I was walking across campus this morning (very carefully, because it’s ridiculously icy today) trying to decide what to write about when a thought struck me.

Why do so many fairy tales involve woods?

Woods near Blarney Castle, Ireland.
Woods near Blarney Castle, Ireland.

Think about it. Sleeping Beauty was raised in the woods, then her castle was isolated by a forest of thorns. Snow White ran to the forest to avoid death. Red Riding Hood traveled through the woods (and maybe over a river?) to her grandmother’s house. Hansel and Gretel were lost (or abandoned) in the dark part of the forest. Rapunzel was locked in a tower hidden deep in the woods. (Sidenote: there aren’t very many good synonyms for “woods”. I hate that I have to write it every sentence.) The twelve dancing princesses traveled to a magical wood every night for a ball. The beast’s castle in Beauty and the Beast is traditionally surrounded by a dark forest. Even the original story of Cinderella uses the woods! Her wish is granted by a magical tree at her mother’s grave rather than a fairy godmother. (In some versions the tree is in the forest, in others it’s in more of a garden. Still. It’s a tree.)

I’m not the first person to notice this trend; the whole premise of “Into the Woods” is that all the fairy tale characters run into each other in the same woods. I haven’t had time to research the significance of this theme, so I’ll share my personal theory.

In the time when most of these stories were told, the woods were a place of mystery. They were sometimes dangerous, sometimes a source of life. The woods represented the unknown. Because they were mysterious, they were regarded as magical. So it makes sense that stories of magic would include the forests. Again, this is simply speculation, not fact.

Why do you think the woods were so prominently featured in fairy tales?

Until next time, word nerds!

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