I firmly believe that most people would benefit from being dropped off in the middle of nowhere and forced to spend some time with non-civilized noises for several hours.
Unfortunately, we are so constantly bombarded with “artistically rearranged” imagery of what nature looks and sounds like, that most of us have some strange ideas about what goes on in the areas of the world that aren’t thick with people.
I’ve touched on this before because this is what I see as one of the biggest disconnects in genres like Epic Fantasy and Remote Area Thrillers, but I really want to focus on the idea of exploration and what it means to leave behind the familiar and enter the unknown.
Someone mentioned Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey” to me this weekend, with a particular emphasis on the transition from the known to the unknown. I always wince a bit at this because it seems to me that so often wilderness is used in these sorts of stories as a stand in for the terrifying and dangerous unknown. There is a strange sort of separation that this creates, even if it is only in the back of the mind.
Life that doesn’t largely involve human interaction becomes exotic, unknowable.
It shouldn’t be.
I think that it is important to understand how the world that doesn’t involve us works and functions. Even if we don’t spend our time clambering over mountains and wrestling with bears, having some knowledge of the world that isn’t plastic is important. In my case, my life constantly interweaves with wilder areas. However, I am deeply conscious of how understanding things like the effects of seasons on the growth of plants and the complicated interactions between soil and fungi give me a better perspective on the balance between the world and the things that live within it.
So often, the natural world in writing is portrayed as dangerous, mystical… and completely incomprehensible.
It is a message that we can internalize and carry into our real world interactions and thoughts about the wild.
The thing with traveling into the unknown is that experience should make it more understandable, not less.
If the journey only makes the woods deeper and darker, perhaps the problem lies not with the forest, but with the hero.
I am fascinated by our relationship to the world around us and how we choose to write and discuss that relationship.
If something’s going to be incomprehensible in my story, it’s going to be because it is a sentient toaster and not because it is a tree. If you would like to see that in action, my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor, is available here.