Wednesday 31 March 2010

Children Inside Trees

There's a bit in Harry Potter where he climbs inside a tree. I believe it's the Whomping Willow. There are two bits in The Box of Delights where Kay Harker takes refuge inside a tree. Whilst small he is escorted around by a mouse and whilst large he is led there by a lady. There's an Enid Blyton novel called The Faraway Tree (followed by the sequel The Magic Faraway Tree) that takes place almost entirely inside a tree. Timmy Tiptoes is imprisoned in a tree as you can see from the illustration on the left which terrified me as a child. Owl in the Winnie the Pooh books lives in one.

[There was a Canadian soldier who signed up to fight in World War One. To get to the lovely trenches he had to take a train all the way across Canada. The train stopped at a station in Winnipeg where somebody had a bear cub for sale so the soldier bought it and named it Winnie because it was purchased in Winnipeg. The bear travelled all the way to England, by which time it had become a regimental mascot. However it was deemed unsuitable for frontline combat, so it was left at London Zoo where it was a big attraction under the name Winnie the Bear. A.A. Milne took his son to see it, but his son couldn't pronounce bear and called it Winnie the Pooh instead.]

There's a bit in Lord Of The Rings where one of them (I think Sam) gets almost eaten by a tree. Possibly related: Ariel in The Tempest was imprisoned inside a pine

[Sycorax] did confine thee,
By help of her more potent ministers
And in her most unmitigable rage,
Into a cloven pine; within which rift
Imprison'd thou didst painfully remain
A dozen years; within which space she died
And left thee there; where thou didst vent thy groans
As fast as mill-wheels strike. 

A suffering that Prospero threatens to revive:

If thou more murmur'st, I will rend an oak
And peg thee in his knotty entrails till
Thou hast howl'd away twelve winters.

I don't wish to get overly psychoanalytical about this because I'm jung and easily freudened*, but can anybody think of other occassions where people are living or imprisoned inside trees, especially in children's books? It seems to be significant to the infantile mind. Here, for example, is the view from inside the hollow tree I loved to play in as a child.

*James Joyce, whose pun that was, was immensely proud that his name was the same as Freud's which, in German, means Joy (ce). That's why Beethoven's Ode To Joy was lots of people singing freude.


  1. How on earth do you know all these things?? I'm lucky if I can remember what book I last read, never mind whether the plot involved somebody locked up in a tree!

    Winnipeg, just for anyone who's interested, n variously thought of as the Centre of the Universe (specifically the intersection of Portage and Main streets) or the End of the Earth (on wild winter nights when the wind is howling through that same intersection).

    The 'tree as homey abode' has figured in a number of childrens' stories, but I'll be damned if I can remember which! I can see one in my mind, and it might have been another Enid Blyton story, but that's all the help I can be.

  2. I wonder if all this can be traced back to the Dryads?

    I found a H C Andersen story

    And this (with a rather humourless analysis)

    Alan Garner is BOUND to have some magical tree in his books - Owl Service, perhaps?

  3. Hamstead Heath, by any chance?


  4. In my excitement, I misspelled "Hampstead". How embarrassing.

  5. How about in real life?

  6. Quite right, Ogaday. That demonstrates a frighteningly indepth knowledge of the inside of trees. Mr Young, there's also a pub inside a tree in South Africa
    Moptop, thank you as ever.
    Deborah, it is all dictated to me by the devil.

  7. The Antipodean26 June 2010 at 10:56

    Do Ewoks count? Elves have a habit of living in trees, although that may all be Tolkien's fault, of course.

    Diana Wynne Jones, who as far as I can recall doesn't imprison or inhabit anyone in a tree in her books, does outline their usual roles in the indispensable Tough Guide to Fantasyland (which I carry on me at all times in case a mirror, painting, random incantation or nasty spot of weather transports me to Fantasyland). They are summarised as Dwelling Places, Hostile Trees, Former People or Supernatural, and the section includes such wise warnings as that hostile, mobile trees "may also try to eat you. In extreme cases they will attack buildings". Nothing to do with children, but provides a tenuous link to Shakespeare via Birnam Wood.

  8. The Antipodean26 June 2010 at 11:18

    For the record, Sam (as usual) gets suspicious, and is the only one not attacked by a tree. Old Man Willow attempts to drown Frodo, eats Pippin and half-eats Merry. It's interesting that following that experience, those two aren't more suspicious of the Ents.

    Anyway, Tolkien describes the noise of a tree eating someone as "like the snick of a lock when a door quietly closes fast." Quiet, but chilling.

    And there's a lovely, twisty old black pine in the Oxford Botanic Garden which was apparently Tolkien's favourite tree. It does look rather like it could come alive.

  9. I'm detecting a definite tang of Oxford in these commments.

  10. The Antipodean28 June 2010 at 15:22

    I spent a week in Oxford last year, and it felt very familiar. Over a few days and coffee with an academic who also loved DWJ, I realised that almost every author I'd loved as a child had lived in Oxford at some point. It was a little eerie, actually; expected to stumble into Fantasyland any minute.

    Anyway, to complete the set, I'd need to mention C.S. Lewis and Lewis Caroll. Umm, does getting to other worlds via a wardrobe made from a magic tree count? Lewis Caroll... ooh, there's a tree at Christ Church which allegedly inspired the Jabberwock. Allegedly.

  11. I am so happy that someone else loves DWJ. The librarian who introduced me to Emma - see this post - introduced me much more successfully to the Chrestomanci series. I still have a thing about men with impeccable manners and elaborately patterned dressing gowns, although I have since (as Dogberry will attest) come round to Austen as well.

  12. The Antipodean28 June 2010 at 16:09

    I'd have a thing about them too, Mrs M, if I knew any. Are there many in your set?

    Have you read The Power of Three*? The landscape is apparently based on that around Oxford and we were discussing the various landmarks over the aforementioned coffee.

    I am also quite fond of Austen, although was not precocious enough to read her as a child.

    *As far I know, this is not related to the Rule of the Bellman.

  13. I haven't read it, which is very exciting - I can now look forward to it.

    Last night I saw a production of Don Giovanni, in which the lead spent much of the last act striding around caddishly in a floor-length red smoking jacket. The woman sitting next to me said "I wish I had a man with a dressing gown like that"; it was indeed very nice, but his manners obviously left much to be desired.

  14. The Antipodean29 June 2010 at 14:55

    Indeed! - although I am now having that doubt that goes with recommending something you've loved for a long time: is it that great, or is it just the reflected glow of childhood? I have quite a bit of confidence in DWJ, though.

    I've just realised that the Antipodes has the wrong climate for dressing gowns, which may explain the dearth of them, although not the dearth of impeccable manners.

    'Caddishly' is a lovely word, and I must admit to a soft spot for the cad, perhaps brought on by too many stories about them being redeemed by the love of a good woman, unlike Don G. Some cads have impeccable manners, unfortunately, so perhaps it is the combination of manners and a decadent dressing gown that is the key. I shall add it to my 'must not wear white shoes' criteria.

    We could commence an advice column based on this premise. "No, no, a simple rich red will not suffice: there should be purple dragons rioting across it, or, at the very least, golden pinstripes. You must end it immediately!" "Yes, embroidered paisley will suffice, as long as it is in tasteful colours, but really, your description of his tea-drinking technique clearly indicates that this will not work. Move on, my dear, before it all ends in tears."