The forest is a potent symbol in the human psyche, it represents the primal, beyond civilisation, life giving but also harbouring unseen dangers. In his introduction to this collection of forest themed weird fiction, William P. Simmons notes that it can be treated in three major ways in such tales- as an eerie setting, whereby it’s remoteness allows cover for all manner of horror, a domain where witches, werewolves and demons can hide; that occult forces be born of it and act as the personification of nature, such as satyrs and elementals or that nature itself is a sentient being beyond human understanding. The tales collected here represent all three.
The tales are drawn from the late 19th century & early 20th century. Some are likely to be well known to folk horror fans, such as Arthur Machen’s The White People and MR James’ View From A Hill, both frequently anthologised but always welcome, while others are completely new to me, such as The Dead Valley, by Ralph Adams Cram, an eerie tale of a deadly landscape, high in the Swedish mountains.
The death of Pan is something often quoted, but judging by some of the tales here, he’s very much alive and lurking, Algernon Blackwood’s The Touch of Pan has him as nature personified, way beyond our concepts of good and evil, and he also turns up in Algernon Blackwood’s The Touch of Pan and E.M. Forster’s The Story Of A Panic.
The collection is rounded out with an appendix reprinting an essay on sylvan horrors by the ghost hunter Elliott O’Donnell, who, while not necessarily the most reliable source as a researcher, spins a great yarn. This makes for some eerie entertainment, with accounts of pixies and haunted trees.
This is a great collection of sylvan horror tales, ideal late-night reading, when the wind is whipping branches against your windows…
Review by SJ Lyall