From the dark, shadow-filled forests of Grimms’ fairy tales to the Hundred Acre Wood inhabited by Winne-the-Pooh and his friends, the woodlands have always inspired a sense of magic and mystery.
In Jungian psychology, forests represent the fear of the unknown, or the secrets of one’s unconscious—it is a place where one must venture forth to seek answers and spiritual illumination. In other cultures, both benign and malevolent spirits lurk within the trees, leading travelers astray while wild animals crouch in the thickets, waiting for the right moment to pounce.
If you’re in the mood to get lost in the woods or visit a witch’s cottage artfully hidden by the leafy canopy, these fantasy novels with magical forests will definitely lure you in.
The Magician's Nephew
The first book in the much-beloved Chronicles of Narnia series features a magical forest that acts as a portal to other realms. Tricked by Uncle Andrew, young Digory and Polly stumble into the “Wood between the Worlds,” which is dotted with ever-growing trees and pools of water—each pool a gateway to another world.
It is so silent there that one can seemingly “hear” the trees growing. From this nexus, the two kids travel to Charn, and later to the land of Narnia, where Lewis’s other novels are set.
A gorgeously lush standalone fantasy novel, Naomi Novik’s Uprooted doesn’t have a typical “bad guy.” Rather, the Wood itself functions as an antagonist of sorts.
The teenaged Agnieszka is picked in place of Kasia, her older and more beautiful sister, by the Dragon (the local wizard) as payment for protecting the village from the menacing forest. Later, when Kasia is captured by creatures from the Wood itself, Agnieszka defies orders to rescue her sibling, even as feelings brew between her and the secretive Dragon.
Inspired by Polish folklore, this book will appeal to lovers of medieval fantasy and fairy tales (especially Beauty and the Beast).
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
If you’re craving a more old-fashioned vision of nature, there’s no harm in returning to the classics. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings features not one but several magical forests, drawing from the English countryside and Anglo-Saxon legends.
The landscape of Middle Earth boasts several enchanting woodlands, from the elven forest of Lothlorien and the seemingly sentient Old Forest ruled by the merry Tom Bombadil to the shadowy trees in Mirkwood and finally, the Fangorn Forest inhabited by the Ents, where Merry and Pippin meet Treebeard.
Silver in the Wood
Emily Tesh’s Silver in the Wood is a short and wholesome read filled with dryads, cottagecore vibes and the forest’s ancient secrets.
Tobias’s quiet life in the cottage of Greenhollow is upended by the arrival of Henry Silver who is determined to flirt with him and probe his mysterious past.
Written in evocative and lyrical prose, Emily Tesh’s novella will appeal to fans of queer romance set in a misty, fae-filled forest.
The Bear and the Nightingale
The Bear and the Nightingale is the first book in Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy, and it deftly combines folkloric fantasy with historical fiction.
Set in the Russian countryside, the novel tells the story of Vasya Petrovna, the great grand-daughter of Baba Yaga, as she struggles to save her home and forest spirits from Orthodox Christianity and the evil influence of the demon, Medved.
When Vasya’s step-mother turns her out, convinced that she is a witch, Vasya escapes into the woods and befriends the frost-demon Morozko, who aids her in the upcoming battle.
From the “domovoi” who watches over the household, the “bannik” that dwells in the bathhouse to the “leshy” haunting the woodlands and “Poludnitsa” who wanders hayfields and causes heat strokes, Arden’s novel is filled with magical spirits and creatures that haunt the forests and beyond.
One of the “early” urban fantasy novels, Moonheart by Charles de Lint takes place in Ottawa, Canada in the 1980s.
Sara Kendell runs an antique shop, selling old and curious artifacts. She has no idea that her home—Tamson House—has its fair share of secrets. It can even transport the resident to other worlds. Evil lurks in the parallel forest universe, prompting the colorful cast of characters to work together.
Mixing Welsh and First Nations mythologies, Moonheart is an interesting novel that shaped the trajectory of urban fantasy and young-adult genres.
The Silver Sun
Tired of his father’s corrupt rule, Hal (the heir apparent to the king) and his friend Alan decide to free the realm of malevolence. In order to achieve this, they must travel together to the magical land of the elves.
Nancy Springer’s The Silver Sun is an option for anyone who enjoys Tolkien-inspired high fantasy with medieval forests, long journeys, and magical quests.
Daughter of the Forest
Juliet Mariller’s historical fantasy novel, Daughter of the Forest is loosely inspired by the Grimms’ fairytale of “The Six Swans” and the Children of Lir legend from Irish mythology.
It tells the story of Sorcha—the seventh daughter of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters—who must remain silent and sew six shirts, in order to save her brothers from a terrible spell. Torn between romantic love and the desire to save her family, Sorcha is forced to make some difficult choices.
Packed with a slow-burn romance, Fae machinations, engaging characters and great descriptions, Daughter of the Forest is an enjoyable read.
The Hazel Wood
Alice is 17 years old when she is forced to endure a spate of bad luck. Her grandmother (who is also the author of a cult classic) dies alone at her estate (“The Hazel Wood”) while Alice’s mother is kidnapped by a supernatural creature.
Ignoring all warnings, Alice must venture into the Hazel Wood and discover her grandmother’s secrets. Perhaps, the twisted fairy tales she grew up with were more fact than fiction.
For those looking for a new YA dark fantasy series to devour, Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood series won’t disappoint.
Featured photo: Artur Rutkowski / Unsplash