A place of evil

The woods are not always a paradise. As the characters develop and move deeper into their own inner conflicts, so the setting changes with them, adapting to the darker presences.

We see this clearly at the beginning of the deer drive when Duror is issuing orders to the beaters:

The dead ash clawed at the sky with branches white as bones.

It is as if the woods can sense Duror’s intentions. The dead ash with its branches white as bones establishes a sinister mood, and the verb clawed suggests a predator attacking its victim. This anticipates Duror’s devilish slitting of the deer’s throat.

Similarly, Roderick on his journey to find the cone-gatherers enters a place of terror.

The magical woods become cold and frightening when Roderick realises the evil figure of Duror lurking in the shadows.

The forest is polluted by Duror, and Roderick realises he cannot save the cone-gatherers because of this. Jenkins conveys Roderick’s dilemma:

In his den of yew Roderick grew cramped; and in an even darker, narrower den of disillusionment his mind whimpered.

Roderick feels cramped in his position in the wood, trapped by his predicament.

There is a parallel here between the den in which he sits to the darker, narrower den of his mind in which his intentions to save the cone-gatherers are compared to a wounded animal whimpering in helplessness.

The fact that the woods can be paradise and a place of darkness and fear suggests that they are a microcosm for the world itself, filled with delight and wonder as well as sorrow and pain.