In the forest, Penny and Primrose encounter a horrible creature, which they later learn is called “the loathly worm.” Immediately, the worm seems to be a clear symbol of the war and all its horrors, which the girls were sent to the mansion to escape. The memory of the Thing haunts the girls throughout their childhoods and into adulthood, underscoring the traumatic effect that wartime can have on a young person—even a young person who is relatively insulated from the ravages of a brutal war. With the worm, Byatt seems to be saying that the War was so overwhelmingly awful that no one could escape it, no matter where they hid. As adults, when Penny and Primrose return to the forest to look for the Thing again, Byatt makes it clear that their journey is as much about “the worm” as it is about confronting the trauma they experienced in childhood, having both lost their fathers to the war. As such, the Thing in the forest is not merely a symbol for the horrors of war, but for trauma more generally—and the ways in which, through time, it can easily become an all-consuming, formless thing that defies any objective understanding and destroys lives.
The Thing in the Forest (The Loathly Worm) 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?)
I think, I think there are things that are real—more real than we are—but mostly we don’t cross their paths, or they don’t cross ours. Maybe at very bad times we get into their world, or notice what they are doing in ours.
“Sometimes I think that thing finished me off,” said Penny to Primrose, a child’s voice rising in a woman’s gullet, arousing a little girl’s scared smile which wasn’t a smile on Primrose’s face.
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.
Primrose sat on the edge of the fountain. She had decided what to do. She smiled her best, most comfortable smile, and adjusted her golden locks. Listen to me, she told them, and I’ll tell you something amazing, a story that’s never been told before.