The Thing in the Forest


A.S. Byatt

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Themes and Colors
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Thing in the Forest, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Trauma and Loss

Fairy tales, despite being thought of as stories for children, are often full of trauma. Especially in stories that deal with the process of “coming of age,” experiences of trauma and loss often spur characters to come to terms with the reality that the world can be a harsh, unforgiving, and scary place. Penny and Primrose deal with literal and figurative loss along their journey to make sense of their encounter with the Thing in…

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Reality vs. Fantasy

“The Thing in the Forest” takes place in the real world, but the story has supernatural elements, and therefore blurs the boundary between reality and fantasy. This blurring effect is heightened by Penny and Primrose’s frequent questions about whether they really saw anything in the forest as children. One of the reasons they return as adults is to clarify for themselves what is real. As they seek to confront the loathly worm, they…

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Penny and Primrose share a traumatic experience as children, and perhaps as a result they grow up to be lonely adults. Their trauma is worsened, then, by their having no one to lean on, no relationships to enrich their lives. In this way, Byatt depicts relationships as an integral part of life, fundamental to the processes of healing and maturation.

The story begins with children being evacuated from war-torn London—an experience which puts a strain…

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