The best books where the forest feels like a character in its own right

Darragh McManus Author Of Shiver The Whole Night Through
By Darragh McManus

Who am I?

I’m an Irish author who lives close to three very different forests: deciduous, planted coniferous, and the planned gardens of a former stately home that once welcomed WB Yeats and several other famous writers. I’ve always loved the woods – it often feels like stepping through a portal into some other, stranger parallel world – and drew huge inspiration from these places for Shiver the Whole Night Through. I wanted the forest to feel like a character, which was sentient and had agency. I incorporated several real-life locations into the fictional Shook Woods…and wrote a lot of the story in the forest, gazing into the dark trees, waiting for them to speak. 

I wrote...

Shiver The Whole Night Through

By Darragh McManus,

Book cover of Shiver The Whole Night Through

What is my book about?

Shiver the Whole Night Through is a YA novel, blending mystery and horror, about a bullied Irish youngster drawn into a dream world of magic, desire, hope, and revenge. After months of harassment and romantic heartbreak, seventeen-year-old Aidan Flood feels ready to end it all. 

But when he learns that local girl Sláine McAuley actually has, he discovers a new sense of purpose and becomes determined to find out what happened to her. Aidan isn’t sure if beautiful Sláine is a ghost, a demon, or the figment of his imagination. The weather is turning colder, an ancient evil has awoken – and it might just be the death of them all.

The books I picked & why

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The Castle of Crossed Destinies

By Italo Calvino,

Book cover of The Castle of Crossed Destinies

Why this book?

A group of disparate Medieval travellers finds themselves marooned in a spooky castle in the middle of a forest. Some strange enchantment means they’re unable to speak, so each tells their tale through the medium of the Tarot. I love Calvino – the kind of stone-cold genius who made everything look easy – and I love this book, which immerses you deep within the forest: an almost mythical realm where anything feels possible. 

The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories

By Angela Carter,

Book cover of The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories

Why this book?

The English novelist famously denied that she was rewriting fairy-tales for adults in this brilliant story collection, rather digging down for the core truth of each then using it to write something genuinely new. But she definitely tapped into something elemental in those original Grimm-style stories, whose heart and mind lie in the forest, in particular with pieces such as The Erl-King, The Company of Wolves and Wolf-Alice. 

The Lord of the Rings

By J.R.R. Tolkien,

Book cover of The Lord of the Rings

Why this book?

Tolkien’s fantasy epic is packed with forests – Mirkwood, Lothlórien, Fangorn, the Old Forest, and many more – and these aren’t just big bunches of trees grouped together. In LOTR, the forest is always alive. The trees move, think, talk. They play a key role in some of the plot developments later on. They ruled Middle Earth during some of its formative years. They have, are, and make magic. 

Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier

By Mark Frost,

Book cover of Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier

Why this book?

Essentially two parts of one book, Secret History and The Final Dossier see Mark Frost – co-writer, with the legendary David Lynch, of the equally legendary TV series – returning to the dark, dark woods which cast a baleful shadow on the troubled logging town. The woods are the source of all evil in Twin Peaks: malevolence, mystery, mayhem, murder. In real-life Lynch once described the forest as being “everything those old fairy-tales made you feel”.

The Crystal World

By J.G. Ballard,

Book cover of The Crystal World

Why this book?

A tropical forest in Africa is the epicentre of a bizarre and very troubling phenomenon. Through a sort of “leak” in space-time, everything is slowly turning to crystal, and this “disease” will eventually seep out into the rest of the world. An English doctor goes on an Apocalypse Now-style journey into the forest to try and understand. Ballard’s sci-fi classic is as weird and thought-provoking as always, and the forest itself is a palpable presence throughout. 

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