Friday, 10 December 1999

William Morris: The Wood Beyond the World (1894)

Edition: Oxford University Press, 1980
Review number: 404

The earliest of Morris' fantasy stories, The Wood Beyond the World is short and simply told, in the style derived from medieval romance that is his trademark. The story is one which emphasises the psychological world at the expense of the plot, and has the curious feature of an ending which seems to forget about the beginning.

Driven from his home by an unhappy marriage, Walter Goldn is haunted by a recurring vision of a lady, an attendant maid wearing the iron ring of thralldom on her thigh, and a hideous dwarf. Attempting to return home for revenge when he hears news that his father has been killed by his wife's relatives, his ship is blown off course to a deserted region. He makes his way into a primeval forest, the wood beyond the world, where he meets the people from his vision.

It is easy to see Freudian ideas at work in this book, particularly in the scenes with the lady in the wood, hunting dangerous animals together, stalked by the dwarf. (As in many medieval authors including Thomas Malory and Chretien de Troyes, the dwarf stands for impurity and evil.) Yet Morris was writing before Freud's theories about dreams were published, and his images will have come from his medieval sources and his own imagination. They are still disturbing, particularly with the strange resolution in which Walter forgets his revenge totally, being crowned the king of an entirely different nation.

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