Staging the Green Man in Dark Forest: Tales and Poems from the Brothers Grimm
Jane Barnette and John Gentile (Kennesaw State University)
In October 2011, Kennesaw State University’s program in Theatre & Performance Studies staged a world premiere of John Gentile’s adaptation, Dark Forest: Tales and Poems from the Brothers Grimm. Exquisitely designed and featuring a cast of talented actors and storytellers, this full-length play interwove the most terrifying and compelling of Grimms’ stories with original poetry inspired by their fairy tales. Although he is absent from the Brothers Grimm tales, Gentile added the figure of the Green Man as a kind of narrator and presiding deity for the performance. For us, the Green Man served as the embodiment of the numinous forest, which features significantly in the Grimms’ tales.
In this co-presented discussion, Gentile (adaptor and co-director) and Barnette (dramaturg) will share images and short video clips from the production to demonstrate and initiate conversation about how the medium of the stage heightened the sacred and mysterious possibilities of the Green Man (played by Andrew Crigler) last autumn. In so doing, we’ll seek to address what specific staging choices heightened the numinous potential latent within the liminal character of the Green Man, and what relevance those discoveries might have for children’s culture and performance.
Lost Boys and Merry Men: Medieval Mumming and Modern Children’s Literature
Jane Carroll (Trinity College Dublin)
The tradition of mumming – and its poor relation trick-or-treating – invites children to become wild, powerful, and playful. Socially, and often politically, subversive, playing the roles of beggars and wild beasts, mummers occupy the margins of society while simultaneously giving voice to the desires of that society. The disguises used in mummer’s plays are an outward and visible sign of the human/animal interchange which is intrinsic to the carnivalesque, a tradition which revitalises the spirit of the people and, through chaos, disorder, and wildness, paradoxically reaffirms the value of social order, moral behaviour, and civic manners. Although mumming has died out in many areas, and the plays and rituals have become corrupted and decadent over the centuries, the custom still survives. The surviving rituals provide a direct link to the medieval past and provide us with clues about medieval childhood. Furthermore, the motif of troops, groups, and gangs of boys going nameless and in disguise through the woods and wild places to play, wreak havoc, and take part in ancient and vital rituals also features in many modern children’s texts. From the Lost Boys in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan (1904), to the Wren Boys in Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising (1973), to the Disney animation Robin Hood (1973) where the image of Robin’s troop of Merry Men can be traced to the 14th century Luttrell Psalter, these texts engage with and speak back to ancient tradition. I will question why authors use these motifs and what function they perform in a modern setting where the audience may know little or nothing of the original meaning of the motif. Beginning by discussing the role of children in mumming traditions, this paper will trace the influence of medieval folk customs on modern children’s literature and will provide a detailed examination of the role of mummers in modern children’s literature and culture.
Poisonous Woman: Poison Ivy’s place in the DC universe
Máiréad Casey (Trinity College Dublin)
I propose to present a paper on the DC comics villainess, Poison Ivy, as a reactionary representation of the American countercultural female. Following a short introduction to the character inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Rappacini’s Daughter,” I will focus on how this member of the Batman universe “rogue’s gallery” is presented as being poisonous in her influence as well as her physical touch, both spiritually and sexually dangerous. She is a scientist turned eco-terrorist who is particularly resentful and antagonistic towards men and thus is reborn as a semi-fantastical figure, a freak combining both the humane and the botanical. Like many of the female antagonists of DC, Poison Ivy acts as a possible threat to either Batman’s autonomy or his homosocial relationship with Robin, a threat which must be repeatedly dealt with and overcome. To conclude I would like to transverse through the changes we see in representations of Poison Ivy today in the Sirens and Birds of Prey spin-off comics is drawn more so as sympathetic and misunderstood female anti-hero whose deifying powers and botanical sympathies alienate her from her human and superhuman peers.
Love and Rebirth in Qingfeng Sun’s The Fox Hatches the Egg and Xiaozhen Lai’s The Fox’s Sachet
Chiuhua Chen (Tamkang University, Taiwan)
Ecofeminists are concerned about interconnected social and environmental issues. They call for the necessity of breaking down oppression and build up ecocentric and egalitarian institutions and individual perceptions of the world. Ecofeminism combines theory and practice for ecopedagogy. This paper examines the significance of ecopedagogy by engaging theorists such as Richard Kahn and Greta Gaard. There are three questions of an ecopedagogy of children’s environmental literature: How does the narrative transmit the value of self-identity? How does the text define the ecojustice problem? Does the text give nature its own subjectivity? This paper aims to explore representations of nature in Taiwanese children’s literature. Both books subvert the stereotype of a greedy fox: Qing Feng Sun’s The Fox Hatches the Egg (2001) raises ecological awareness; on the other hand, Xiaozhen Lai’s The Fox’s Sachet (2009) describes a lovely relationship between humans and non-humans. Both narratives provide insightful ways to appreciate nature. I propose that children’s environmental literature is not narrowly anthropomorphic. Instead, taking care of nature presents a holistic ecological perspective through ecopedagogy.
The Beast Within: The Werewolf in Contemporary Children’s and Young Adult Literature
James Cole (University of Southampton)
Children’s writing has long been inspired by notions of shapeshifting and in particular the idea of becoming an animal is revisited again and again in contemporary children’s and young adult literature. Perhaps a paragon of the shapeshifter is the werewolf, a staple of fiction since its folkloric origins in Greek mythology.
This paper will explore the presentation of the werewolf in contemporary children’s literature, including the popular characters of Jacob in the Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer and Professor Remus Lupin in Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K.Rowling, in addition to taking a look at the portrayal of the horrific ‘muttations’ in Suzanne Collins’ best-selling The Hunger Games trilogy. Using these texts, I will ask at what point does the human become the beast? Is shapeshifting into a werewolf a moment of becoming or a moment of loss?
Arguably, the werewolf’s continuing appeal lies in its presentation as a metaphor for the struggles of growing up and this idea will be explored in a study of Steve Feasey’s Changeling series and in Stephen Cole’s The Wereling trilogy.
Green on the Inside: Posthumans and Psycho-Mythopoeic Forests in Diana Wynne Jones’ Hexwood and Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood
Dara Downey (Trinity College Dublin)
It would be easy to read Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood (1984) as a straightforward apology for the (post)modernisation of the fantasy genre, a fictional assertion of the notion that the supernatural has, in recently times increasingly “come inside.” No longer the source or object of belief, no longer seen as objective phenomena, supernatural creatures and occurrences are now, such a reading would insist, revealed as mere products of deep psychological functioning, nothing more than anachronistic survivals from our primitive, childhood selves.
Centring around an English forest which generates multiple mythic figures and temporal distortions out of the personalities of those who enter it, however, Mythago Wood is rather more than this, as becomes clear when it is read through Diana Wynne Jones’ 1993 novel, Hexwood, which is in many ways a young-adult elaboration of and commentary upon Holdstock’s adult fantasy novel. Hexwood, which mingles science-fictional imagery and tropes with the intense mythological and fantastic focus of Mythago Wood, serves to underline the earlier work’s insistence that human minds, bodies and relationships are acted upon by, as much as generative of, the numinous, arboreal figures that have populated our culture for millennia. What is more, and as a consequence, it insists upon the vulnerability of these minds, bodies and relationships to forms of technology that, far from exorcising or rendering obsolete an animistic view of the universe, gives greater power and promulgative capacity to myths and the beings they conjure up.
By highlighting these issues, this paper will argue that Jones’ novel allows Mythogo Wood to emerge, not as a less sophisticated or “modern” version of Hexwood, but as itself intimately concerned with notions of technological change, postmodern flux, academic complexity and the problem of being (post)human in a world that has become more rather than less haunted.
Past, present and future: Stig of the Dump and the environmental politics of prehistory
Marion Gibson (University of Exeter)
This paper looks at the contexts for Clive King’s Stig of the Dump, the classic children’s novel of 1962 that brought a modern boy into contact with a prehistoric man living on a rubbish dump. The novel itself is an example of the increasing awareness of the environmental problems of modernity in the post-war period. It relates both to King’s war service, including a posting to Japan where he saw the ruins of Hiroshima, and his son’s love for the English countryside. But it also has a longer backstory in both adult and boy’s-adventure fiction about prehistoric life. The paper explores the notion of ‘going back’ (time-slips, regression or simply the imagining of a prehistoric, pagan, past) to find solutions to present-day issues of waste, violence and the exploitation of nature – solutions which are ultimately revealed to be complex and fraught with danger despite their apparent allure. Texts discussed include: H. Rider Haggard, Allan and the Ice-Gods (1927), William Golding, The Inheritors and Lord of the Flies (1955, 1954) and – looking forward from King’s fiction to the present – Robert Holdstock, Mythago Wood and sequels (1984-) and Michelle Paver’s Wolf Brother series (2004-).
Enid Blyton: Eco-poet or Ecophobe?
Ian Kinane (Trinity College Dublin)
As the primary focus of this paper, I want to examine Enid Blyton’s relationship to the natural environment that she has constructed within her Faraway Tree series – The Enchanted Wood (1939); The Magic Faraway Tree (1943); The Folk of the Faraway Tree (1946); and Up the Faraway Tree (1951) – and to explore how the author’s ostensible (and unchallenged) alignment to proto-ecologism may be contested by an underlying discourse of environmental utilitarianism and exploitation. I want to suggest that Blyton’s ‘tree-texts’ are less eco-centric, and less vital to a tradition of earth-centredness, than they would initially have us believe; that her series relies on certain old-world narratives of an environmental consciousness, embodied in Blyton’s many ‘green’ characters, but that ultimately betrays its own awareness and prospective longing for a world of material possession and greed. I want to examine how Blyton ultimately sidelines the series’ principle ‘greenery’ – the Faraway Tree itself – in favour of the direct materialist produce attained at its expense. Finally, I want this paper to further engender a debate as to Blyton’s position on ‘green’ matters, and to question whether, as eco-poet or ecophobe, her voice has affected green politics today.
Gods of the Wild: Numinous figures of land and sea in Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising
Susannah Morse (unaffiliated)
Susan Cooper depicts the landscapes of her Newbery award-winning fantasy sequence The Dark Is Rising in passionate detail. These are the places of her childhood, invoked from an American home across the sea: Buckinghamshire, Cornwall, Gwynedd. They are also the old places of Britain, haunted by shifting layers of nature and time. With them, and into Cooper’s mythopoetic struggle, came their local gods: Tethys, Greenwitch, the Grey King, Herne the Hunter.
Unpredictable and bewitching personifications of nature, these figures rise from the half-forgotten mythologies of their lands, taking form not as ancient heroes but as beings entirely Other, legends imbued with the shapes and strengths of their natural surroundings. Serving at times both the Light and the Dark, these powerful spirits ultimately represent a force of Wild Magic beyond human control or morality: the force of nature itself. They are the ancient things, the wild things, the otherworldly, numinous things we understand with our bodies and not with our minds. Their presence is Cooper’s greatest strength, that underlying quality of her writing which leaves us shivering in its wake.
Original 16mm film of Cooper’s landscapes will accompany the paper throughout, illustrating her settings and evoking their power in realistic detail.
The Child’s Labyrinth
Elizabeth Parker (Trinity College Dublin)
‘You are alone, in a dark wood. Now cope.’ – Francis Spufford
This paper focuses on the forest as a landscape of liminality, fear and trial for the child. It explores the significance of the fairy tale woods as the setting in which the child must face and overcome his or her darkest fears in whatever form of monster they may take.
The mythic figure of Pan is but one of the many forms ascribed to The Green Man. This paper focuses on the child’s relationship to Pan as one of the many threatening adult figures to be found in the forest. It provides a close reading of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and touches upon Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan, exploring in each the eerily intangible threat that Pan poses to the child. There is a strong emphasis on the boundary between civilisation and the wilderness and between that of horror and the fairy tale.
Forests: not seeing the wood for the trees
Anthony Pavlik (Boğaziçi University, Istanbul)
The forest can be read as a traditional or symbolic motif of the kind found in folk and fairy tales such as “Little Red Riding Hood” or “Hansel and Gretel”, or as simply a backdrop for the playing out of important events as in, for example, the Forbidden Forest outside Hogwarts. However, this largely positions the forest itself as passive and functional, a point of view that operates in much the same way as anthropocentric approaches to nature in general tend to operate.
Not all representations of the forest in children’s literature take this stance, however. This paper will discuss a more ecological use of the forest as setting in Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series. The series will be considered in light of recent developments in green fiction for children, and in particular, in terms of how the series can be seen as part of a trend that asks readers not simply to be more aware of the natural world and its plight, but re-examine the nature of the relationship between humankind and the natural world.
The Green Man Archetype and children’s television programming as a pathway through the barriers of eco-political rhetoric
Kristin Prinzing (MusEco Media and Education Project)
In the United States, knowledge of the mythos and meaning of the Green Man is not widespread among the general populace, though unattributed derivations of “The Green Man” are visible in advertising, branding, and in renditions of the fantastic in literature, film and television. So who do people think the Green Man is when he suddenly appears on their living room television sets, especially in America’s politically conservative interior west?
In this suspicious environment, our Green Man’s gentle “how-to” messaging about sustainability, cloaked within lighthearted humor, subverts politically charged ecological rhetoric and reaches ears and imaginations before minds and hearts slam shut.
Why is this so? Is it the look and feel of television content made for children – bright colors, a lively and heroic central character, moral lessons and a penchant for silliness? Or is it innate responsiveness to this archetype of human oneness with nature?
In this paper, I will argue that the power of the archetype transcends specific knowledge of this mythological figure, but that his most compelling presentation is through content produced for young people.
‘A Tarzan Tribesman will always be truthful, honest, manly and
courageous’: The Feral Child and Character Formation
Conor Reid (Trinity College Dublin)
Tarzan is certainly among the most famous of all literary feral children. While the first half of Tarzan of the Apes (1912) concerns a young Tarzan coming of age, the stories were not written with a similarly-aged readership in mind. Indeed Edgar Rice Burroughs, best-selling author of twenty-six Tarzan tales and a multitude of
other novels, wrote with an avowedly adult readership in mind. This is not to say that his novels were not, and are not, read enthusiastically by teenagers and young children, but his protagonists – Tarzan, John Carter of Mars, Carson Napier, and many others – are all American males in their twenties or thirties, characters Burroughs knew his adult, male readership would identify with. This divergence between the intended and the actual readership adds a level of complexity when the critic attempts to analyse the ways in which the novels influenced, and were influenced by, contemporary thinking on race, politics or gender, for example.
Burroughs always maintained that his novels were meant solely to entertain, but this is patently untrue when one considers the multiple ways in which Burroughs’ novels attempt to advance his personal philosophy. As a fervently patriotic military enthusiast, an admirer of Theodore Roosevelt and the ‘strenuous life’, and a passionate outdoorsman, horse rider and nature lover, Burroughs had a very clear set of beliefs when it came to the composition of the Tarzan novels. Key to this was a definition of the primitive which viewed it as a central component in accessing a latent masculinity lost to the contemporary urban male. Remarkably similar ideas were at the heart of
the Boy Scout movement, in both Britain and the U.S., aimed quite specifically at young boys on the cusp of manhood. Indeed, the parallels between the Boy Scouts and the ‘Tribes of Tarzan’, set up in the wake of Tarzan’s popularity, are quite evident. This paper, therefore, will explore Tarzan the feral child and the environment, both natural and socio-cultural, in which he lives and thrives. Literature, military training, national character, and identity formation for young boys soon to become young men, are all revealingly intertwined in a set of novels meant, as Burroughs saw it, “merely to entertain”.
Snufkin’s Song: Wilds and Wanderers in The Moomin Series
Elinor Rooks (University of Leeds)
I propose to consider Snufkin, from Tove Jansson’s Moomin series, as a green-man who facilitates passages from domestic to wild spaces. In green hat and green coat, he is an approachable—but not tameable—figure of the wilds. Using Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts of smooth and striated space—that is, wild and regimented space, nomadic and sedentary space—I will show that Snufkin signals and mediates the tensions between these spaces which drive many of Jansson’s texts. The texts swing between comfort and chaos, collectivity and loneliness. The melancholy that results from an inability to resolve these tensions is demonstrated in the ambivalent relationship between Snufkin and Moomintroll: Moomintroll’s longing for Snufkin produces defiance in his nomadic friend. While resisting domestication, Snufkin leads or tricks others into smooth spaces—sometimes with alarming results. At its best, Snufkin’s relationship to the Moomin family demonstrates the mutually enriching dance between the nomadic and the sedentary, the wild and the cosy. The dance is fraught, however: in Moominpappa at Sea and Moominvalley in November, we find the nomad waiting at home while the family has become unmoored. Jansson’s texts striate smoothly and smoothly striate, and all cosiness is subject to nomadic disruption.
“Us is near bein’ wild things ourselves”: Wildness and Cultivation in Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden
Maeve Tynan (Mary Immaculate College)
Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea creates a hierarchical dyad between wildness/vibrancy on the one hand and cultivation/sickness on the other. This is illustrated most clearly in her depiction of the cruel treatment of her book’s heroine, Maia, at the hands of her venomous relations, the Carters. The cruelty of the Carters, who own a rubber plantation on the Amazon River, correlates with their uneasy relationship to the natural world; they are European usurpers in this Amazonian wilderness. By way of contrast, the championed explorers, naturalists and educators in the novel share Maia’s fascination with her new found paradise. Yet the appropriation of the plotline of Little Lord Fauntleroy in the novel’s subplot suggests an intertextual relationship with another of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s books: The Secret Garden. As with her literary predecessor, Ibbotson’s book celebrates the child’s unfettered freedom within a natural world setting. However, a closer inspection reveals that her jungle and Hodgson Burnett’s garden are similarly cultivated, being clearly demarcated along racial and gender lines. Drawing on postcolonial scholarship and Bakhtin’s theory of the carnivalesque, this paper negotiates the “cultivated wildness” of both novels.
Richard Jefferies and the Savage Spirit: the Adventures of Bevis
Rebecca Welshman (University of Exeter)
In 1879-1881 the author-naturalist Richard Jefferies wrote a series of autobiographical novels about growing up in rural Wiltshire. In Wood Magic (1881) and Bevis (1882) the protagonist, Bevis – based on the young Jefferies – is accompanied on his adventures by a dog named ‘Pan’. This paper considers the role of Pan in Jefferies’s imaginative portrayal of the English ‘backwoods’ as a new and undiscovered world. In Bevis the boys imagine themselves to be ‘primitive savages’, discovering a landscape of swamps, jungles and wild game. The presence of Pan becomes a symbol of primitive consciousness expressed through the spirit of Imperial adventure and discovery. Jefferies draws upon the meaningful age-old relationship between man and dog to consider how fear – unconsciously accumulated from the primitive human past – shapes actions in the present, and manifests in unpredictable ways. Through meaningful engagement with his home landscape Bevis develops a deep, alternative awareness of the natural world which is reminiscent of a pagan relationship with the land. By setting his stories in the close proximity of the prehistoric landscapes of Wiltshire, Jefferies implicitly suggests that the childhood imagination affords ways of experiencing the landscape that can transcend time – connecting the Victorian experience of landscape with the pagan activities of prehistoric ancestors.