Byatt describes the forest in which Penny and Primrose encounter the Thing as a place characterized by mystery, where “dark and light came and went, inviting the mysterious, as the wind pushed clouds across the face of the sun.” The girls wander into this mysterious forest in the midst of a chaotic and confusing wartime evacuation, and have an unexpected and life-altering traumatic experience there. In this way, the forest represents the unknown, but it also symbolizes the unconscious as a dark and difficult-to-access place where the line between objective reality and subjective experience is thoroughly blurred. This is the mysterious realm to which the young girls must return as adults to confront their childhood trauma and to begin to process what they have for so long repressed.
Forest Quotes in The Thing in the Forest
There were once two little girls who saw, or believed they saw, a thing in a forest.
They remembered the thing they had seen in the forest, on the contrary, in the way you remember those very few dreams—almost all nightmares—that have the quality of life itself. (Though what are dreams if not life itself?)
Primrose knew that glamour and the thing they had seen, brilliance and the ashen stink, came from the same place.
It was the encounter with the Thing that had led her to deal professionally in dreams. Something that resembled unreality had lumbered into reality, and she had seen it.
When it came, she would look it in the face, she would see what it was. She clasped her hands loosely in her lap. Her nerves relaxed. Her blood slowed. She was ready.