The Thing in the Forest


A.S. Byatt

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The Thing in the Forest Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on A.S. Byatt's The Thing in the Forest. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of A.S. Byatt

A. S. Byatt was born Antonia Susan Drabble, the daughter of John Drabble, a barrister, and Kathleen Bloor, a scholar of Robert Browning. She was educated at two independent boarding schools, Sheffield High School and the Quaker Mount School in York. From there, she went on to study at Newnham College, Cambridge, Bryn Mawr College in the United States, and Somerville College, Oxford. She is married to Peter John Duffy, her second husband, and has three daughters. Byatt has taught English and literature at the Central School of Art and Design as well as the University of London. A distinguished critic and reviewer as well as novelist, Byatt’s novels include the Booker Prize-winning PossessionThe Biographer’s Tale and the Frederica Potter quartet, which includes The Virgin in the GardenStill LifeBabel Tower, and A Whistling Woman. She is also an accomplished writer of short stories. Her story collections include Sugar and Other StoriesThe Matisse StoriesThe Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, Elementals and Little Black Book of Stories.
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Historical Context of The Thing in the Forest

Beginning in 1939, the British government evacuated roughly 3.5 million people—mostly children, pregnant women, and people with disabilities—from London and other cities. This was done for their protection, as Britain expected the German air force, called the Luftwaffe, to begin bombing London after Britain declared war on Germany following the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. A. S. Byatt herself was one of these evacuees, and she drew on that experience when writing “The Thing in the Forest.” World War II was, of course, a deeply troubling time for Europe and world at large. The titular “thing” in “The Thing in the Forest” is symbolic of trauma and loss in the most general sense, but also represents the collective trauma of such an inconceivably catastrophic war.

Other Books Related to The Thing in the Forest

Byatt writes in a style reminiscent of magical realism, in which elements of fantasy are woven into everyday life rather than an escape from it. The darkly supernatural elements in “The Thing in the Forest” make it comparable to the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft, who became recognized only after his death for his contributions to the genre of “dark fantasy” or horror fiction, such as “The Rats in the Walls” and “The Call of Cthulhu,” another story with a mysterious, supernatural creature at its center. Other likely influences of Byatt’s work include Edgar Allan Poe’s macabre stories and Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis is another work—albeit a very different one—that centers around children who are evacuated to escape the Nazi bombing of London and encounter a magical world in the process.
Key Facts about The Thing in the Forest
  • Full Title: The Thing in the Forest
  • When Written: 2000s
  • When Published: 2011
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Fantasy; horror
  • Setting: The story begins at a house in the English countryside in the 1940s, and concludes at that same house in 1984
  • Climax: An adult Penny returns to the forest a second time
  • Antagonist: The Thing in the Forest (i.e., the loathly worm)
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient

Extra Credit for The Thing in the Forest

Family of letters.  A.S. Byatt is the sister of English novelist Margaret Drabble, who has written 19 novels. Drabble has said her relationship with her sister could be described as a "normal sibling rivalry."

Source material. Like Penny and Primrose in the story, Byatt herself was evacuated during World War II.