Fictional Forests: The Real-Life Inspirations

“Beyond the Wild Wood comes the wild world,” said the Rat. “And that’s something that doesn’t matter, either to you or to me. I’ve never been there, and I’m never going, nor you either, if you’ve got any sense at all.” ― Kenneth Grahame

The Wild Wood
Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows was inspired by Bisham Woods in Berkshire. He was living in Cookham Dean at the time he wrote his beloved stories. A section of the wood that is actually called Quarry Wood is thought to be the Wild Wood of Grahame’s books. This forest is over 500 years old, from the time of Queen Elizabeth I or before. The classic tales of Ratty, Badger, Mole and Toad have been around more than 100 years themselves.

The Hundred Acre Wood
It was Ashdown Forest in Sussex, England, that made A.A. Milne decide to leave his London apartment and join his wife and young son to live at the forest’s edge. The farmhouse where the family lived was beside a small stream, only a short distance from a quaint Pooh Bridgewooden bridge that they often crossed on their way to Ashdown Forest. It was this forest, this stream and bridge, that were the author’s inspiration for the 100 acre wood (in reality the Five Hundred Acre Wood) in the tales of Winnie the Pooh he first told for his son, Christopher. Milne himself stood on that very bridge and invented the game called Pooh Sticks to play with Christopher. Many other spots within the forest have been pinpointed as influencing the author’s choice of places within his stories, including a place called Gills Lap, which Milne turned into Eeyore’s “gloomy place”; the sandy pit where Roo played, which in reality was an old quarry; and even the pit Pooh and his friends dug as a Heffalump Trap.

You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes. – A.A. Milne

Puzzlewood (Forest of Dean)Middle Earth
Riddled with ancient cave systems, hanging bridges, rocky pathways and twisting trees that seem to watch you from mossy faces, where else could you be but in the forest that inspired Tolkien’s Middle Earth – Puzzlewood. This particular section of the wood is a 14-acre stretch through the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, England. The images of this enchanting place bring Middle Earth to mind so much that you expect to see a hobbit peeking around the trunk of a tree, or perhaps the far-off twinkle of lantern light from a trail of elves headed to the Undying Lands.

Through woven woods in Elvenhome
She lightly fled on dancing feet,
And left him lonely still to roam
In the silent forest listening. – J.R.R. Tolkien

The Forest of Dean
Speaking of the Forest of Dean … a young girl named Joanne moved near this wood, at the edge of the Forest of Tutshill, when she was only 9. Years later she wrote about it in her series of young adult books that rocked the world. You’ve guessed it already – Joanne is J.K. Rowling, and the Forest of Dean makes an appearance near the end of the Harry Potter series, as a place of hiding while Harry, Ron, and Hermione hunt down horcruxes. I’ve gotta say, though, I personally prefer the Forbidden Forest, in spite of its roaming giants, wild werewolves, ghostly spectres, giant spiders, and vengeful centaurs. Who wouldn’t?

BirnamOak2Birnam Wood
The Birnam Oak and the Birnam Sycamore are two ancient trees, and they are all that is left of a great wood that once covered the banks of the River Tay in Scotland. In 1599, King James IV sent a request for entertainers to Elizabeth I. That is how it came to be that a troupe of comedians traveled through this wood, in the areas of Perth, Birnam and Aberdeen. Among that troupe was the playwright, William Shakespeare. It is thought that he used this very wood for his inspiration of Macbeth. In what was referred to as “The Scottish Play,” the army that advanced against Macbeth was camouflaged by the trees of Birnam Wood – making the three witches’ prophecy come true.

The pond and wooded area directly behind C.S. Lewis’ home, The Kilns, in Risinghurst, Oxford, was a source of much inspiration and enjoyment for the author of the timeless Chronicles of Narnia. A curved stone bench, covered with moss and appearing as if it has grown straight into the woods around it, still sits overlooking the pond. The author would sit on this very bench, and perhaps his imagination conjured for him images of fauns dancing between the shadows, dryads fading into ancient tree trunks, or magical pools that could take you to unknown worlds.

It was the quietest wood you could possibly imagine. There were no birds, no insects, no animals, and no wind. You could almost feel the trees growing. – C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew

Whether mentioned in passing, or as a central location for a cast of characters, I have found the stories that contain inspired and inspiring forests to be some of the most magical. Try walking through a quiet wood sometime – does it stir something in you? Does its silence whisper to you? Maybe that’s your own story waiting to be told.

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