Everything-trees, rocks, sun, wind-all of it speaks its own language at its own pace. But being human means we are too self-involved to even consider the notion.
Of all the terrestrial ecosystems found on our beautiful planet, forests (generally speaking), are my favorite. They evoke fear, wonder, beauty, and are home to myths and legends from cultures all over the world. Throughout time, people have associated forests with goodness, nostalgia, reverence, relaxation, sanctuary, and even fear and terror, said to never be traversed because of evil beings that lurk within them. We love spending time in forests, whether it's for hiking, hunting, bird watching, or even to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. With forests being home to all manner of wildlife, rivers, waterfalls, thick canopies, massive trees, and being so prominent in folklore, myths, and legends, it's no surprise they are settings in fiction of all genres. Gina Ranalli's short story, The Queen in Green, is one such story. A Weird tale that would make anyone think twice about going into the woods.
Until I read The Queen in Green, I was not familiar with Gina Ranalli; however, after reading it, I fully intend to delve into her other works of literature. If they are of the same quality as this story, then I will be writing more reviews and analyses on her works. In this story, I found she can craft an inviting, enchanting, and deceiving atmosphere, and can shift from playfulness to terror at the drop of a dime.
A chapbook published by Dunhams Manor Press, The Queen in Green is about a boy named Charlie, who is on a camping trip with his parents. He is sent into the woods to find kindling to make a fire back at the campsite. He spots a squirrel and sets down his bundle of sticks by a huge boulder so that he may pursue it. After the squirrel scurries up a tree, Charlie loses interest and begins collecting more sticks. When he returns to the boulder, he is startled by a small Dwarf sitting on it. The Dwarf greets Charlie, and, knowing Charlie's curiosity and "flights of fancy," the Dwarf convinces Charlie to follow him, with the hopes of seeing something really interesting. Charlie soon discovers that there is more to the forest than meets the eye; he is an outsider in a world he only thinks he knows. And his curiosity will cost him.
As the last sentence in the previous paragraph states, Charlie's curiosity gets the better of him. He's a kid who is, as his mother says, "given to flights of fancy." In the forest, his imagination is running in several different directions. He's collecting kindling, chasing animals, not taking into consideration of where he's at. He's completely caught off guard by the appearance of the Dwarf. Being smaller than Charlie, the Dwarf is not so much alarming, but is more of a curiosity to Charlie, which somewhat relaxes him and loosens his guard. I initially somewhat suspected the Dwarf's nature when he referred to Charlie's kindling as "loot," indicating that Charlie is stealing from the woods, rendering him an unwelcome visitor. It conveys this theme of humans acting as intruders and thieves in a place that has been around far longer than we have. This goes hand-in-hand with the Dwarf's lecture to Charlie on sentience. The Dwarf leads Charlie to what appears to be a dying tree named Mungforgotta, the Queen in Green, and he wants Charlie to give the tree a little "pick-me-up," a "boost of youth." Charlie thinks the whole thing is crazy, commenting on Mungforgotta being nothing but a tree. The Dwarf says:
So? She's still a sentient being. She still knows what's happening around her. She still has feelings. She and all the trees you see around you-just move at a different pace than the rest of us. They speak on a different frequency.
The sentience of Mungforgotta and all the other trees puts an even greater emphasis on Charlie and other humans as trespassers, violating and tainting the sacred grounds of a world within our world; a world that, like an iceberg, has much more beneath its surface. Charlie incredulously responds to the Dwarf with, "Speak?" The Dwarf says:
Oh, yes. Speak. They're conversing with each other right now, just as we are. But they speak too slowly for us to hear them. It's one of those wonders of the world. Everything-trees, rocks, sun, wind-all of it speaks its own language at its own pace. But being human means we are too self-involved to even consider the notion. But once you've been made aware of it, as you've just been, the hum of the earth will be impossible to ignore in those moments when you find yourself alone in an otherwise quiet place.
Being so self-centered and concerned with matters pertaining only to ourselves, we rarely see what's outside our periphery. We rarely catch a glimpse of what lies beneath our surface level perceptions of the world we inhabit. Once we do, though, as the Dwarf says, we can never ignore it. Our simple perceptions are forever altered, once we are revealed hidden truths. More often than not, however, these truths can spell our ultimate doom in a variety of ways.
The mention of sentience and frequencies outside the meager range of humans is often explored in Weird Fiction. Christopher Slatsky's stories often involve sentience as a result of emergent properties, such as mega-cities. Ambrose Bierce touched on frequencies in his story, The Damned Thing. In it, there is some sort of monster that lies outside our spectrum of vision. The only way the characters know it's there is because when it walks by trees, the trees can no longer be seen, yet the creature also cannot be seen. So, not only are there things we cannot comprehend, but there are things that are out of range of our senses. In the case of The Queen in Green, the voices of the forest are on a frequency outside the range of human hearing. Sentience in organisms such as trees gives way to the notion that the entire earth is sentient, and our destructive ways give us a parasitic, viral nature. Ranalli takes this grand concept and effectively shrinks it down to a micro incident involving a boy, a Dwarf, and Mungforgotta.
The Dwarf tells Charlie that Mungforgotta is old, sad, tired, and sickly. He wants Charlie to introduce himself to Mungforgotta, but Charlie begins to think that the Dwarf is a loon, and is ready to leave, until the Dwarf asks him, "Don't you believe in magic?" This causes Charlie to purse his lips, and in an impatient manner, raises his right hand and introduces himself to Mungforgotta, the Queen in Green. Suddenly, the trees "gnarled branches twitched," beginning to grown longer and droop towards the ground. Charlie is amazed at the sight, "Holy shit," the only words he could think of. The tree limbs begin to "bristle along their lengths with short, fine hairs while simultaneously bending in peculiar ways, as if the wood had secret joints within it. Charlie is witnessing those hidden truths coming to light. The surface appearance of the forest is all deception, and Charlie is unfortunate enough to see what lies beyond the illusion. Keeping his focus on the tree, the Dwarf is now next to Charlie, and wants him to get a closer look at Mungforgotta, and it's here that things suddenly shift to the terrifying, for Charlie soon realizes that Mungforgotta is not a tree:
The limbs no longer looked like limbs at all-more like enormous, long, black, multi-jointed spider legs, all of them pawning at the ground as if blindly searching for something.
The Dwarf has Charlie in his grip, and is surprisingly strong; Charlie cannot break free. The Dwarf reveals that he and Mungforgotta are one, he lives inside her, but is free to roam the forest. He is "pollen on a fishing line." He attracts bait to the pole that is Mungforgotta. I somewhat see the Dwarf as some sort of guardian of the forest, or perhaps he's an executioner. He disposes of those who come barging into a place they have no business being. Or, he is simply an appendage of a predatory creature, like the dangling tongue of a snapping turtle. Either way, those who lose themselves in the forest, they become prey, as Charlie horrifyingly discovers.
I was actually caught off guard with this, because I was expecting Charlie to leave the forest, but with his view of the world forever altered, but that wasn't the case. The Queen in Green has a fairy tale quality to it, a parable to keep little boys and girls in check, and to show respect to the environment. What also makes the story so effective is Ranalli's depiction of Charlie. She achieves a perfect balance in making Charlie a believable kid, to the point where I was reminiscing on my own childhood, and my many excursions into wooded areas. Charlie's not a stupid kid, but he is curious, and has quite the imagination. He's well aware of all the possible outcomes that could happen with the Dwarf, making him somewhat on guard, but he can't help but give in to his child-like whims, and the possibility of seeing magic. Ranalli crafted an excellent tale full of atmosphere and terror. She not only made me believe in magic, but her tale will serve as a reminder to be more aware and cautious the next time I find myself in the woods.