The Journey Into The Woods

Dissertation An Exploration of the Woods as a ‘Great Image’ in three Contemporary Stories and the Relationship Between ‘Nature’ and Reality. “Here, she will be trapped in her own illusion because everything in the wood is exactly as it seems” - Angela Carter’s Erl-King p.97

Abstract

The journey into the woods might be a positive transformative experience in fairy-tales; however, in contemporary storytelling, the journey is not as smooth. I will examine three contemporary stories: Angela Carter’s The Erl-King (1979), Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist (2009) and Robert Eggers’ The VVitch: A New England Folktale (2015, set in 1630); chosen for the intensity with which they use the woods and their closeness to the horror genre. Each chapter will explore a different theme: Entering the Woods, In the Woods and Leaving, or not?; in order to discover how traditional motifs are used in the genre of horror, supernatural and weird fiction. The woods will be playing the role of the ‘great image’ as conceived by Gaston Bachelard in The Poetics of Space, and ‘nature’ as theorised by ecocritics such as Timothy Morton, Simon C. Estok and Brad Tabas. Bachelard examines the role ‘great images’ have in shaping both the personal and the collective imagination and Simon C. Estok creates the term ecophobia to critique societies obsessive control and demonisation of nature. Ecophobia is rooted in our cultural encoding, just as the great image is, and both ecophobia and the great image alter our perceptions of reality. This exploration aims to uncover how different presentations of the woods as a great image demonstrate that attitudes towards nature are complex and often have ecophobic beliefs at their heart. The woods still have the power to frighten us, even if they are exactly as they seem.

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