Tuesday Terror! Weird Woods edited by John Miller

If you go down to the woods today…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Set amidst the ancient woods and forests of Britain, these twelve tales take us into the realms of folklore and the supernatural. The book starts with a short introduction from the editor in which he discusses how woods have been seen as the home to all kinds of weirdness – hauntings, druids, evil things surviving from the ancient past. He suggests that modern people have become physically separated from the forest, and this has led to them learning to fear it.

The stories come from the usual mix of well-known and less familiar writers, and the occasional one who is perhaps better remembered for a different genre. EF Benson, Algernon Blackwood and MR James appear, along with Edith Nesbit, Marjorie Bowen and Walter de la Mare, and several others whose names weren’t familiar to me. I gave the bulk of the stories – seven of them – four stars, while two achieved the full five, and the rest were all threes. So not many real stand-outs, but no complete duds either. Overall, a solid collection.

As usual, here’s a flavour of some of the ones I most enjoyed:

The Man Who Went Too Far by EF Benson – probably the most “weird” story in the book, this is a tale of narcissism, the search for joy and the god of nature, Pan. I highlighted this in a previous Tuesday Terror! post.

The White Lady by Elliot O’Donnell – presented as a true story. When the narrator was a boy, he was fascinated by tales of a White Lady who was said to haunt a tree-lined avenue in the local laird’s estate. So one night he sneaks out and hides inside the bole of a tree. He does indeed see the White Lady but he also sees something more… This is a short story, but well-told.

The Name-Tree by Mary Webb – Laura has a deep passionate love of the cherry orchard owned by her father, especially of one tree, her name-tree. Her father has fallen on hard times, though, and sells the orchard, although the new owner allows them to stay on as tenants. But he develops a passion for Laura, and when she will not willingly give herself to him, he threatens that he will throw them out of their home and part her from her beloved cherry orchard for ever. But if she consents, the orchard will be hers forever. The intro tells us that Webb was a feminist writer, and the story certainly has strong feminist themes. Dark, disturbing and excellent.

The Tree by Walter de la Mare – this is a very weird story of a man who has become obsessed by a wondrous tree of a kind never before seen. For years, he draws and paints it again and again, and eventually his drawings begin to appear on the art market, until one day his long-estranged brother sees one. Thinking that now his brother must be making money from his art, he decides to visit him, but what he finds is not what he expects! No idea what this one was about, exactly, but it’s quite unsettling and very well written.

So plenty of variety and some new names for me to look out for in the future. Personally I’m more inclined to find that spookiness lies in alleyways and foggy days and Gothic buildings and the haunts of men, but I enjoyed my tramp though the woods, and I suspect the stories in this collection would have an even stronger appeal to people more in tune with nature and the world of folklore.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

36 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! Weird Woods edited by John Miller

  1. If you think of Robin Hood and his Merry Men hiding out in forests, they used to be seen as places of safety and refuge, so I can see the idea that people’ve got separated from them. Soap opera characters use them for burying bodies in!

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  2. There is something about the woods, isn’t there, FictionFan? A lot of people fear being in a forest, whether it’s because of that separation you mention, or for another reason. Either way, it’s a good place to set a spooky story. And I’ve read lots of crime fiction, too, that takes place in the forest, or where a body is found in a forest, or, or, or… I’m very happy to hear that the collection was more or less consistently good, with no ‘duds.’ That’s not a given with any collection, and it’s great when it happens.

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    • Haha, yes, the last thing you should ever do is take a dog for a walk in the woods – corpses everywhere!! 😉 I think he was onto something with the idea that we’ve become distanced from nature so find it full of fear. I’m sure people who live in and around woods don’t find them half as scary as us urbanites… but maybe those people would find the idea of walking city streets at night terrifying.

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  3. This sounds good, FF. I think the woods can be an interesting place to set a scary story — all those critters stirring underfoot (and overhead), the dark, the unknown …. Yep, not many city folks relish wandering among forests these days!

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    • Yes, I definitely find the idea of woods at night far more scary than the idea of walking round the city at night! And yet I’m sure if I was a rural person I’d feel the exact opposite. I must admit I’d be more scared of the critters than the wood spirits though – or the murderers out there burying bodies… 😉

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  4. I’ve never really thought much about why forests and woodland are often used in fiction to create a sinister atmosphere, but the fact we have become disconnected from nature is an interesting idea. I’m glad this was a solid collection over all, anthologies are often a bit touch and go.

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    • Yes, I thought he was onto something with that idea too. Plus the isolation always adds to an air of menace – it’s a different kind of fear to what you might feel in a crowded city. I’ve been lucky with anthologies this year. Most of them have been pretty consistently good which is quite unusual.

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  5. I’ve only read one anthology from the “weird” series (The Platform’s Edge) and even though I enjoyed it, I think this one might appeal even more. I live in the woods, so I know it can be a spooky place at times! I’m off to add this one to the wishlist. (dang you!)

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    • I haven’t read that one, but want to! Actually there’s loads of them I haven’t read – unlike the crime ones I only seem to get sent occasional weird and SF ones. I add all the others to my wishlist to buy but hardly ever seem to be able to fit them in! Haha, I’m not sorry – not at all! 😉

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    • Yes, good point! To be honest, I suspect I’d be more scared of the fanged creatures than of the ancient wood spirits, but I don’t think I’ll put it to the test! I shall stick to my city – that’s quite scary enough at times!

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  6. Wasn’t there another post where we were discussing fear of the woods and whether or not it was common for people to feel uncomfortable in the forest? I seem to recall wondering whether it was a location thing; I feel that where I live the woods are seen as a place of rest or exploration. Also, I’ve been reading some late 19th century stories and Pan shows up a lot more than I expected!

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    • Yes, I think it was when I was using individual stories form this collection for Tuesday Terror posts and both you and Christine from NZ felt that spooky woods were a British thing. Haha, the Victorians really seemed to be fixated on Pan. I suspect it was because of all that repressed passion they had to deal with in real life – Pan was a kind of metaphor for all those lustful feelings they couldn’t possibly admit to! 😉

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        • Oh, hurrah, I’m glad your copy has the Pan chapter in it, unlike that hideously butchered copy I got for review a few years ago! Ha, my image of Pan was created by that book, so I always though he was a kindly, if somewhat frightening, god. Then I read some Victorian horror and discovered a whole different side to him… 😉

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          • It’s such a beautiful chapter, even if it’s rather obscure for kids today. Likewise, my intro to Pan was from Wind in the Willows and Narnia so pretty far from the horror stories. It’s sad to think of that chapter being omitted.

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            • Yes, I think it’s the spiritual heart of the book – without it, it would just be an adventure story rather than an early introduction into the joys of beautifully written fiction…

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            • It really is. I know a lot of people think of the story as being about Toad but I always remember it as a story of friendship and particularly between Mole and Rat and I think that’s what the quieter chapters convey. Without them, the story loses so much of its charm and unique flavour. That image of little Portly in Pan’s lap is so beautiful. And even more poignant, I think, knowing that Grahame’s son who he wrote the book for died young.

              If it makes you feel any better, we have three copies of The Wind in the Willows in our house and they all contain The Piper at the Gates of Dawn! (I checked!)

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            • When I was a child, I assumed Pan was just what the animals called Jesus. I knew he looked different from the illustrations, but I assumed Jesus just did that so the animals would feel he was one of them. And I must say even as an adult I still think that the way Ratty reacts to him makes him seem far more like Jesus than like the Pan I’ve come across elsewhere. It’s such a beautiful chapter! I agree about the other chapters – it was the non-Toad ones that worked best for me too. The Christmas mice and Ratty getting wanderlust…

              It makes me feel much better! I still get enraged every time I think of that horrible book! 😂

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            • Re-reading it recently, Pan definitely seemed like a Christ figure to me though I’m not sure the kids made that connection. I’d forgotten about Wayfarers All but that’s such a beautiful one too. Definitely made me want to travel somewhere warm and southern…though that may just be lockdown in January.

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            • I love that he didn’t dumb down the language for his audience. In retrospect, I imagine I drove my mum mad by asking what all the “big words” meant – no wonder she was so keen to teach us all how to use dictionaries…

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  7. I managed to find the Woman in White online – it does evoke well the special joy and madness of being out alone at night in the natural world and has a wonderful ending twist. You do manage to erode my ‘not interested in ghost stories’ stance 😀

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    • Haha, I told you I’d brainwash you eventually! I wish I could find The Name-Tree online – I suspect you’d enjoy it too. You’ll just have to start getting your library to order in these anthologies… 😀

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  8. I’d say, if I had to rank what scares me more, forests or alleyways, I would say forests, because they seem more likely to hide something supernatural, as opposed to a man-built city. The name-tree sounds like my favourite story, very interesting premise and idea!

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    • i think I’m more scared of humans than ghosts, so alleyways and dark city streets frighten me more. And if I was a ghost I’d always choose to haunt a Gothic mansion rather than a forest… 😉 The Name-Tree is great but unfortunately I can’t find a copy of it online. 😦

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