dungeon riff: the forest as mythic otherworld
In a recent post I spoke fondly of my appreciation for the “Dungeon as Mythic Underworld” (DAMU) trope that has circulated around the Old School Renaissance blogosphere. Much as I enjoy dungeon crawling as a D&D player and referee, “exploring a vast subterranean complex filled with monsters, traps, and treasure” doesn’t really fit the weird, Gothic, sword & sorcery flavor I want from Pike, Shotte, & Sorcerie. This isn’t to say there won’t be crumbling castles, ruined monasteries, or the occasional haunted crypt to explore, but it seems most appropriate for the bulk of the action to take place above ground. Thankfully, there is an adventuring environment that has (arguably) equal potential for weirdness and supernatural encounters: the Forest.
Just about every landscape has its associated legends, but it seems that the Forest is a place of especial dread. As an archetypal setting, the Forest plays on the fear of the unknown, primal wilderness; to stray from the safe path and venture into its depths is to court disaster. In PS&S there is no Dungeon as Mythic Underworld; instead, there is the “Forest as Mythic Otherworld.” The DAMU trope distinguishes between the dungeon and the Dungeon in that not every subterranean locale is part of the mythic underworld; similarly, not every forest is part of the Forest. What’s the difference between forest and Forest?
The Forest is alive. It is governed by a sentience, alien and unknowable to man, by turns indifferent and malignant toward those who intrude upon its verdant realm. This peculiar, at times sinister aspect of the Forest has been the subject of many theories and speculations through the ages; popular beliefs about the Forest generally occupy positions between the following two views.
- The Forest is a Nature spirit whose power should be worshipped (and can be harnessed or channeled) and whose capriciousness must be propitiated. This belief is typical among those who dwell within or adjacent to the Forest, and in such communities the veneration and practice of the Old Ways are strong.
- The Forest is a manifestation of Original Sin’s corruption of the natural world, and completely under the dominion of the Evil One. To some who hold this position, the Forest is merely to be shunned, but to others it is a stronghold to be assailed and overthrown in the name of God.
Paths are re-routed as the Forest shifts and grows; thickets, brambles, fallen logs, dense scrub, and other challenging obstacles are raised to bar passages that once were open.
Clearings that once held villages, chapels, or other buildings are overtaken, leaving only the crumbling, moss- or vine-covered ruins of the structures that once stood.
More on this very soon…