Today, our Author Takeover is by Sharon Gosling, whose Scandi Noir YA horror novel, FIR, is out now as part of the RED EYE series from Stripes Books. Set in the middle of an isolated ancient forest in Sweden, FIR has a menacing and claustrophobic atmosphere that haunts the misadventures of a family stranded, surrounded by the might and magic of trees.
With the recent news that the Studio Tour will be unveiling its expansion dedicated to the Forbidden Forest, it’s the perfect time to revisit the grounds where Hogwarts students were punished and humans have feared losing their way for generations. Read on to discover why Sharon thinks forests give us such a visceral reaction.
The Terror of Trees
Trees have fascinated, terrified, and sustained us for millennia. Since the moment that humans first began to establish pockets of habitation amid the great forests that flourished in the wake of the receding ice, trees have been at the very center of human experience. We hacked them down to provide timber for our housing, to provide fuel for our fires, and to light our nights. Their fruits and seeds fed both our people and our livestock. We formed masks and jewelry out of their wood. We carved images of gods from their trunks. They have been everything to us since civilization began.
So it’s really not surprising that stories about trees and about what may live beneath and between them in the places they grow together have been around for as long as stories have been told.
Imagine sitting in a clearing in the cold stillness of sudden, deep night. As you struggle to warm your hands against a burning fire, the dense, impenetrably dark mass of the forest looms all around you, far larger than the tiny group of humans gathered around the flames. What would be worse: a great silence emanating from the huge pool of darkness gathered beneath those dense branches? Or the distant (or perhaps not-so-distant) rustle of something unknown slipping between them? What would be more humbling: to hear the muffled whisper of moving leaves forming words you can’t quite understand? Or for nothing in that endless dark to move at all? No wonder we began to weave myths and legends about those great arboreal beings – about what they might do when we are not looking; about what they might have seen in their great, longer-than-a-human-can-possibly-survive lives; about what else besides us they could be sheltering.
In my new book, FIR, I explore the idea that a force so ancient may well have its own ways of protecting itself from the humans encroaching on its last untouched places. What might that look like? How strange and otherworldly would that be? How could someone trapped amid the magnitude of an endless, vengeful forest ever manage to escape?
Of course, trees in myth and literature are as often nurturing and benevolent as they are forbidding, from a single great tree as a symbol for life to the many worldwide legends of wise, talking trees as crystallized by Tolkien’s ancient Ents. The duality of the human relationship with trees is expertly brought to life in J.K. Rowling’s Forbidden Forest, home to creatures both deadly and friendly, a place both of learning and of punishment for the students of Hogwarts who live in its midst. This, really, is what is important about forests: that they have the power both to teach and to punish, and they are still, millennia after we first began to harvest them, everything to the human race.
Think of Easter Island and the mystery of the civilization that vanished so completely from its shores. Archaeologists believe that when humans first sailed to it – probably in wooden canoes – the now mostly barren island was home to many trees. A frenzy of deforestation led to the destruction of the inhabitants’ only means of escape when the island could no longer provide food and shelter. Without trees to make more canoes, the islanders were trapped. Without trees, those people died out and vanished completely. It’s not a lesson from history that we have learned from. Our great forests are still dying at an exponential rate. The deforestation in South and Central America, the cutting down of the northern boreal forest: these acts are robbing the earth of its lungs.
When there are no forests, there will be no more stories, but there will also be no people to hear them.
The forest will not forgive.
Being cut off from civilization by the harsh Swedish winter is bad enough, but it gets worse when the snows come early and all links between the Strombergs and the outside world cease. With only a grudging housekeeper and increasingly withdrawn parents for company, there is nothing to do but to explore.
But things start to get even more unsettling, there are figures in the ancient pine forests and they’re closing in. With only four walls between them and the evil that’s outside, the family has nothing to do but watch and wait for the snow to melt. But soon it becomes clear that the danger within the old plantation house is greater than what lies outside…
Sharon writes books and articles about television and film, and she has written, produced, and directed audio dramas and the official TV tie-in titles for the popular CBBC series, Wolf Blood. FIR is her first book for teens.