Insomnia: an atypical glose

“into that world inverted

where left is always right,

where the shadows are really the body,

where we stay awake all night” – ‘Insomnia’ by Elizabeth Bishop

You know that feeling right before you fall asleep,

when liquid time floats your body in drifting

seas of semi-conscious paradigm

into that world inverted

by the senses? A mirror world where hours slow and quicken,

the mind loose and mutable as water.

A space where the mind’s eye is blind,

where left is always right

and everything’s identical qualitatively

but reverse like light through a pinhole.

The self does not matter or maybe too much,

where the shadows are really the body

and you’re there/not-there all at once.

A too-fast mind scattering thoughts like bright stars

through vertiginous skies. Brain interprets, distorts,

where we stay awake all night.

National Poetry Day 2016

Yesterday was National Poetry Day in the UK and I forgot to post a poem, so posting one today which is partly influenced by the Bad Girls convention I went to last weekend and which I’m in the middle of writing a blog post about.  Hope you enjoy it!

“How does hate swing through fixation into love, or something like? So if she drives by in the
family car I want to part the traffic
like a sea for her-“
– ‘Clodia’, Tiffany Atkinson
There are times when the body
doesn’t make sense. A sudden heart-
jolt, stomach-swoop at the wrong time,
obsession you don’t want to start.
How does hate swing through fixation into love?
I know that I shouldn’t like her.
She’s so smart, strong, complex and free:
everything that I’m not. And yet
why do I need her to need me,
or something like? So if she drives by in the
pouring rain, I’m in the road, soaked.
She’s in the blueprint of my mind,
my default thoughts, pulling feelings
like gravity. If I’m behind
her family car I want to part the traffic.
It’s visceral; my blood beats with
emotions I don’t understand,
a vertigo of confusion.
Love-hate crashes like waves on sand,
like a sea for her.

Quick apology post!

Hi, just a quick post to apologise for the fact that I haven’t posted in months!  had a bit of a rubbish summer, decided to try to come off medication because I was fed up with the side effects and feeling rubbish for relying on drugs which really wasn’t a good idea and my mood started swinging from totally jittery-hyped to wanting to not exist on a nearly daily basis which was exhausting and nearly lost any friendships or close relationships I actually have.  So I’m taking them again and have just about settled back into ‘normal’ or whatever that means when you’re on high doses of psychiatric meds!  But I feel ‘real’ again, my mood’s more stable and I’m nowhere near as paranoid as I was over the summer so definitely a good thing.  And am hoping to get back on track with blogging!  Sorry again for disappearing off the face of the blogosphere 😉

The Forbidden Forest: The symbolism of forests through folklore and storytelling behind J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series

***This is an essay I wrote at uni years ago; thought it would fit with the Harry Potter-themed posts I’m sharing this week!***

In an interview in 2008, J. K. Rowling said “Everything, everything I have written, was thought of for that precise moment when Harry goes into the forest… it is the last truth of the story”. Forests have been an important symbol in folklore from ancient mythology to modern fantasy and in this essay, I am going to examine the meanings behind their symbolism and how they have been used in different forms of storytelling leading up to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

Forests played an important part in ancient mythology, and in particular in the Greek, Celtic and Native American mythologies. In Ancient Greece, they were the home of Dryads, or wood nymphs, who lived in the trees. The word ‘Dryad’ comes from the Greek ‘drys’ meaning oak although the word is used to describe nymphs from different types of trees, each species of which has its own different nymph. As well as spirits living in trees, they are seen as semi-divine as they are spirits of nature which played a very important role in the belief system of almost all ancient civilizations. In a ‘Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology’, William Smith writes that “The early Greeks saw in all the phenomena of ordinary nature some manifestation of the deity; springs, rivers, grottoes, trees, and mountains, all seemed to them fraught with life; and all were only the visible embodiments of so many divine agents. The salutary and beneficent powers of nature were thus personified, and regarded as so many divinities; and the sensations produced on man in the contemplation of nature, such as awe, terror, joy, delight, were ascribed to the agency of the various divinities of nature”, which could also be applicable to other ancient civilizations.

The forest is associated with change and cycles because of the changing of the seasons, which is described in John Fraim’s ‘Symbolism of Place’ as “the time aspect of place symbolism”. This illustrates the idea that time is relative, and that for ancient civilizations, time is cyclical and dependent of the seasons and natural phenomena rather than the human constructions of clocks and watches. In Greek mythology, Demeter was the goddess of the harvest and the seasons. When her daughter Persephone was taken to the underworld by Hades, she stopped the movements of the Earth while she searched for Persephone, and life on Earth began to die because of the lack of seasons. Zeus ordered Persephone’s return which led to the emergence of spring and the four seasons. This myth illustrates the importance of the cycles of nature and ‘natural time’ as opposed to constructed, which was the view held by the ancient civilizations. Trees also play an important part in the cycle of life on Earth as they produce oxygen needed to breathe, which also adds to their importance in the natural world.

The forest is a key feature of Celtic mythology due to the landscape of Celtic countries such as Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The Celts believed that there was an ‘Otherworld’ governed by deities and other supernatural beings such as fairies and spirits which existed in the same spatial world as mortals but had a different concept of time. In Celtic myths, this enchanted space was often portrayed in forests as they symbolized Nature, or Mother Earth. Each tree had different connotations, which shows how important tree and forest symbolism was in Celtic mythology.   J.K. Rowling draws on these associations with the different woods that make up the wands in the Harry Potter series. Harry’s wand is made of holly, which is associated with life and protection whereas Voldemort’s wand is made of poisonous yew. The elder wand from ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ represents sorrow and death as well as rebirth and renewal, which is significant because of the way Harry’s battle against Voldemort can be seen as illustrating the ancient view of time as cyclical as Harry’s ‘death’ and ‘rebirth’ lead to a new beginning in the Wizarding world.

Bruno Bettelheim writes in ‘The Uses of Enchantment’ that “Since ancient times the near-impenetrable forest in which we get lost has symbolized the dark, hidden, near-impenetrable world of our unconscious” (‘Uses of Enchantment’, p.94) which is the way in which he interprets the frequent use of the forest as a fairytale setting. He uses the act of a fairy tale hero entering a forest “with an as yet undeveloped personality” and coming out with “a much more highly-developed humanity” (p.94-5) to symbolize “the need to find oneself” (p.217). This follows Carl Jung’s analysis of fairy tales showing that certain ‘archetypes’ shown in fairy tales illustrate forms of the collective unconscious which is “identical in all individuals” (‘Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious’, p.43). The idea of the collective unconscious does seem to fit with the way in which some fairy tales are common to many different cultures although they vary dependent on differing worldviews. For example, the Native American myths often describe the four elements, the seasons and the Great Spirit in Nature whereas Ancient Greek myths involve various deities and heroes. All traditional cultures seem to have accepted the idea of an ‘ultimate reality’ but it is interpreted in different ways. According to ‘A Dictionary of Symbols’ by Juan Eduardo Cirlot, “Forest-symbolism…is connected at all times levels with the symbolism of the female principle or of the Great Mother…since the female principle is identified with the unconscious in Man, it follows that the forest is also a symbol of the unconscious”, which links the ideas of the forest as Nature and Mother Earth and Jung’s analysis of the unconscious.

In an essay called ‘Transformations of the Fairy Tale in Contemporary Writing’ from ‘A Companion to the Fairy Tale’, Tom Shippey writes fairy tales are “set against a background of forests and peasants and kings of nameless countries” (p.266). He says that, for modern readers, this “lack of verisimilitude is incomprehensible” (p.266) but is could be seen as another form of archetype because the lack of specific time and space is part of what makes fairy tales so ‘timeless’ and applicable universally. The universality of folk and fairy tales can make them seem more ‘believable’, not in the sense that they actually happened but that, as Bettelheim says, the forest is a metaphor for something common to all peoples and cultures. Jack Zipes expands on Bettelheim’s analysis in his book ‘The Brothers Grimm: from enchanted forests to the modern world’ where he writes that “Inevitably they find their way into a forest. It is there that they lose and find themselves. It is there that they gain a sense on what should be done” (Ch.3, ‘Exploring Historical Paths’) which seems almost identical to Bettelheim’s analysis, but Zipes adds that “Nothing gains power over the forest, but the forest possesses the power to change lives and alter destinies”. This idea seems a little excessive as it appears to personify the forest as something other than an archetypal setting but there is a sense in many fairy tales, particularly those of the Brothers Grimm whose tales Zipes is analyzing, that the forest has “powers” of its own and is in itself ‘magical’ although that is not specifically stated. In fairy tales, when a hero or heroine enters a forest, it can be assumed that something threatening or dangerous is going to happen, but whether the forest itself is the danger is ambiguous.

In the article ‘Once Upon a Time’ from a magazine called ‘Inside Journal’ published in 1997, Jonathan Young writes that “The deep dark forest is a common representation of the feared elements within” and refers to Jung’s analysis of the ‘shadow’, which is a repressed part of the unconscious mind (not part of the collective unconscious- it is individual to each person) and represents weaknesses and instincts. This demonstrates the idea that fairy tales can be interpreted uniquely be different readers as well as being universally applicable. This is because archetypes can be individual as well as collective, and different people can relate to different archetypes. He continues by saying that “The monsters live in the forest. The forest can reflect parts of ourselves that are never entirely tamed, that are always somewhat dangerous and chaotic” and that “They are important parts of ourselves” because they lead to new ideas and creativity, which is a slightly different interpretation than Bettelheim’s because of its emphasis on creativity. The ideas of collective versus individual unconsciousness are important because they illustrate the difference between traditional folk and fairy tales as fables and the way in which they have become individual and interpreted in different ways- almost as though a ‘template’ of archetypes were filled in. This is similar to the way in which traditional folk tales have been written into literary fairy tales, although this idea is slightly different in that both folk and fairy tales have archetypes that can be both universal and individual. The forest is something that is both universal and can be individual, as is seen in the various interpretations. The forest is also seen as a place of change and transformation, both due to the changing seasons that created myths and ideas about the psyche undergoing some form of change.

The forest can also be seen as an ‘otherworld’ or enchanted space as is shown in Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ where it is the realm of fairies and magic contrasted to the world of Athens. In ‘An Anatomy of Criticism’, Northrop Frye describes the forest portrayed Shakespeare’s “drama of the green world” (Third Essay, p.182) as “the embryonic form of the fairy world” which links the world of Nature to the world of enchantment. He writes that “The green world has analogies, not only to the fertile world of ritual, but to the dream world that we create out of our own desires” (p.183) which seems to fit with the idea that the forest can be individual and reflects the desires of the unconscious. He expands on Jung’s concept of archetypes by defining the ‘Theory of Myths’ in terms of archetypes and in particular the changing seasons, which again reflects the ancient symbolism of forests as associated with change. He associates the ‘green comedy’ with spring because it is associated with birth, death and resurrection with forms the basis of many forest myths and stories and like Jung, bases his concept of archetypes on myths. In his sections in the Third Essay on ‘apocalyptic imagery’, Frye describes the “vegetable world” (p.144) as “the archetype of Arcadian imagery” in the Bible and associates it with the “forests of romance”, but in the next section on ‘demonic imagery’, he writes that “The vegetable world is a sinister forest” and compares that view with “the opening of the ‘Inferno’” (p.149). These two conflicting views illustrate further the contrasting ways in which the forest has been represented and interpreted, and how ambiguous it is as a ‘space’ (or otherworld).

The Forbidden Forest in the Harry Potter series can be seen as showing various forms of these ideas. Harry’s first encounter with the Forest is in the first book of the series where he overhears a covert conversation between Professors Quirrell and Snape and the secrecy of the conversation suggests that the Forest is a place of ambiguity. The name ‘Forbidden Forest’ also supports this and suggests danger, which is reinforced by teachers repeatedly warning students not to go near it. The chapter ‘The Forbidden Forest’ in ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ is (like the majority of the series) written from Harry’s perspective and the description emphasizes the atmosphere of fear and oppression. The forest and trees are repeatedly described as “black” and “dark” (‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, Ch.15) and the “silence” and “rustling of leaves” add to the tension as does narration from Harry’s point of view such as “Harry kept looking nervously over his shoulder. He had a nasty feeling they were being watched”. The idea that the forest has powers of its own can be seen through the centaur in Rowling’s Forbidden Forest who are linked to Nature and the forest in the series. The centaur Bane shows this knowledge when he says “we are sworn not to set ourselves against the heavens” (Ch.15) and it can be seen in ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ where the centaur Firenze teaches in the castle and makes his classroom resemble the forest. This links the forest and Nature to a higher power or knowledge, as can be seen when the centaurs predict the second Wizarding War with their repetition of “Mars is bright tonight” (‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, Ch.15) as Mars is the planet associated with war.

The main significance of the Forbidden Forest in the Harry Potter series is in the seventh book, ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’. In an interview with a Spanish reporter for ‘El Pais’ in 2008, J.K. Rowling states that “Everything, everything I have written, was thought of for that precise moment when Harry goes into the forest” and that “That moment is the heart of all of the books. And for me it is the last truth of the story”. The chapter is significant in the plot of the series because it describes Voldemort finally killing Harry, but also in the ideas behind the series such as forgiveness and symbolism. In ‘The Deathly Hallows Lectures’, John Granger explores this idea, linking it to Biblical imagery and to Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’. He says that “the trial Harry begins in ‘The Forest Again’ parallels Dante’s three part spiritual odyssey that begins in a dark wood”(p.111) as Dante’s journey begins on Holy Friday and Harry’s death and rebirth in the Forest have links to the Easter story.

The first canto of the Dante’s ‘Inferno’ does seem to have some similarities with ‘The Forest Again’. The “journey of our life” (l.1) is analogous to Harry’s journey as the traditional Romantic ‘hero’ and the series and in particular the seventh book is essentially a commentary on his ‘journey’ from child to adult and from birth to death and rebirth. The “dark wood” (l.2) introduces the light and dark imagery which is also very common throughout Harry Potter series and especially in this chapter. There are repeated references to the “darkness” of the wood and how “cold” it is. On a more general scale, the series is preoccupied with the difference between light and dark, as can be seen with the Dark Lord (Voldemort) and Dark magic. At the end of ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, Albus (whose name means ‘white’) Dumbledore says “Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy” in reference to Lord Voldemort rising again. Line three of ‘Inferno’ says “the straight way was lost” which is similar to Bettelheim’s analysis of forests in fairy tales and is also relevant in ‘The Forest Again’ where Harry has no idea which path to follow to find Voldemort and fears the unknown, echoing another quotation from Dumbledore from ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’: “It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more”. In the interview, Rowling says that “It’s important to have light and darkness, it’s a very conventional mechanism, but to be able to create a transition between a mundane universe and the cruel and oppressive existence adds shadows” which also seems to support Jung’s idea of the shadow in the unconscious. The description of the forest as “wild, and rough, and stubborn” (l.5) is consistent with Rowling’s description of the Forest as “tangled”, “gnarled” and “twisted”, although Dante’s description personifies the forest more than Rowling’s- for Dante, the forest itself is threatening whereas Harry fears the unknown within the Forest. Both Dante and Harry contemplate the idea of death, which J.K. Rowling said the same interview is the key to the series. As he begins to accept the fact that he is going to die, he uses the Resurrection Stone to create visions of his parents, godfather and Lupin which calms him in a similar way to Dante’s vision of the Sun. The “Divine Love” in Dante is echoed in the Harry Potter series where Dumbledore frequently tells Harry that the inability to comprehend love is Voldemort’s downfall.

Some writers have seen Dumbledore as a godlike figure, and the “ancient magic” of love to represent the love of God, and this does have some resonance in the series, especially since Rowling has said in interviews that Harry’s doubts about Dumbledore in the final book personify doubts about faith. Granger writes that “Dante’s walk in the woods to God ends at Easter in Paradise, much as Harry’s agony ends when Sun rises in the Great Hall ceiling at his conquest of Voldemort” (‘The Deathly Hallows Lectures’, p.112) which seems to fit with a ‘religious’ reading of the Harry Potter series. An argument against his analogy could be that Harry is not experiencing sin because, although he has had doubts about Dumbledore’s intentions, by this point in the story he has already discovered the truth and has accepted his own part in the greater plan. Although Harry can be seen as a “spiritual pilgrim” (‘The Deathly Hallows Lectures, p.112), he has chosen to die for the ‘greater good’ and has accepted what Dumbledore has planned rather than continuing to doubt him and has always fought for “what is right” (‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, Ch.37). Dante’s ‘Inferno’ has several similarities with ‘The Forest Again’, but does not parallel exactly because, although the setting and imagery is similar, the actual representations are different. The reason Harry does not die when Voldemort tries to kill him is because his soul is “whole”, and when he enters King’s Cross, which can be seen as representing Purgatory, his soul is already “pure”. Granger writes that “’The Forest Again’ is simultaneously a retelling of the Crucifixion and a story of the death of a Christian Everyman” which could be true, but the Crucifixion allegory seems to fit more with the ‘backstory’ and values of the series, although there are elements that seem to fit with Dante.

Another children’s fantasy series which parallels the Crucifixion story is C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, and there are similarities between Rowling’s chapter ‘The Forest Again’ and Lewis’ description of Aslan walking through the forest to his death in ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’. Lewis uses the forest setting throughout the Narnia series. In ‘The Magician’s Nephew’, the ‘Wood between the Worlds’ serves as an ‘in-between’ place that links different worlds that can be accessed by jumping into pools. This seems to support the idea that forests are a symbol of change and the unknown and also the idea that a forest setting being an archetypal ‘nowhere’ setting that links other, more concrete places. The forest in ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ symbolizes the change in Narnia itself and echoes the ancient myths of the seasons- when Queen Jadis is ruler, there is perpetual winter and it is only when Aslan arrives that the trees begin to blossom into spring. This reflects the view from ancient mythologies that the forest represented time according to the seasons, and this is shown by the way that Narnian time is different to “our time”.

The other main form of tree symbolism in the Narnia chronicles is the planting of the Tree to protect Narnia in ‘The Magician’s Nephew’. This represents both the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge from the Bible, and has the power to heal Digory’s mother. In a book called ‘The Secret Teachings of All Ages’, Manly P. Hall writes that ‘Under the appellations of the ‘Tree of Life’ and ‘The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil’ is concealed…the mystery of equilibrium” which seems to be reflected in the Narnia chronicles which advocate the pursuit of ‘goodness’ and harmony as opposed to ambition or greed. In a subversion of the myth in Genesis, Digory is tempted to eat the apple but does not which shows his innate ‘goodness’. When he approaches the tree and picks the apple, “he couldn’t help looking at it and smelling it before he went away. It would have been better if he had not. A terrible hunger and thirst came over him and a longing to taste that fruit” (‘The Magician’s Nephew’, Ch.13), which shows how his human desires represent ‘unbalance’ and mortality as opposed to the ‘immortal’ balance or equilibrium.

In ‘Harry Potter and Imagination’, Travis Prinzi compares Aslan and Harry’s journeys in a chapter called ‘Christ in the Forest: Aslan and Harry Walk to Their Deaths’. He writes that “both Aslan and Harry serve as a Christ symbol” (Ch.6) but distinguishes that “the two accounts highlight different aspects of the atonement of Christ” as “Aslan is clearly a one-to-one Christ parallel. Harry is a flawed human who commits himself to a Christlike sacrifice”, which illustrates the way in which Rowling is using Christian ideas and imagery in her novels without giving a direct analogy the way Lewis did. In Narnia, Aslan is the same ‘archetypal’ character as Dumbledore as he guides and to an extent directs the children’s lives in a similar way to the way in which Dumbledore guides Harry and from a religious perspective it would be Dumbledore who would be seen as ‘divine’ (in both meanings- Godlike and controlling destiny) whereas it is Harry, a “flawed human” who sacrifices himself and comes to represent Christ.

The Biblical imagery in Aslan’s forest can be seen in the description and pattern of events. The night before his death, Aslan does not sleep well and walks into the woods accompanied by Lucy and Susan, which parallels Mary, mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene in the gospels of Luke and John.   The description of the creatures at the Stone Table seems to ‘personify’ evil itself and its fear through ineffability as Lewis writes “creatures whom I won’t describe because if I did the grown-ups would probably not let you read this book” (‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’, Ch.14). This idea of the unknown in the forest again suggests the way in which is can be seen as mysterious and dangerous although Lewis would not have been writing from a Jungian perspective because of he was writing a Christian allegory. The shaving of Aslan again parallels the taunting endured by Jesus, and Aslan giving himself voluntarily illustrates how Jesus did not protest against his Crucifixion.

In ‘The Forest Again’, Harry gives himself up to Voldemort voluntarily. As a contrast to Lewis’ Aslan, Rowling describes Harry’s human fears about death which echoes back to the links to Dante’s ‘Inferno’ although Harry’s thoughts are voiced through narration such as “It was not, after all, so easy to die…At the same time he thought that he would not be able to go on, and knew that he must” (‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, Ch.34) which empathizes his humanness compared to Aslan as Jesus’ divinity. In ‘The Deathly Hallows Lectures’, Granger breaks the chapter down into three parts that parallel the Crucifixion.   “Harry has Garden of Gethsemane desires and chooses to act in obedience as saviour” (p.113) which he explains corresponds to the way in which Jesus feared his own death, and compares Harry’s fear although he “knew he must” (‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, Ch.34). “Harry walks the Via Dolorosa, stumbles, and is helped by Lily, his mother” (p.113) corresponds to the road to Calvary walked by Jesus carrying his cross and , according to Luke’s gospel, is comforted by his mother. “Harry dies sacrificially and without resistance to defeat the Dark Lord, as Christus Victor died on the cross” (p.114) reflects how Jesus does not fight against his crucifixion and dies willingly.

Rowling’s forest in this chapter represents Harry’s spiritual journey and how he, as a mortal human, performs the ultimate sacrifice for the ‘greater good’. It seems to have influences and aspects from various sources and analyses of forests. It supports Bettelheim’s argument about the unconscious because Harry does change from when he enters to when he leaves the forest, although the actual change itself takes place in the King’s Cross ‘otherworld’ rather than the forest itself. If King’s Cross does not exist and takes place inside Harry’s head, as Dumbledore hints, then Harry’s metamorphosis from sharing a part of Voldemort’s soul to having a whole, pure soul takes place in the forest as a place of change. From Bettelheim and Jung’s view, the forest could be seen as an analogy for Harry having got rid of his ‘shadow’ (the part of Voldemort’s soul latched onto his) and emerged from the forest having ‘found himself’ for who he really is, and fulfilled his hero’s journey according to the archetype of the collective unconscious.

Joseph Campbell is quoted in ‘The Hero’s Journey’ as saying “You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or a path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential”, which is similar to Bettelheim’s analysis of the “near-impenetrable” forest and Harry’s experience in the forest reflects this. He does not know where to find Voldemort, but follows the path guided by some other power; “his limbs were working without conscious instruction” (‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, Ch.34). Harry is at the “darkest point” in his life- both literally in the darkness of the forest and metaphorically as he is about to give himself up to Voldemort. He is following “someone else’s path” as Dumbledore has already ‘predestined’ what he must do in order to defeat Voldemort, but as a contrast to Campbell’s quotation, he does “realize his potential” through his death and rebirth although he does this because he has chosen to follow Dumbledore’s orders an die willingly, which, as Dumbledore tells him in King’s Cross “made all the difference” (‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, Ch.35). Campbell also said that “Alone he would enter the dark forest where there was no path. This is the myth of the Hero’s Journey”, which seems to be reflected in almost all forest myths, fairy tales and fiction. Harry’s ‘hero’s journey’ ends after his journey to death through the forest and consequent rebirth and defeat of Lord Voldemort. The forest is a very powerful symbol that has been interpreted in various ways and this reflects its ambiguity and universality.


Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment, Penguin

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero’s Journey, New World Library

Cirlot, Juan Eduardo. A Dictionary of Symbols, Dover Publications

Dante. The Inferno, Aldine Press

Ellis Davidson, Hilda and Chaudhri, Anna. A Companion to the Fairy Tale, Brewer

Fraim, John. Symbolism of Place,

Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism, Princeton University Press

Gallagher, Ann-Marie. The Wicca Bible, Sterling

Granger, John. The Deathly Hallows Lectures, Zossima Press

Hall, Manly P. The Secret Teachings of All Ages, Wilder Publications

Kirkpatrick, Robin. Dante: The Divine Comedy, Cambridge University Press

Lewis, C.S. The Magician’s Nephew, Harper Collins Publishers

Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Harper Collins Publishers

Pinkola Estés, Clarissa. Women Who Run With the Wolves, Ballatine Books

Pogue Harrison, Robert. Forests: the Shadow of Civilization, University of Chicago Press

Prinzi, Travis. Harry Potter and Imagination, Zossima Press

Rowan, Arthur. The Lore of the Bard, Llewelyn

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Bloomsbury

Warner, Marina. Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds, Oxford University Press

Zipes, Jack. The Brothers Grimm: from enchanted forests to the modern world, Palgrave Macmillan

A sonnet for Carrie Mathison

You don’t strike me as the poetry sort
unless, perhaps, it’s straight-laced with liquor.
But there’s an intensity, a flicker
of sideways-sharp awareness in your thoughts
that parallels your mind with metaphor.
How else would you see beyond the concrete
to know what others see as incomplete?
Hyper-everything, pure focus, hardcore
and yet
there’s a harsh vulnerability
that sometimes cuts too deep, a salted knife
in the heart’s open wound. Ability
to see too clearly and not unsee, life
heightened by emotions’ fragility.
You’re an ice-fire paradox of extremes,
nuclear fusion of hyperreal and dreams.


It’s past midnight; the witching hours

softly creep through the darkness.

Music muffles out of an open doorway,

shadows thump as hearts beat.

Seeing fluid bodies merge in time

I’m the wrong piece in an incomplete jigsaw,

watching chargeless as giggling electrons

attract and repel, weave an

intricate dance amongst pulsing protons.

Chemistry was never my best subject,

much less the murky peripheries

where chemistry meets biology,

the hormonal collision of chemical bonding

with fusion and reproduction.

Walking home, constellations map the sky.

The moon cycles its rhythmical shifts.

There’s safety in physics, cause and effect,

bound in formulae, logic and reason.

Autism and Creative Writing

Creative writing by people with autism is something that’s interested me for a really long time.  I’m a bit biased since I’m on the autism spectrum and happen to have done a creative writing degree but the connection came separately to even thinking about that and it’s something that, at the time, was one of those amazing ‘lightbulb’ moments when suddenly something ‘clicks’ and starts to make sense.  I was doing my undergrad degree in philosophy and was writing my dissertation about The Little Mermaid (the Andersen version, not Disney) when I came across an article online which suggested that Hans Christian Andersen may have been on the autism spectrum.  At the same time, the psychologist I was seeing in an eating disorder service had recently done an ASD assessment and concluded that she thought I had an autism spectrum disorder (Asperger’s) and my lifelong obsession has been The Little Mermaid so the whole thing kind of synced and suddenly everything seemed to make sense, and it was thanks to that that my interest in autism and creative writing developed properly.

Autism is defined by the National Autistic Society as “a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.” It is a spectrum which ranges from severely autistic, where someone might not be able to communicate verbally at all, to high functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. People with Asperger’s Syndrome typically have difficulties with social communication, social interaction and social imagination, and this could be shown through creative writing as stories with very little dialogue which are mostly based on fact and theory, or stories based around special interests. An autistic character in a story could also show preference for the physical, or sensory, experience rather than emotional and would demonstrate the difficulty that some people on the autism spectrum have with recognising or identifying emotions.

As part of a module at university a few years ago, I did a research-based assignment about different types of creativity and how they could relate to autism. Unfortunately, I misunderstood how to write a scale and accidentally measured the two types separately instead of comparing them so the results were not valid, but some of the research was really interesting. The report looked at two facets of creativity which are involved in creative writing: logical and emotional creativity. This is particularly relevant to autism because impairments in abstract imagination are part of the criteria for autism and Asperger Syndrome, and logical or more systematic thought is common in autistic people. I used the definition of ‘creative’ from the Oxford English Dictionary which defines it as “Relating to or involving the use of the imagination or original ideas to create something” (OED). In relation to creative writing, this would mean that creative writing can be defined as a piece of original writing which involves the use of the imagination. This does not exclude the use of factual information or theoretical ideas; instead, it would mean that facts or theory would be synthesised in an imaginative way such as the way in which Lewis Carroll explores ideas from mathematics and logic in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which is written in a way that in very similar to the way in which an autistic person might write. The scenes appear random and disorganised, and don’t seem to follow a coherent structure but the internal rules of Wonderland and conversations with the characters themselves are very logical and literal. This would fit with autistic perception because people on the autism spectrum often have difficulties with central coherence, which is the ability to process and organise large amounts of complex material and events, and this can often lead to focus on details or distinct ideas rather than a coherent narrative.

Creative writing itself also has a variety of definitions- a short Facebook poll gave definitions from “An expression of thoughts, ideas and perceptions presented in an imaginative and original way” and “an act of writing which is directed by its author(s) for a specific purpose, towards a specific objective – the written work – in which creativity refers to problem solving efforts in the work’s construction and the author’s attempts to marry language, form, structure, and subject” to “the repeated banging your head against a wall for some mysterious purpose known only to dead, great people” (taken from a Facebook status asking for definitions of ‘creative writing’ that could be used as examples in a psychology report). The report looked at creative writing in terms of (fictional) short stories and poetry, without venturing into areas such as creative non-fiction or autobiographical writing.

The report looked at the dichotomy of two facets of creativity, which have been termed ‘logical’ and ‘emotional’ creativity. In a creative writing context, logical writing would be stories or poems which are structured, analytical or theoretical with an emphasis on information or ideas whereas emotional writing would be stories or poems which aim to provoke an emotional response in the reader. Writing is not one or the other; some writers use both approaches, but I have differentiated them in relation to autism because many people on the autism spectrum have difficulties with recognising or expressing emotions. In a study in 1999, Paul Hughes looked at how fictionalising the ‘self’ in writing can be beneficial for a person with Asperger’s syndrome in understanding their own Asperger self and how that understanding can be transferred to social situations and this is similar to a way in which the Sims computer game can be beneficial for children and adolescents on the autism spectrum because it allows them to simulate life and social interactions in a non-threatening way and to learn and practise important skills.

Ira Lightman, a conceptual poet who self-identifies as having an autism spectrum disorder, writes in an essay called ‘Untitled’ (2012) that “I will often write a poem based on a structural game, building my kind of mode around me; if I feel safe, I can discover emotion during the writing”. This exemplifies the ideas that this report is trying to explore. People on the autism spectrum often have very intense interests or obsessions and this is linked to a love of structure and routine, which can be used in creative writing as stories or poems based around a special interest. In 1998, a study by Lee and Hobson found that people with Asperger’s Syndrome tended to describe their personality in terms of their interests and often could not define personality and writing could be used as a way to explore this through the use of a special interest.

Many people on the autism spectrum find that they can express themselves more easily in writing than verbally, and creative writing can be beneficial for mental health because it can explore or articulate feelings in a way that makes them more accessible. It can also be related directly to any area of special interest such as an interest in science fiction or fantasy, or a fascination with a particular area of history. In 2009, Harbinson and Alexander’s study into students with Asperger syndrome and the English curriculum found that difficulties with the imaginative and emotional interpretation of creative writing and literature as could be a disadvantage for students with Asperger syndrome, and an exploration of a more logical and theory or fact-based style of writing could be a way to prevent this, and this would interesting to develop as part of further research into the way in which creative writing could be both adapted to an autistic population and how autistic people could use creative writing as a form of expression.

The quantitative method used to gather the data was to design an eight-level Likert scale to measure participants’ attitudes towards creative writing. There were eight questions that related to logical writing and eight questions related to emotional writing. Four of each set of eight questions were negatively weighted and the method was forced choice as there was no ‘neutral’ option. This measure was invalid because I misunderstood the instructions and accidentally designed two scales in one questionnaire and had a Cronbach’s alpha measurement of 0.267, which gave twice the amount of variables and was very difficult to interpret. Is this were to be repeated, it could be broadened to include qualitative research such as looking at transcripts of autistic people talking about creative writing, or asking neurotypical and autistic people to describe what ‘creative writing’ meant to them and how it could be used. Examples of writing from people on the autism spectrum could also be usefully examined. If the scale were administered in a practical setting, it would be used as a tool to identify ways in which creative writing could be made accessible for people on the autism spectrum. The influence for this came from Harbinson and Alexander’s 2009 study into students with Asperger syndrome and the English curriculum as they identified difficulties with the imaginative and emotional interpretation of creative writing and literature as a disadvantage for students with Asperger syndrome. The identification of this using a scale could be useful for both students and teachers as broadens the concept of what constitutes ‘creative’ writing for teachers and allows students on the autism spectrum to access creative writing in a way which engages them and allows them to develop their skills.

Another interesting and more useful comparison for future research would be to do a thematic analysis of some threads about creative writing from an autism internet message forum. In this context, qualitative methods could be more useful because the research question is open and could have multiple answers or perspectives. It would also be interesting and useful to examine different sources such as conversations, internet forums, examples of writing and focus groups. Both autistic and neurotypical samples could be used to compare various approaches with a view to looking at the spectrum of different ways in which people view and engage with creative writing. It could also be expanded to include benefits and applications of creative writing.

From analyzing a thread called ‘Link between Asperger’s and creative writing’ on the internet forum ‘Wrong Planet’, there were some key themes that several people mentioned. The main themes were a difficulty with writing imaginative fiction and problems with the original ‘idea’. These could then be split into sub-themes which included difficulties with creating and writing character, abstract concepts and finding the ‘mechanics’ of writing easier than the expression. The difficulties with imagination were linked by people in the thread to theory of mind and finding it difficult to imagine another person’s perspective and this would make sense in the context of autism. Members of the forum also suggested using pre-existing characters from fan fiction or real life, or writing semi-autobiographical fiction and creative non-fiction which are all interesting ideas for writers on the autism spectrum. A quote from the thread “Don’t approach it in a typical way, because it won’t work” seems to illustrate the way in which autistic writing can be approached differently from mainstream neurotypical fiction and in a way that could be more accessible for people on the autism spectrum.

The concept of autobiography and creative non-fiction is also interesting, and links to an article by Frith and Happe in 1999 who suggested that because of the differences in Theory of Mind between neurotypical and autistic children, they may also develop a different form of self-consciousness as theory of mind skills are learnt from experience and intelligence rather than intuition which could lead to a very reflective and explicit form of self-consciousness. Writing about this in his book ‘The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome’, Tony Attwood adds that he “would agree that there is a quasi-philosophical quality” to the autobiographies of adults with Asperger’s Syndrome. This relates back to the thread from Wrong Planet where several people suggested using real life or autobiography in writing fiction, and fictionalised autobiography is another interesting area which could be used beneficially with children or adults on the autism spectrum. It could also be useful in a similar way to a special interest, where it forms an alternate world as a form of escapism or as a way to practise or experiment with different situations.

As future research, the link between autism and creative writing could be very interesting and useful, both in terms of the actual writing and possible applications in educational or clinical practice, and it’s something I’m hoping to investigate further in the future…




This book.

I can’t stop thinking;



to those caffeine-

fuelled nights

reading, writing,


Your brain sparked

by nicotine,

loosened by alcohol.

Mine, blurred,


as January sky.


You taught me metaphor.

A sharp short-circuit of emotion

you don’t need to understand.


You taught me pool

And how to skip


the world spun on vodka-


Diet Coke

and light-headed lungfuls

of tobacco.


I miss you.

The morning runs, the evening


the random texts and writing


but more:

I miss

your bloody hugs.

Alice’s recovery from Wonderland

Alice (i)

As she grew, so did her experiences,
broadening, deepening in intensity,
sense-sharp spectrum of feeling.
When she shrank, the world contracted,
telescopic, microscopic microcosm,
narrowed perception through muted senses.
She’d been shape-shifting for a time
fixed in perspectives, unquantifiable.
In her mind, it began when her up-and-down
parallel lines softened in space, curved relatively,
and she realised she was already falling
down a rabbit hole of emotional vertigo.
It was a place where you run
until you choke on burning breath and
still only reach your starting point,
where surfaces shift through paradox.
She’s moving in all directions at once.


Alice (ii)

There are times when it’s easier
to pretend you don’t exist,
that you’re just a vehicle
for shifting perceptions of others.
Falling down the rabbit hole, she
reached magic constant velocity,
total release from self-imposed self.

Wonderland’s a mesh of mirror-maze
detachment and full-force feeling
and she rides the pendulum like
a long-distance run; time contracted,
relative to a microcosm of perceptions.
There are times when she’s sure
it’s all just a dream; except that
she doesn’t dream, usually, or not
that she remembers.  Memories meld
pseudo-memories, neuroplastic neurons
forged by transient imagination.

Logic-lost, she’s drifting in a world
where time has no meaning and
light-wave perspectives curve space.
You can run but you won’t get anywhere,
distance dissolved infinitesimally in
an illusion of motion.  Like herself.