Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Shirley Jackson’s “The Man in the Woods” was originally published in the April 28, 2014 issue of The New Yorker.

Click for a larger image.

Click for a larger image.


I’m working my way through Penguin Classics’ reissues of Shirley Jackson’s work (and loving it), so this formerly unpublished story is exciting to see! Even if I do not always love a Shirley Jackson story itself, I almost always love reading it for its atmosphere and suspense. That turned out to be the case here: “The Man in the Woods” has a suffocating, eerie atmosphere and masterful build-up to the final (somewhat disappointing, in my opinion) line. Then again, I just might not understand the line, so please comment below on what you think it means.

We join the protagonist, Christopher, as he is walking down a forested road, a long long road:

He had been walking since morning, and all day the day before that, and the day before that, and days before that, back into the numberless line of walking days that dissolved, seemingly years ago, into the place he had left, once, before he started walking.

As he walks, the trees threaten, “mounted heavily into the road.” He does have a companion, a nameless cat who joined him not long after a crossroads, at which he took the forest road.

I started reading the first few paragraphs just after they were published. I had planned to simply browse them and read the story today, since it was getting late, but I couldn’t stop once I started. Though I had no idea where the story would take me, like Christopher I thought, “Road’s got to go somewhere.”

And we come to nicely maintained stone house at the end of the long road (“which was not a road at all, of course, but merely a way to the house”). Christopher has a fleeting thought — which rings ominous to us readers — about “the other way, long before, the he had not followed.” That’s the last time that other way comes up explicitly, but we assume it’s going to cross Christopher’s mind again, just after this story ends.

At the house he is greeted by two friendly women who invite him in for dinner. One of the ways Jackson creates atmosphere — while critiquing the way we interact with each other socially — is through slanted manners. These two women are solicitous and not the least surprised to find Christopher. Everything seems normal, but since nothing is normal about the situation, it’s like looking at a warped version of a quaint visit. Then, these two talkative women become silent, passive, and deferential as can be when the host, a man named Oakes comes to meet the guest.

The tension continues to build. The trees continue to push in on the stone house.

And so it’s a fun story, but to me it does feel unfinished. There are a lot of elements planted in the story that don’t quite seem to go anywhere: one of the women is named Circe, and they also have a cat, named Grimalkin. Indeed, the witch imagery is everywhere; Christopher might as well be Hansel in the forest, finally finding a comforting home. There’s the long road, the crossroads, and Oakes, who feels like an incarnation of The Green Man.

And yet . . . where does all of this take us? What story is Jackson trying to tell here? There is a conclusion to the story — Christopher is left in peril — and yet, despite fine writing throughout, the structure feels like a draft.

Nevertheless, I do recommend it, and not just selfishly so you can help me understand it better (but, yes: I can’t wait to hear what others think about “The Man in the Woods”).


The hero of Shirley Jackson’s “The Man in the Woods” seems to have chosen an essentially solitary life path, something that takes him away from the conventional society of towns and farms.

Immediately, I think of writers, artists, scholars, philosophers, inventors, explorers or monks — all people of solitary pursuits. Jackson, in the first section of this story, seems to be emphasizing that some life choices inevitably involve alien territory and isolation. The fact that the hero has left off studying to embark upon a quest reminds me of all those above endeavors, not to mention the current crop of kids leaving college to pursue their fortunes in Silicon Valley. The story seems timely, even if written decades ago.

The story forces the hero into what is almost an almost ordained to-the-death confrontation with a similarly solitary and intense elder. The hero has turned into a forest, and then has stumbled upon a house, or a manor; the lord of this manor feeds him, takes him in, and also takes him on a tour of the house.

I would pause, here, however, to suggest that the young hero, although seeming similar to an artist in his lonely quest, may also represent just a phase in a young man’s development, the phase when he must set aside adolescence and take up adult life. So while the story reminds me of those questers I mentioned above, the writers and inventors, et cetera, it also reminds me of the path into adulthood, a maturation that may require a journey into a dark wood.

The fact that the young man’s visit at the house begins with his cat besting the lord’s cat in a fight foreshadows a possibly violent denouement. The fact that the two women in the house take all that in stride seems strange, but then, the whole story is strange. I want to say more about the two women, but first I want to stress the two areas of the house that the lord shows the young man — the records room and the roses. It is as if the older man is acting like a guide. He urges the young man to pay attention to the roses, but also says, “Don’t forget that they were mine.”

It is as if the older man is abdicating to the younger man.

Jackson does not expand upon the importance of the records and the roses, except to say that although the older man guards the records, he doesn’t understand them, and that he seems surprised that the young man thinks the roses could cover the house. It is as if Jackson is using them symbolically to indicate what the hero must embrace — both the mysteries of the past and the importance of nurturing the present into bloom.

Even though the story puts me in mind of the life of an artist, I think that Jackson, who was a mother as well as an artist, was thinking about the coming-of-age that we must all go through, a coming of age that we think of as a matter of fact process, when in fact, coming of age can be a to-the-death battle, a battle with society, with parents, or with the culture of religion or work.

In my own profession (teaching), there was in any school I taught the distinct hierarchy of stars and lords (and ladies). To blaze new ground inevitably invited a fight to the death, so to speak. I eventually became a department coordinator and had to observe the other teachers. Several times, while sitting in the back of yet another high school classroom, I felt the shock of greatness in another teacher. Displaced! I associate Jackson’s story with that kind of experience — the teacher being judged having the courage to blaze forth, and the observing teacher having the courage to absorb blaze.

So the mother in Shirley Jackson was saying that to be the hero of your own life is of necessity a violent thing. By the nature of life itself, survival will displace others.

She suggests that magic helps. By magic, though, I think she may mean the intuitive power of women. The two women that open the house to the young man appear magical, with their cat, Grimalkin, with their tally sheet written on the kitchen wall (of other young men who a appeared and failed?). One of the women is named Circe, indicating that she is a “witch” of some sort. She is the woman who prepares and feeds the young man delicious food. There is the feeling that perhaps the two women have chosen this young man, and perhaps they feed him a potion in their food that gives him strength.

In the “This Week in Fiction” interview, Jackson’s son explains that Jackson chose the names for her characters very carefully. The women’s names are from Greek mythology, the cat’s is from Scottish lore, the lord’s name is “Mr. Oakes,” as if he is a part of nature itself, or of the forest that the young man has chosen as his life-path, and the hero’s name is Christopher, clearly related to Christianity or Christ. It is as if the hero is part of a frame: he must contend with the father figure, he must accept nurture from witch-like women, and he must survive.

It is curious that the hero’s name is Christopher. Will the character, named for Christ, slay the father-figure? That is the question. We don’t know. A battle between positive action and acquiescence seems to have been set up, or perhaps the necessity for a new way.

The story puts me in mind of the Harold Bloom idea that great poets must “kill” their poetic progenitors, and that this battle must be the crux of their formation as an artist. “The Anxiety of Influence” was published in 1973, long after Jackson’s death in 1965, so I am not suggesting any actual connection, only that the story reminds me of Bloom.

At the same time, I am also reminded of the strategies of appeasement that didn’t work with Hitler. He eventually had to be faced and killed. That the story would have political overtones should not be surprising; Jackson’s most famous story, “The Lottery” is nothing if not political.

As “The Man in the Woods” ends, Jackson’s hero is faced with this situation: he is to meet the old man by the river, and he knows the old man has sharpened his knife. The old man calls out to the hero in a startlingly authoritative voice, asking “Who is he dares enter these my woods?” What will happen?

The ambiguity of the title is significant. Which figure is the man? It is as if authority is reconfigured every time there is a challenge and a fight. The one who wins will be the man.

That leads us to a difficult question: Jackson was a powerful writer, but she was a woman writing just before the era when being a publicly powerful woman was a commonplace occurrence. Why would she write a story that seemed to make women secondary?

She specifically alludes to powerful women being thought of as witches, having named one of the women Circe, and having given her a cat named Grimalkin. She names the companion woman Phyllis, a name associated with someone left behind, someone who must acquiesce to men, given that the original Phyllis was a woman whom Demophon married on his way back from the Trojan War, but a woman he left behind when he returned to Greece. Phyllis apparently committed suicide.

So Jackson has set up a pair of women and a pair of men, and in both pairs there is the question of whether or not one of the pair will acquiesce, be beaten, or be the one to survive. She does make it clear that society views the powerful man as a kind of lord, at least until age weakens him, and it is also clear that younger men are called upon to topple or challenge the lord or the one wielding power. And she does make it clear that women are often in the position of being witch or suicide — or in the position of choosing to be powerful or weak or alive or dead.

The four characters comprise a kind of family unit, Circe and Oakes being the parent figures, powerful and frightening. Christopher and Phyllis comprise the “children.” Phyllis appears to be almost a prisoner, while Christopher appears to be somewhat childlike and trusting. Jackson may be pointing to our psychology, but she may also be pointing to political realities that control us.

The story embodies numerous mysteries. For one, just how many young men have happened into this peculiar domain? The tally on the wall feels somewhat ominous. In fact, I got the distinct impression that perhaps this weird “family” ate the challengers who did not survive the duel with Mr. Oakes. Whether they did or not is not really the point. The point is, this is a do or die encounter, and Jackson means it to be ominous. The hero is going to have to “read” the situation accurately. Which path will he take when he leaves the house? Will he take on the old man, despite the old man’s sharp knife? Or will he high-tail it out there? Or will he retreat until he can figure out a way to deal with the old man?

The “family” seems to think this is the one.

The story invites discussion. I have a take: that it is somehow about striking a new middle ground between acquiescence and power, or between suicide and life, a stance that might allow the roses to flourish, the roses representing perhaps all that is good in society. Somehow the story invites more exploration.

Mystery is clearly one of Jackson’s most potent devices. In this case, however, perhaps the story can only be fully understood as a piece of the whole of her work, especially considering her uses of politics, myth, archetype, and psychology.

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By |2014-04-24T19:12:38-04:00April 21st, 2014|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, Shirley Jackson|37 Comments


  1. Royce Eddington April 22, 2014 at 12:28 am

    The New Yorker posted an interview with Shirley Jackson’s son (Laurence Jackson Hyman) that gives a little more detail on this story –

  2. Trevor April 22, 2014 at 11:45 am

    Thanks Royce. I looked for this when I finished the story because Jackson’s son provided an interview when “Paranoia” was published last year, but apparently I was looking in the wrong place.

    While the interview doesn’t help me understand the story any better, it does help me not care as much. I like Jackson’s own response: “It’s just a story.” It’s a great story, filled with portent and often (I’m thinking of Bolaño) it’s best if it’s inexplicable. That heightens the disturbing nature of the work and makes it feel more real.

  3. Alicia April 22, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    This was originally published before April 28th, 2014 – just pointing out an error

  4. Trevor Berrett April 22, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    Thanks Alicia, but not an error here. The story was first published in the “April 28, 2014 issue” which hits newsstands — and the web — a week earlier. On April 28 you’ll see me posting about something first published in the May 5, 2014 issue.

    It’s a bit strange, but by far the strangest part is that, after five and a half years of tracking each issue, this always being aware of the following week really makes the year seem to pass even faster than it really does!

  5. Jennifer April 23, 2014 at 8:47 am

    After reading the interview with the son, it seems that Christopher will win the ritual battle and that he’s destined to become the keeper of the records, which is fitting since he’s a scholar.

  6. Trevor Berrett April 23, 2014 at 11:49 am

    I think that’s a fair reading, Jennifer, but just maybe Christopher won’t do as well as his cat :-) .

  7. Dan Walter April 23, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    I don’t think it was such a great story. I don’t care for these enigmatic epistles that seem to be created just so critics can tease out meanings and students are meant to struggle over myths or metaphors.

    Seems to me Shirley Jackson just tossed this one off to toy with academia.

    “It’s just a story,” she says. And maybe it is.

  8. Trevor Berrett April 23, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    While I also feel “it’s just a story,” I don’t think Jackson had any malicious intent in writing it. I have come to accept it as a story with a lot of fun elements — elements that don’t necessarily lead to “meaning” as we may be used to getting, but elements that make a fun atmosphere, filled with portent.

    Last night I was reading some Clark Ashton Smith stories, and I love them. I realized that he also rarely had any kind of “meaning” as we might understand it today; he was interested in delivering something that made us feel some kind of mystic creepiness. Perhaps that’s what’s going on here too, and, if so, it worked for me, even if when I finished it initially I had a feeling of “so?”

  9. Jenna April 23, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    I think Oakes’ time was up, which he knows. He worries about his roses and wants to make sure Christopher will take care of them… When Christopher replaces Oakes. Oakes is supposed to “leave” as cleanly and unsentimentally as the former Grimalkin did. I think perhaps other challengers had come and had lost to Oakes — but the witches (Circe, Phyllis) and Oakes himself knew that this was it, lovingly sharpened knife or no.

  10. Jenna April 23, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    There is also an implication that the pig on the spit either is a human (“long pig”) or, with the Circe reference, a former human who has been transformed into a pig (and then killed).

  11. Trevor Berrett April 23, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    Great insights, Jenna — thanks!

  12. Jenna April 24, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Thanks for starting this conversation! I finished the story, then immediately started Googling to research/ discuss. Happy to find this.

    The name “Circe” — and the character’s insistence on being called by her real name — is the big dog whistle here I think (if dog whistles can be big). It signals that we’re supposed to look at this as being in the same universe as the Odyssey, if not an outright retelling.

    Other things I notice on a re-reading:

    “…turning on to the forest road as if he had a choice,” from the first paragraph, is an early hint at the fated/ preordained nature of his arrival that’s made more explicit later.

    “I’ve been here for a long time, though,” says Phyllis when he first encounters her — I think there’s an implication that she and Circe are ageless witches, while the Oakes role is filled by a rotating cast of mortals.

    I think the “rough measuring system” might be other challengers who have come and gone. And perhaps also predictions. Oakes looks at Christopher and then the measuring system before welcoming him; it seems to be something along the lines of, “Yes, this is the one. Oh well.”

    “You are a scholar,” the old man said. “Naturally.”: Of course the person who has come to take over the job of guardian of the records — or who was lured, somehow — is a scholar.

    “One brought a dog”: One of the references to previous challengers.

    “Fairly beaten and has no right to come back” has already been covered. (Re: the fight of the Grimalkins, and foreshadowing.)

    “A house was found to be vital, of course.”: Implication of vital to the practice of guarding the records, and luring guardians, etc.

    Stone tablets, and rolls of parchment, in the “library.” Implication of vast, ancient knowledge all stored there. But being lost gradually.

    “I was the first one to clear away even this much of the forest” (Oakes): There have been many keepers of the records, stretching far back in time.

    “… the trussed carcass of what seemed to Christopher to be a wild pig.”: Already referred to this one, but just noting the careful phrasing here. She’s not saying it is a wild pig, but that it seems so to Christopher.

    “You say you’ve come far?” exchange: Oakes is resigned to his fate, but still looking for reassurance that this replacement is up to the task before him.

    Also references to the woods itself being sort of sentient — the pressing in on the house, and Oakes’ reference to it as a beast.

  13. Jenna April 24, 2014 at 7:01 pm

    The Christ/ Christopher thing is kind of obvious, just looked up what “Christ” actually means — I thought it might mean “the chosen one.” It means “the anointed,” close enough!

  14. Trevor Berrett April 24, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    The post has been updated to include Betsy’s thoughts.

    Thank you, Betsy, for putting some sense into the various images and motifs :-) .

    Thanks to all of you for enriching this story for me. I hope the conversation continues as people agree, disagree, have other things to say.

  15. Carol April 24, 2014 at 11:30 pm

    Interesting, Trevor! I don’t typically respond to blogs, but having inhaled the story today have been rereading it ever since. What immediately came to mind–within the first paragraphs– was Dante’s Inferno: “Midway through the journey of our life/I found myself within a dark forest…”
    All the references to the trees as menacing, pressing against the windows, the house “dark and greedy.” Also was compelled by the door–the women waiting beside the door for Oakes, Circe opening for Oakes to leave with his knife (surely he could have opened it himself) then opening for Christopher to leave as he seems he knows he must.
    No answers, maybe not much insight, but this story will stay with me for awhile.
    Also wondered what Jackson’s children are finding in the Library of Congress–are their notes, other drafts to these previously unpublished stories?

  16. Johann April 25, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Reminds me of George Mreedith’s “The Woods of Westermain” with the lines, repeated several times, “Enter these enchanted woods/ You who dare.”

  17. avataram April 25, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    Agree with Jenna’s ideas here.

    Remember reading Robert Graves’ “The White Goddess” long ago. In a lot of Graves stories, the old king is killed by a new comer who becomes the new king. What is expected of Christopher is to fight Mr Oakes – Oak – the king of trees in this story and if he wins, become the king himself. Just like his cat became the new Grimalkin.

    The characters in this story may not be people at all – but trees themselves. In the Celtic world, trees could turn into druids and druids into trees. In Graves’s telling- the Ogham alphabet – took its current familiar order – the english alphabet – after a fight between letters each of which was represented by a tree. D was Duir, or the Oak, for instance.

  18. Betsy Pelz April 26, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    These Graves comments are new to me and wonderful., Avataram!

    And Jenna, I agree with Avataram, your comments are good stuff.

    But I plead your indulgence!

    I read your comments after I wrote my commentary. But I was glad to see that
    you also got a whiff of cannibalism in the story. Loved your “Long Pig” riff.

  19. Michele Hays @QuipsTravails April 26, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    I also wonder about the sleeping arrangements, which are so carefully detailed. The reaction to the question of where the women sleep does seem to imply that they are trees: not only do they sleep in the kitchen, but in specific (almost rooted) spots in the kitchen – Circe sleeps “nearer to the door from the hall.”

    I don’t think you can put this story into a single mythology: while Circe and the pig do tend to reference the Odyssey, Grimalkin and Oakes and the black cat tend to reference Druids or New England witchcraft, and in the explanation, Jackson’s son mentions the Tarot (the fool with a dog.) I think the point is that you’re supposed to note the symbolic nature of words in the story, but that they don’t fit a specific set of symbols.

    Christopher possibly signifies Christianity, but it may also have something to do with the river that’s mentioned several times. The legend of St. Christopher involves him carrying the Christ child and with him the “weight of the world” over a dangerous river.

    There’s also the interesting point of the cat having no name and then taking the name Grimalkin. Mr. Oakes is simply named for a tree and not a person, but much time is spent on the name Christopher, for instance, Mr. Oakes makes a point of saying Christopher “as though estimating the name.”

  20. Betsy Pelz April 26, 2014 at 11:08 pm

    Michele, I find your analysis and avataram’s interesting. But explain (please!) why it matters that the story is about trees. I am still at the stage of thinking about the way the story wants us to feel the fear that we ought to have when we try to assume our rightful identity in the world. Where do the trees become more than just a pattern and make a coherent meaning?

  21. Roger April 27, 2014 at 10:44 pm

    The most disturbing and affecting part of the story seems to me to be Christopher’s destiny to succeed Oakes as guardian of the records – whether he wants to or not. Though I don’t expect him to resist. Except for his cat, he is alone in the world; he had no particular destination in mind when he walked into the woods, and in fact decided against having a destination, by bypassing the other road that led to towns. He may be suited to his task, though it entails the redirection of his past as a scholar, which could have led anywhere or everywhere, to a life with little purpose, and one he must ultimately relinquish when the next worthy visitor wrests his role from him. This is more than a horror story, but it gives one the chills!

  22. Mike Lowther (@TheMikeLowther) April 28, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    This discussion gave wonderful insight. Great work!

    This is off of this discussion a bit, but until the end, I was thinking Christopher was eating previous guests. I thought Mr. Oakes’ intention was to murder him by the lake, and before Christopher was leaving, the women wanted him to destroy Mr. Oakes and take his place.

    Jenna really revealed some great stuff. I just wish we knew what would happen next – but that’s the mystery, I suppose.

  23. Ursula Berg-Lunk April 28, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    In Greek mythology Phyllis turns into an almond tree.

  24. danthelawyer April 28, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    I have always loved Shirley Jackson–counting her “We Have Always Lived in the Castle”as one of the best books I’ve read the last few years–so I was thrilled to see a sorry of hers turn up. And I really enjoyed this one.

    I think Jenna has hit several nails squarely their heads, and that ultimately Christopher will take over the house and the keeping of records. I was struck by Oakes’s repeated emphasis on taking care of the roses. He knows his time has come to be replaced, just as he presumably took the place of his predecessor.

    Good stuff!

  25. danthelawyer April 29, 2014 at 9:07 am

    Sorry for all the typos! Sometimes I hate my iPad.

  26. avataram April 29, 2014 at 10:42 am


    I was hoping to read the chapter “Battle of the trees” in Robert Graves’ “The White Goddess” before posting this comment, but unfortunately I have not been able to go to the library so far. So what I write below is sourced from the internet, which is not very reliable. Apologies.

    You ask – why does it matter that the story is about trees- I feel that it does matter because it simply amplifies the horror. It also seems to fit in with what Jackson’s son says about his mother – her knowledge of mythology and folklore.

    While Christopher’s cat was quick to realize his destiny, Christopher has been too slow. Despite various hints, he does not seem to understand that he should kill Mr Oakes and assume his place. His one chance to do so is probably inside the house – where Mr Oakes is still a man and has only two women to help him. But now, pushed into the woods, Christopher expects to fight a man, but doesn’t realize that Mr Oakes has probably transformed into a tree (the disembodied voice at the end hints at that, as well as the green robes of the two women).

    The story is simply too close to the poem “Cad Goddeu” (Battle of the trees) with the Oak and two women – a maiden and a crone, for it to be not inspired by it. This story is probably a small episode in the poem – The defeat of the Ivy (“The appearance of the Ivy is that of a foreigner and a savage”) by the Oak.

    Here is a translation of the poem from the net, not sure how reliable it is: Graves provides over 100 pages of translation & commentary on this poem in his book.

    In his interview, Jackson’s son thinks that Christopher will win the ritual battle. I think Christopher stands no chance at all, and given his name, will probably be crucified from the nearest Yew tree – the Yew being Idad in the irish ogham alphabet – that stands for death.

  27. Betsy Pelz April 29, 2014 at 10:58 am

    avataram – thank you! great post – so helpful. Without your guidance and also everyone else’s, I would have missed this whole dimension. Fantastic discussion. More appreciation of all of you by me later after I’ve digested all this!

  28. Trevor Berrett April 29, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    I also want to thank everyone for their comments on this post. It’s been a lot of fun and has enriched the story a great deal for me.

  29. mehbe May 4, 2014 at 8:21 am

    I think the story is a joke, with Jackson knowing full well that there was no real coherent content behind all the “meaningful” symbols and allusions she plants. It’s basically a trick on the reader, to see how far they will go in trying to make sense of something that the author knows is nonsense. And that is a very Shirley Jackson sort of idea, I think.

  30. Betsy May 4, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    Just to extend your comment, mehbe, I wondered about Jackson’s publication process. She published a lot of stories. Why were there some packed away unpublished? Were they unfinished? Not worth the effort to finish? Rejected, not by her, but by other editors?

    I wondered whether, in this case, she sensed a certain thinness in the way the mythic structure played out. I.E., the story seems richer if you know the Robert Graves translation of the Cad Goddeu and the Oggham Alphabet, but even so, there seems to me not enough development to the ideas of records and roses to give the outcome of the ritual battle a coherent significance, to use your word.

    The battle between “father” and “son” is an important topic, especially if the “father” feels senile, weak, blustery and unpredictable.. In this case, the father says he never figured out the significance of the records and he appears to doubt the vigor of his roses. Records and roses would stand for civilization, one would think, The trees feel to me to be emblematic of stasis and imprisonment.

    Jackson seems to be on the side of shaking things up at all costs. The young man may well die, like all the young men who died in WWII. But eventually, someone will oust the old man, dust off those records, figure out what’s really been going on, and tend the roses.

  31. amanda May 6, 2014 at 10:37 am

    The story was so eerie, I immediately googled for discussion. Thank you for many good points.

    I too am not convinced Christopher wins the battle. Oakes sharpens the knife but he does not hand it to Christopher.

    Oakes mentions to Christopher that Circe would show him the mushrooms by the river. When? After she turns him into a pig?

    I am also confused by the measurements on the wall-other than the impression that they are waiting for the chosen one. In other words, is this Odysseus or is this just another lost sailor.

    “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.”

  32. Ted May 10, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    Any thoughts on a connection to Sir Frazer’s The Golden Bough, and the ritual sacrifice of the priest-king (by his replacement) who rules the sacred wood?

    Also, Christopher literally means “carries Christ”

  33. Mawie May 25, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    I am very much enlightened by this interesting discussion. I am left wondering why the very first topic in the story seems to be hatred. That does not get resolved in the remainder of the story.

  34. Betsy May 25, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    This is the passage you were referring to, Mawie.

    “Christopher went on down the road, hating the trees that moved slowly against his progress, hating the dust beneath his feet, hating the sky, hating this road, all roads, everywhere. He had been walking since morning, and all day the day before that, and the day before that, and days before that, back into the numberless line of walking days that dissolved, seemingly years ago, into the place he had left, once, before he started walking.”

    Jackson seems to be emphasizing the relentless dreariness that accompanies a person when he or she commits themselves to a goal. It may have been only weeks or months that Christopher has been on this journey, but it may have been also years.

    I am reminded of graduate work, or trying to make your way in the world. I remember so well what the star science teacher where I started out said – it takes five years to get control of teaching. And the first year was so hard! How was I going to last four more!

    But since trees seem to be so important in the story, it’s important to notice that the trees seem to be pushing against progress.

    But as for where the story takes this “hating” having his “progress” impeded – I would say that Jackson has made the reason for the journey a kind of developmental stage. So the passage through “hating” anything that slows him down is almost necessary, so as to get Christopher suitably revved up to take on the lord of the manor.

    but that’s just my take. I’m wondering what I may have missed about what happens to Chritopher’s “hatred”.

  35. Carol June 5, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Christopher does not know why, one day he was at college and the next day not. As if in a trance or compelled. He follows Mr. Oakes ‘helplessly’. There is a shrug of ‘resignation’. The sound of the river is heard before he approaches the house. The river knows a way out of the forest. The river is ‘unafraid.’

  36. Trish Barnes July 4, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    “He was a priest and a murderer…”


    I agree with Ted: James Frazer’s The Golden Bough has telling parallels.

    It inspired Graves’ The White Goddess.

    >> The cult was Diana of the Wood. The place was Aricia [La Riccia], Italy.

    “In this sacred grove there grew a certain tree round which at any time of the day, and probably far into the night, a grim figure might be seen to prowl.

    “In his hand he carried a drawn sword, and he kept peering warily about him as if at every instant he expected to be set upon by an enemy.

    “He was a priest and a murderer; and the man for whom he looked was sooner or later to murder him and hold the priesthood in his stead. Such was the rule of the sanctuary.”

    The priest’s title? “The King of the Wood.”


    So great they found a new Shirley Jackson story!

    I loved it — it was creepy, and old-timey and, as always with Jackson, what is half-said is the most destabilizing in the most enjoyable way.


    I found your excellent site by Googling: “Who is he dares enter these my woods?”


  37. Angela Billings October 28, 2018 at 4:05 pm

    Very interesting comments here. I definitely think though, that Christopher wins the battle and becomes the keeper of the records. Everything points towards that. He quit school for a reason that he can’t explain, as though being compelled to, and begins walking. I think the reason he hates everything in the beginning, is because he knows he’s powerless to fight against his preordained future. He took the road into the woods, “as if he had a choice.” The marks on the wall are the ones that had come before. But, are they ones that were found lacking and did not become keepers of the records, or are they just a tally of all the record keepers over the centuries? Everything indicates that Oakes knows his time as record keeper is over. When the cat loses the fight, he is quick to say that the cat has no right to come back, and that the new cat will replace him. Of course, the roses make it obvious that Oakes has no intention of remaining. “Remember who planted them” “Make sure you stake them”, etc. Then when Oakes shows Christopher the records, he tells him that he cannot use them and shows that they have dust on them. Although not specified, I suspect that Oakes eyesight has failed to the point he can no longer read. Either that, or he is illiterate, but why would an illiterate man ever be the keeper of the records in the first place? And the books also cause fear in Christopher, again, because he knows they are his destiny and there is nothing he can do about it, what he wants does not matter. Now, let’s take the idea that when Oakes went down to the river, he became a tree. A lot of time is spent sharpening the knife, making it razor sharp. I don’t believe that Oakes intends to use it on Christopher. I believe when Christopher gets down to the riverbank, he will see the knife lying on the forest floor, and only then realize that Oakes has became a tree. The heavy, razor sharp knife will be used to chop down Oakes…. literally.

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