Survival, Sustenance, and Self-Sufficiency in a Tale of Two Sisters: Plant Geographies in Jean Hegland’s "Into the Forest"


  • Sara Pankenier Weld University of California, Santa Barbara



postapocalyptic, ecofeminist, phytocentric, plant, forest, regeneration, redwood, burl


As evidenced by its title, Into the Forest (1996) by Jean Hegland traces the movement of two adolescent girls ever further into the forest in a post-apocalyptic account of the near future. Set in Redwood, California, it depicts a world where trees are gigantic and long-lasting while humans are diminutive and diminishing, while contemporary human technological society has fallen apart. Plants, trees, and the forest, and an increasingly intimate and Indigenous knowledge and relationship with these, play a key and ever-growing role in the novel and illuminate its otherwise dark vision of the future. Ultimately, the sisters’ taking of an increasingly plant-based perspective offers an alternative trajectory and path toward survival, sustenance, and self-sufficiency for the two young women. Although not necessarily written for young adults exclusively, the novel, whose international impact is evidenced by the fact that translated into over a dozen languages, made into a film in Canada, and adapted as a graphic novel in French, focuses on young adult protagonists and tells a post-apocalyptic tale that is both dark and inspiring in its vision of self-sufficiency and reintegration with nature, forest, and plants. It thus shows itself to be a work of young adult literature in many respects, as well as in its implied ecofeminist critique of capitalist society and a more sustainable vision of the future represented by the young. This article examines various plant geographies in Into the Forest and the way in which the forest represents a space of refuge from mankind and society; provides healing and sustenance; serves as an alternative abode; and represents a birthplace of the future. It argues that an increasingly plant-based perspective figures centrally in the book’s narrative arc from beginning to end, from its title and setting to the trajectory of its unfolding plot, and in its conclusion and vision of the future.


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Author Biography

Sara Pankenier Weld, University of California, Santa Barbara

A Professor of Slavic and Comparative Literature and Chair of the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Sara Pankenier Weld researches childhood across national and interdisciplinary boundaries, particularly Slavic, Scandinavian, and North American contexts and in literature, art, film, and theory. Her work, which is moving in increasingly global and comparative directions, seeks to challenge discriminatory attitudes toward children in scholarship, society, and culture. Sara's first book Voiceless Vanguard: The Infantilist Aesthetic of the Russian Avant-Gardean interdisciplinary study of Russian literature, art, and theory, was published in 2014 by Northwestern University Press as part of its Studies in Russian Literature and Theory series and received the International Research Society for Children's Literature (IRSCL) Book Award in 2015. It will soon appear in Russian translation. Sara's second book, An Ecology of the Russian Avant-Garde Picturebookswhich mounts a close analysis of image and text in little-known picturebooks by prominent Russian writers, artists, and intellectuals, was published in 2018 by John Benjamins as volume 9 in the award-winning Children's Literature, Culture, and Cognition series. Her current book project, entitled Miniature Revelations: Childhood in Nabokov's Writings, argues that throughout Nabokov's work, the neglected and inscrutable child, who might be mistaken for a marginal figure, in fact offers a miniature revelation and key to Nabokov's novels that enables a reevaluation of the text. Since 2019 Sara has been an Executive Board Member of the International Research Society for Children's Literature (IRSCL) and in August 2023 was Convener of the 2023 IRSCL Congress on Ecologies of Childhood along with Dafna Zur of Stanford University. Since 2023 she has assumed the role of IRSCL President.






Plant Tendrils in Children's and Young Adult Literature