Perhaps now that it is officially Summer, we can talk about a subject that seems to be creeping out a lot of authors: forests.
Have you, like us, noticed just how many authors are using The Woods as a scary setting? Children go in but don't come out, or a pair go in and only one comes out, or there is not trace or the traces lead nowhere. Lives are altered forever, marriages are shattered, towns become suspicious places - the plots have similarities, like variations on the theme.
This has been going on for some time and we're not trying to point fingers, just note a recurring theme and wondering what brings it up. Some books that easily come to mind are Ruth Rendell's The Babes in the Wood, Harlan Coben's The Woods, the new Edgar winner from Tana French In the Woods, John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things, Mathew Scott Hansen's The Shadowkiller, CJ Box's Blue Heaven, James W. Hall's Forests of the Night, Gerard Donovan's Julius Winsom, Earl Emerson's Primal Threat and, later this Fall, the new Carol O'Connell, Bone by Bone.
Certainly, this isn't an American phenonenon - Rendell, Connolly and French write in the British Isles - and it isn't regional as some of the US books are East Coast and some West Coast. So what is it? Is it the fears of the baby-boomers coming out in mid-life or fears they have for their children? Something old and unresolved in the human gene? After all, Robin Hood took refuge in Sherwood Forest because it was said to be haunted and the Sheriff's men wouldn't pursue them into it's dark depths.
The woods can be dark and tangled and it is hard to see your feet let alone something that might be hiding and waiting for you. And, at a time when what we've known is endangered - the costs of everything are skyrocketing, food is suspect, the climate is chaotic and the planet is possibly threatened, wars have become unhinged from states and are now fought by underground foes. It's like we're all, suddenly and unexpectedly, Deep In The Woods With No Clear Trail Out, No Sense of Direction, It Seems to Be Getting Darker and We Just Want This To Be Over...
And, maybe like a good scary horror movie, these forest-set stories help us to be frightened in a safe, controlled way with some sort of resolution in sight, in our reading chair, so that we can expell some of the generalized fear we feel and try, do our best, to function like adults. Maybe it works like that too for the writers.