale Sep 07, 2021 | 480 Pages | 9780593320181
| Grades 9-12 + AP/IB
Stories of Trees, Woods, and the Forest is an anthology of stories by a brilliant and surprising mix of classic and contemporary writers who have been inspired by trees.

Trees have starred in stories ever since Ovid described the nymph Daphne’s metamorphosis into a laurel, and the landscape of literature has long been enlivened by wild woodlands, sacred groves, and fertile orchards. This delightful collection ranges from Ovid to Austen and from Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest (via Thomas Love Peacock’s Maid Marian) to Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Here are forest-haunted fairy tales both classic (the Brothers Grimm) and inventively retold (Angela Carter). There is room in these woods for comedy as well as terror, in Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm, and Alexander McCall Smith’s “Head Tree.” Notable writers from around the world contribute arboreal fiction—from South Africa, Finland, France, Zimbabwe, Russia, Martinique, and India, as well as Britain, Ireland, Canada, and America. From Daphne du Maurier’s “The Apple Tree” to R. K. Narayan’s “Under the Banyan Tree,” the sheer range of stories in these pages will leave readers refreshed and dazzled.
Preface by Fiona Stafford

JOHN LORNE CAMPBELL
Why Everyone Should Be Able to Tell a Story       
           
OVID
Orpheus’ Audience of Trees   
                
ALEXANDER MCCALL SMITH
Head Tree   
                                          
WASHINGTON IRVING
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow   
             
DAPHNE DU MAURIER
The Apple Tree   
                  
SYLVIA TOWNSEND WARNER
Happiness 

JANE AUSTEN                                  
A Tale                             

YURI OLYESHA
Love           
                                 
D. H. LAWRENCE
The Shades of Spring           

STELLA GIBBONS
From Cold Comfort Farm

RODERICK FINLAYSON
The Totara Tree                                          

EUDORA WELTY
A Still Moment       

OVID
The Transformation of Daphne 

MICHAEL MCLAVERTY
The Road to the Shore       

DOROTHY BAKER
Summer           

JOSEPH ZOBEL
Flowers! Lovely Flowers!      

YVONNE VERA
Why Don’t You Carve Other Animals    

DAMON GALGUT
Shadows         

TOVE JANSSON
The Forest           

URSULA MORAY WILLIAMS
The Outlaws               

THOMAS LOVE PEACOCK
From Maid Marian             

JACOB AND WILHELM GRIMM
Iron Hans        

ANGELA CARTER
The Company of Wolves     

ANDREW LANG
The Gold of Fairnilee       
           
MARY DE MORGAN
The Pool and the Tree        

JEAN GIONO
The Man Who Planted Trees      

GABRIEL HEMERY
The Man Who Harvested Trees (and Gifted Life)    

OVID
Baucis and Philemon     

R. K. NARAYAN
Under the Banyan Tree       
 
PREFACE
 
If, on an early morning in October half-way across a dewy field, a line of trees becomes visible against the light blue sky, what would your impulse be? Perhaps it would depend on whether the wet trodden path through the grass winds away to a distant gate in a close-cut hedge, keeping well clear of the wood, or heads instead towards the scrubby elder, the brambles, field maple and blackthorn, before leading deep into the taller oaks and ashes beyond. If there were two paths, or none, the choice would be clear: on across the open fields or into the woods?

Fields have trees of their own—thinning willows winding along a slow, sedge-edged river, rich brown sycamores towering above a drystone wall, a golden oak spreading over the corner of scarlet-spotted hedges. Sometimes they run beside an old orchard of mossed cottage trees or a Rectory garden dark with Scots pines and yews. A village pond might be ringed with hazel and alder, a scrap of grass where three lanes converge, covered with spiky shells and glossy nuts dropped from a huge horse chestnut. And if autumn walks lead through city streets, the peeling trunks of plane trees are rising from piles of broad, yellow, chamois-leather leaves. Park gates open between clumps of damp euonymus and privet, overlooked by tall hollies, whose upper leaves are glossy and smooth. Along a river banked with warehouses and converted mills, bare buddleia gleam with wet webs under copper sycamores catching the dawn light.

The way into the woods is different. A few steps from open space to arboreal intimacy prompt a momentary pause to taste the difference in the air. Sodden leaves muffle the sound of footsteps, allowing the stillness to fill with the clear call of birds. A slight stir among high branches signals a squirrel moving swiftly in his own element. A tiny brown shape darting from dense ivy to a nearby tangle of brambles is probably a wren. Although it’s hard to tell quite what’s there, everything seems strangely clarified and pulsing with unseen life.

When the woods are light and open, whether weeks or years ago or in months to come when bare twigs soften again and their light green leaves flap into spring, the damp, dank smells will be overcome by fresh flowers and wild garlic. Quiet or full of noises at any time of year, woods are natural trysting or picnic spots, places to work, play or bury treasure and truths. Solid trunks and branches are easiest to grasp, though filled with holes, nests, hidden lives and running away into ramifications. The overstorey may be flushed with light and colour, but there’s undergrowth thick with twisting stems and strands, too dense to follow or fully understand. These are places to hide, places where you might be caught unawares, havens and horrors, where you can’t quite see the wood for the trees and there’s no one to tell you what comes next. Even on your own, you know you’re not alone. There are voices in the woods. Birds and beetles, woodcutters, witches, wolves and wisemen, secret lovers, spectral horsemen, amateur actors, ardent adventurers, predators and protectors, persecutors and plant-hunters, demons, dragons, dim figures from dreams.

Single trees, standing out in the open under rain and sunlight, can’t gang up in quite the same way. Rooted in one special spot, their distinctive forms offer different company, other kinds of imaginative fare. These garden guardians and living giants reach into the past, stirring memories and hopes by still being there. The rarest and most commonplace alike can foster love, laughter, sorrow, fear. The gnarled old bark of a familiar tree can comfort or torment the lonely and lost. Its felling can be more intensely felt than the disappearance of a distant wood.

The stories that follow feature single trees, clumps, copses, woods and vast forests. They’re gathered from a great swathe of time: from classical mythology and folk tradition to twenty-first-century conceptions of futures currently taking seed. Within the leaves of this book, the old oaks, ancient woodlands, dark forests and warm groves of Europe flourish beside the great tropical trees of India and New Zealand, the wooded valleys and swamps of America and the African savannah. There are individual trees so real you can feel the bark through the pages and still smell the wood after the trunk’s turned into logs. There are trees that glow bright in memory, turn dark in nightmare, pale in the aftermath and green in the words of skilful storytellers. One tree sprouts from a man’s head, others have been women in their time. Some trees have done with story-telling and live silently in the tales of those whose memories they haunt. Many have dropped seeds into the fertile minds of other writers, whose stories are to be found here too. All have the power to take root in readers’ imaginations.

The natural continuity of woodlands not only nurtures traditional stories, but also provides the conditions for surprising departures from the expected course of events. What seems familiar is suddenly, troublingly, terrifyingly, or delightfully, strange. In some of the stories, trees seem little more than a passing detail, but they have a tendency to grow between the lines and take the final word. In others, they are central from the start, silently—or occasionally eloquently—commanding attention.

As trees often outlive their human observers, they prompt images of childhood and old age, memories of the past and meditations on the future. Trees exactly coeval with individuals have a special capacity to stir deep feelings in those whose births they were originally planted to celebrate. Arboreal veterans, on the other hand, offer access to worlds beyond the normal grasp of those who currently pass beneath their capacious canopies. Seeds and saplings in these tales promise, but cannot guarantee, a green future, since their growth will depend on the human beings they dwarf.

The life of a tree, so intertwined with the life of humankind, at once counterpart and counterbalance, offers vital connections and contrasts to earlier selves and selves to come. When the Irish poet Louis MacNeice reflected on ‘Woods’, he found his own experience very different from his parents’. While his father ‘had hardly in his life walked in a wood’, MacNeice knew from an early age that woods were ‘a kingdom free of time and sky’, filled with knights, nymphs, birds and ghosts. Trees created a world which drew him, man and boy, and on which his imagination drew. Though commonplace enough, woods remained excitingly other, a mystery, while ‘the recurring shock’ of their ‘dark coolness’ seemed like a ‘foreign voice’. The stories within this collection bring woods and trees from across the globe into the living room, the tube, the train, the plane, the hotel. However familiar, however small-scale some of the tales may seem at first, each is a mystery, a green and giving world. Perhaps you can take them outside to read under a tree.

Fiona Stafford

About

Stories of Trees, Woods, and the Forest is an anthology of stories by a brilliant and surprising mix of classic and contemporary writers who have been inspired by trees.

Trees have starred in stories ever since Ovid described the nymph Daphne’s metamorphosis into a laurel, and the landscape of literature has long been enlivened by wild woodlands, sacred groves, and fertile orchards. This delightful collection ranges from Ovid to Austen and from Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest (via Thomas Love Peacock’s Maid Marian) to Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Here are forest-haunted fairy tales both classic (the Brothers Grimm) and inventively retold (Angela Carter). There is room in these woods for comedy as well as terror, in Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm, and Alexander McCall Smith’s “Head Tree.” Notable writers from around the world contribute arboreal fiction—from South Africa, Finland, France, Zimbabwe, Russia, Martinique, and India, as well as Britain, Ireland, Canada, and America. From Daphne du Maurier’s “The Apple Tree” to R. K. Narayan’s “Under the Banyan Tree,” the sheer range of stories in these pages will leave readers refreshed and dazzled.

Table of Contents

Preface by Fiona Stafford

JOHN LORNE CAMPBELL
Why Everyone Should Be Able to Tell a Story       
           
OVID
Orpheus’ Audience of Trees   
                
ALEXANDER MCCALL SMITH
Head Tree   
                                          
WASHINGTON IRVING
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow   
             
DAPHNE DU MAURIER
The Apple Tree   
                  
SYLVIA TOWNSEND WARNER
Happiness 

JANE AUSTEN                                  
A Tale                             

YURI OLYESHA
Love           
                                 
D. H. LAWRENCE
The Shades of Spring           

STELLA GIBBONS
From Cold Comfort Farm

RODERICK FINLAYSON
The Totara Tree                                          

EUDORA WELTY
A Still Moment       

OVID
The Transformation of Daphne 

MICHAEL MCLAVERTY
The Road to the Shore       

DOROTHY BAKER
Summer           

JOSEPH ZOBEL
Flowers! Lovely Flowers!      

YVONNE VERA
Why Don’t You Carve Other Animals    

DAMON GALGUT
Shadows         

TOVE JANSSON
The Forest           

URSULA MORAY WILLIAMS
The Outlaws               

THOMAS LOVE PEACOCK
From Maid Marian             

JACOB AND WILHELM GRIMM
Iron Hans        

ANGELA CARTER
The Company of Wolves     

ANDREW LANG
The Gold of Fairnilee       
           
MARY DE MORGAN
The Pool and the Tree        

JEAN GIONO
The Man Who Planted Trees      

GABRIEL HEMERY
The Man Who Harvested Trees (and Gifted Life)    

OVID
Baucis and Philemon     

R. K. NARAYAN
Under the Banyan Tree       
 

Excerpt

PREFACE
 
If, on an early morning in October half-way across a dewy field, a line of trees becomes visible against the light blue sky, what would your impulse be? Perhaps it would depend on whether the wet trodden path through the grass winds away to a distant gate in a close-cut hedge, keeping well clear of the wood, or heads instead towards the scrubby elder, the brambles, field maple and blackthorn, before leading deep into the taller oaks and ashes beyond. If there were two paths, or none, the choice would be clear: on across the open fields or into the woods?

Fields have trees of their own—thinning willows winding along a slow, sedge-edged river, rich brown sycamores towering above a drystone wall, a golden oak spreading over the corner of scarlet-spotted hedges. Sometimes they run beside an old orchard of mossed cottage trees or a Rectory garden dark with Scots pines and yews. A village pond might be ringed with hazel and alder, a scrap of grass where three lanes converge, covered with spiky shells and glossy nuts dropped from a huge horse chestnut. And if autumn walks lead through city streets, the peeling trunks of plane trees are rising from piles of broad, yellow, chamois-leather leaves. Park gates open between clumps of damp euonymus and privet, overlooked by tall hollies, whose upper leaves are glossy and smooth. Along a river banked with warehouses and converted mills, bare buddleia gleam with wet webs under copper sycamores catching the dawn light.

The way into the woods is different. A few steps from open space to arboreal intimacy prompt a momentary pause to taste the difference in the air. Sodden leaves muffle the sound of footsteps, allowing the stillness to fill with the clear call of birds. A slight stir among high branches signals a squirrel moving swiftly in his own element. A tiny brown shape darting from dense ivy to a nearby tangle of brambles is probably a wren. Although it’s hard to tell quite what’s there, everything seems strangely clarified and pulsing with unseen life.

When the woods are light and open, whether weeks or years ago or in months to come when bare twigs soften again and their light green leaves flap into spring, the damp, dank smells will be overcome by fresh flowers and wild garlic. Quiet or full of noises at any time of year, woods are natural trysting or picnic spots, places to work, play or bury treasure and truths. Solid trunks and branches are easiest to grasp, though filled with holes, nests, hidden lives and running away into ramifications. The overstorey may be flushed with light and colour, but there’s undergrowth thick with twisting stems and strands, too dense to follow or fully understand. These are places to hide, places where you might be caught unawares, havens and horrors, where you can’t quite see the wood for the trees and there’s no one to tell you what comes next. Even on your own, you know you’re not alone. There are voices in the woods. Birds and beetles, woodcutters, witches, wolves and wisemen, secret lovers, spectral horsemen, amateur actors, ardent adventurers, predators and protectors, persecutors and plant-hunters, demons, dragons, dim figures from dreams.

Single trees, standing out in the open under rain and sunlight, can’t gang up in quite the same way. Rooted in one special spot, their distinctive forms offer different company, other kinds of imaginative fare. These garden guardians and living giants reach into the past, stirring memories and hopes by still being there. The rarest and most commonplace alike can foster love, laughter, sorrow, fear. The gnarled old bark of a familiar tree can comfort or torment the lonely and lost. Its felling can be more intensely felt than the disappearance of a distant wood.

The stories that follow feature single trees, clumps, copses, woods and vast forests. They’re gathered from a great swathe of time: from classical mythology and folk tradition to twenty-first-century conceptions of futures currently taking seed. Within the leaves of this book, the old oaks, ancient woodlands, dark forests and warm groves of Europe flourish beside the great tropical trees of India and New Zealand, the wooded valleys and swamps of America and the African savannah. There are individual trees so real you can feel the bark through the pages and still smell the wood after the trunk’s turned into logs. There are trees that glow bright in memory, turn dark in nightmare, pale in the aftermath and green in the words of skilful storytellers. One tree sprouts from a man’s head, others have been women in their time. Some trees have done with story-telling and live silently in the tales of those whose memories they haunt. Many have dropped seeds into the fertile minds of other writers, whose stories are to be found here too. All have the power to take root in readers’ imaginations.

The natural continuity of woodlands not only nurtures traditional stories, but also provides the conditions for surprising departures from the expected course of events. What seems familiar is suddenly, troublingly, terrifyingly, or delightfully, strange. In some of the stories, trees seem little more than a passing detail, but they have a tendency to grow between the lines and take the final word. In others, they are central from the start, silently—or occasionally eloquently—commanding attention.

As trees often outlive their human observers, they prompt images of childhood and old age, memories of the past and meditations on the future. Trees exactly coeval with individuals have a special capacity to stir deep feelings in those whose births they were originally planted to celebrate. Arboreal veterans, on the other hand, offer access to worlds beyond the normal grasp of those who currently pass beneath their capacious canopies. Seeds and saplings in these tales promise, but cannot guarantee, a green future, since their growth will depend on the human beings they dwarf.

The life of a tree, so intertwined with the life of humankind, at once counterpart and counterbalance, offers vital connections and contrasts to earlier selves and selves to come. When the Irish poet Louis MacNeice reflected on ‘Woods’, he found his own experience very different from his parents’. While his father ‘had hardly in his life walked in a wood’, MacNeice knew from an early age that woods were ‘a kingdom free of time and sky’, filled with knights, nymphs, birds and ghosts. Trees created a world which drew him, man and boy, and on which his imagination drew. Though commonplace enough, woods remained excitingly other, a mystery, while ‘the recurring shock’ of their ‘dark coolness’ seemed like a ‘foreign voice’. The stories within this collection bring woods and trees from across the globe into the living room, the tube, the train, the plane, the hotel. However familiar, however small-scale some of the tales may seem at first, each is a mystery, a green and giving world. Perhaps you can take them outside to read under a tree.

Fiona Stafford

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