The Thing in the Forest

by

A.S. Byatt

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Forest Symbol Icon

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

The The Thing in the Forest quotes below all refer to the symbol of Forest. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Thing in the Forest published in 2003.
The Thing in the Forest Quotes

There were once two little girls who saw, or believed they saw, a thing in a forest.

Related Characters: Penny, Primrose
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

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?)

Related Characters: Penny, Primrose
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Primrose knew that glamour and the thing they had seen, brilliance and the ashen stink, came from the same place.

Related Characters: Primrose
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Penny
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Penny, Alys
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Thing in the Forest LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Thing in the Forest PDF

Forest Symbol Timeline in The Thing in the Forest

The timeline below shows where the symbol Forest appears in The Thing in the Forest. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Thing in the Forest
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
...group of many other children, at the mansion: a big, eerie place surrounded by a forest. The mansion has “imposing stairs,” shuttered windows, and “carved griffins and unicorns on its balustrade.”... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
...ball and other games. Instead of joining these games, the girls decide to explore the forest. A younger child, Alys—pretty, with pale blue eyes and golden curls, but “barely out of... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon
Creeping into the forest, the girls vow not to go too far, wanting to stay in sight of the... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
...enormous mouth, and its face is low to the ground as it trundles through the forest and toward the girls on short, squat arms. The girls watch as the giant caterpillar-like... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon
...and Primrose huddle together, shaking as they watch the thing slither away. They exit the forest wordlessly and without looking behind them, worried that the mansion will have been “transmogrified,” or... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
...women have not spoken at all since the day they saw the thing in the forest. (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
...ever used to house evacuees. Finally, they discuss the thing they once saw in the forest. “Did you ever wonder,” Primrose asks, “if we really saw it?” Penny replies, “Never for... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon
...Primrose to remember Alys, the child who had begged to go with them into the forest. Recalling how they never saw Alys after that moment, and how no one ever asked... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
...purpose of further reminiscences. Instead, on the following day, they set out separately for the forest surrounding the mansion. Primrose hikes for a while, then sits on a tree trunk, thinking... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon
...Primrose resumes walking, telling herself a story about “staunch Primrose” (herself) bravely walking through the forest. She stops again, remembering more about the death of her father and her “sniveling” mother... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon
Penny is in a different part of the forest, trying to find the spot where she and Primrose had seen the loathly worm as... (full context)
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
...faces of her patients— more real, even, than herself. So she travels back to the forest. Finding the spot where she and Primrose had encountered the worm 40 years earlier, Penny... (full context)