4 Characters in a Dark Wood Wandering

Adam Nevill's The RitualFrom Little Red Riding Hood in ancient times to 90s word-of-mouth classic The Blair Witch Project, we’ve always had tales about getting lost in the forest. Something about an endless stretch of dark, towering trees seems to trigger our most primitive fears. In each of the these recent releases heroes get disastrously lost, whether the woods they lose themselves in are real or metaphoric. Who, if any will find their way out?

Thieving Forest, by Martha Conway
In 1806, the five Quiner daughters are suddenly orphaned when their parents die of a fever. Should they tough it out in the wilds of Ohio, or return to civilized Philadelphia? If it were up to Susanna, they’d leave today: she longs for “a room with an even floor and long glass windows and a proper brick fireplace…a place where they buy cut wood and the milk is delivered.” But before the sisters can make a decision, marauding Indians kidnap four of them and vanish into the trees, leaving Susanna, the youngest and least resourceful, to go after them in rescue. Fans of Last of the Mohicans and Little House on the Prairie will enjoy this taut, realistic historical fiction.

Friendswood, by René Steinke
A hurricane hits the town of Friendswood, Texas, and when the storm has passed a cache of toxic waste lies exposed at the edge of the pine woods. With a narrative that alternates between four main characters, Friendswood explores how this grim discovery affects everyone in town, including those who’d rather not know about it. Front and center is the whistle-blower, Lee, whose daughter died young from cancer, and Willa, a high-school student who suffers a terrible attack and inadvertently sets off a scandal. The author clearly knows the pressures of small-town life in the South, and she’s careful not to sell her characters short, giving even the corrupt real estate developer—who plans to make a buck on the toxic land—plenty of moral shading. With its questions of religion and responsibility, profit and principles, this is a book made for book-club discussions.

In a Dark Wood, by Amanda Craig
“I had a terrible sense of slipping back in time. What frightened me most was, I could no longer believe in my own life as a story.” Benedick Hunter is a failure. His acting career has stalled, his wife has left him, and he’s just moved back into his childhood home, where he battles the same depression that long ago defeated his mother. Up in the attic, he finds a book of fairytales his mother wrote and illustrated, which seems to hold the secret to her suicide. Like the girl in one of her stories, who’s said to “wear out an iron staff, and iron shoes,” Benedick sets forth on a journey to find the past, a journey that will require great courage as he enters the dark realm of fairytales.

The Ritual, by Adam Nevill
High in the Scandinavian wilderness of the Arctic Circle, impenetrable woods stretch as far as the eye can see. There, four middle-aged friends embark on a hike they hope will clear away the cobwebs of their busy London lives and make them feel like real men again. Within hours, though, two of the city slickers are limping and the group decides to cancel the hike and head home. Looking for a shortcut, they step off the marked path and into the forest, which, though untouched by human feet, is far from uninhabited. Warning: Not for the faint of heart! This is the kind of horror your mom had in mind when she said, “Don’t read that stuff, it’ll keep you up all night.”

What’s your favorite lost-in-the-woods book?