Both sound and scent were at first infinitesimal and dispersed. Both gave the impression of moving in—in waves—from the whole perimeter of the forest. Both increased very slowly in volume, and both were mixed, a sound and a smell fabricated of many disparate sounds and smells. Maybe at very bad times we get into their world, or notice what they are doing in ours.
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The Thing in the Forest. Plot Summary. All Themes Trauma and Loss Reality vs. Fantasy Relationships. All Characters Penny Primrose. LitCharts Teacher Editions. Teach your students to analyze literature like LitCharts does. Detailed explanations, analysis, and citation info for every important quote on LitCharts. The original text plus a side-by-side modern translation of every Shakespeare play.
Sign Up. Already have an account? Sign in. From the creators of SparkNotes, something better. Sign In Sign Up. Literature Poetry Lit Terms Shakescleare. Download this LitChart! Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Themes All Themes. Characters All Characters Penny Primrose. Symbols All Symbols. Theme Wheel. LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Thing in the Forest , which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Penny and Primrose are two girls who are evacuated with a group of children to a mansion in the English countryside during World War II. They are evacuated to escape the German bombing of London i. The children are described as a ragtag bunch, with scuffed shoes and scraped knees, and carrying toys and dolls as items of comfort, most likely to forestall the terror they must feel. The war is the event that the girls are literally escaping, but they will spend the rest of their lives trying to escape it figuratively, as well, as they struggle to cope with the traumatic experience of leaving their families and encountering the Thing in the forest.
Active Themes. Trauma and Loss. Related Quotes with Explanations. Penny is tall, thin, and pale—possibly older than Primrose , who is plump with curly blond hair.
The narrator compares them to Hansel and Gretel, two fairy tale children who were likewise led into a strange environment with no promise that they would return. Feeling alone and scared, Penny and Primrose latch on to each other.
The nascent friendship becomes a way to combat the feelings of isolation and dread they feel due to being evacuated under the threat of bombs and separated from their families.
By comparing the girls to Hansel and Gretel, well-known fairy tale characters, Byatt signals that this story is a modern take on the fairy tale genre, with strong elements of fantasy and allegory.
Reality vs. The girls arrive, along with a group of many other children, at the mansion: a big, eerie place surrounded by a forest. As the girls settle down for the night, they further reflect on their isolation and fear. The trauma of their separation from their families and the frightening atmosphere of the mansion begin to affect them, setting the stage for their nightmarish encounter with the Thing.
The next morning, after breakfast, Penny and Primrose go outdoors with the other children, who play ball and other games. Instead of joining these games, the girls decide to explore the forest. Alys persists, promising not to be a burden, the way younger kids do who idolize older ones, but Penny and Primrose refuse. By refusing to let Alys accompany them, Penny and Primrose unwittingly limit the impact of meeting the Thing to just the two of them.
This makes them more isolated later in life, as the experience proves to be a traumatic one that only they share. This refusal also creates a unique bond between Penny and Primrose that enables Byatt to contrast the way the two confront their trauma as adults.
Download it! Creeping into the forest , the girls vow not to go too far, wanting to stay in sight of the gate. Finally, Penny and Primrose catch sight of the source of the smell coming toward them through the woods, and they crouch behind a log so as to remain unseen. They can scarcely believe such a creature exists. Penny and Primrose huddle together, shaking as they watch the thing slither away. But when they arrive they find the other children still on the lawn, continuing to play, oblivious to what the girls have just experienced.
The next day, all the children are sent to temporary homes for the rest of the evacuation. Penny goes to a parsonage, Primrose to a dairy farm. Their unwillingness or inability to discuss the Thing, even with each other, deepens their feelings isolation and dread, as does their sudden departure from the country mansion. After the evacuation, the girls each return to their families, which the war has altered.
Her mother withdraws afterwards, becoming a shut-in. Each girl lost her father during her exile in the country mansion. These losses destabilize each of their families, further exacerbating the transformative and destructive effects of the war on their lives. That instability, coupled with their frightening encounter with the Thing in the forest, constitutes a complex compound of early childhood traumas that each girl spends her life trying to overcome.
Neither of them married. The girls respond to the instability of their families in different ways, leading them to different career paths and lifestyles. Yet they are united by the experience they shared.
The story picks up again in The country mansion that had housed the evacuees during the war has been turned into a museum. Penny and Primrose , now adults, each turn up for a tour of the museum on the same day by pure coincidence, each unaware that the other is there. Both of their mothers have recently died. The women have not spoken at all since the day they saw the thing in the forest. The return is a necessary first step in the healing process, and it mirrors the ways in which people constantly revisit the traumas of the past in their minds, if not by physically traveling to revisit the places where the events occurred.
A description next to the book tells of the Loathly Worm , a giant creature that, according to legend, had terrorized the countryside around the mansion. Various people over the years had tried to kill the worm, but it had always come back, having the ability, like garden worms, to grow new body parts if divided. This makes it seem less mysterious and more real despite its fantastic qualities and legendary status. Making the Thing more real gives Penny and Primrose the courage to return to the forest for a second confrontation.
Delighted to see each other again, the women go out for tea. They talk about their jobs, being unmarried, and their parents. They talk about the mansion, commenting on how, despite all the history on display, there are no indications that the place was ever used to house evacuees.
Finally, they discuss the thing they once saw in the forest. Small talk helps the women get reacquainted, though it does not strengthen their bond. Instead, it seems to further alienate them.
Turning their discussion to the loathly worm is important because it makes the fantastic creature seem more real, and it constitutes the next step in the healing process: talking about the trauma. Recalling how they never saw Alys after that moment, and how no one ever asked about her or looked for her, they conclude that the thing must have killed her. Byatt uses the character of Alys to further blur the boundary between reality and fantasy.
Thus, discussing Alys helps the women confirm their memories of the girl, which is one more step in overcoming their trauma because, even though it may seem like an insignificant detail, each woman feels less isolated by realizing they have this memory in common. Penny and Primrose agree to have dinner together next evening, but neither of them keeps the appointment. Instead, on the following day, they set out separately for the forest surrounding the mansion.
Primrose hikes for a while, then sits on a tree trunk, thinking of her mother, who used to make stuffed animals to give to her. It ruined the magic of the animals when she discovered her mother had made them.
With her father dead and her mother underwhelming, Primrose was left to figure things out on her own, contributing to her feelings of isolation. In this way, Primrose shows that she prefers the inventions of her own imagination to the cold facts of reality.
Then she leaves the forest. Primrose takes her next step in the healing process, a step that is unique to her. She inverts the normal order of reality and fantasy by deciding that her imagination and her vision of herself as brave is just as real, if not more real, than objective reality.
This becomes her method for dealing with her trauma, as it enables her to shape and define herself by crafting her own identity.
She does not need to see or hear the loathly worm again. All she ever needed to heal was inside herself, and she finally tqps into this wellspring of strength and self-reliance. Penny is in a different part of the forest , trying to find the spot where she and Primrose had seen the loathly worm as children.
She hears a rumbling and thinks it is the worm returning, but she sees nothing. She thinks about her dead father. After a while, when night falls, she leaves the forest. Primrose appreciates the powers of the imagination in a way that enables her to move on with her life without answering the question of whether the Thing was real or imagined.
The Thing in the Forest Summary
These notes were contributed by members of the GradeSaver community. A number of children is sent from the city by their parents with the only one purpose — to save their lives. The World War II is in its full height, so many children were evacuated. The train takes them to an unknown place. Two little girls named Penny and Primrose meet in the train and become friends at once.
The Thing in the Forest
The Thing in the Forest. Plot Summary. All Themes Trauma and Loss Reality vs. Fantasy Relationships.
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Two young British girls are displaced the by the Second World War and sent, with a group of other children, off to the relative safety of the countryside. There is a sense of command in her tone, of world-making. It gives the story a sense of the epic, and also its necessarily dreamy quality. The two women are imperfect mirrors of each other, Penny and Primrose. Sometimes Byatt writes of them in the collective, as if they were a single unit with a single, beating feeling, sometimes as individuals. Though, ultimately their fates, while bound, are individual. Penny succumbs; Primrose does not.