Silver in the Wood (The Greenhollow Duology #1) by Emily Tesh
Queer Romantic Green Man Myth Retelling With A Side of Monster Hunting and Darning Socks
When you’ve walked through the woods during a hike — breathed in the petrichor and the welcome scent of rotting leaves, looked up at the lush and verdant shades of tall trees — it becomes clear why it’s the first place people think of when they’re meditating or trying to relax. Something about being cradled by fauna that might’ve existed a few centuries ago tends to conjure an esotericism, a primal yearning that is so deeply spiritually satisfying (although, listening to Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ might evoke the same feeling).
Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh is prose that takes you through the same old, magical woods and points at each blessed site to tell you stories associated with it. In particular, the story of Tobias Finch who took it upon himself to be Greenhollows’ carer — its Wild Man — and of the overly enthusiastic and curious folklorist Henry Silver who managed to form an instant bond, not just with the Wild Man, but with the mysticism that surrounds Greenhollow.
As the text plants itself and grows the forest of Greenhollow around you with every line you read, watch in between the trees for the giant of a man with elbow-length hair, a dryad with bright golden eyes, and a rambling wannabe scholar wearing a damn good coat, and listen close to hear the murmurings of spectres unseen.
Much of what makes the story truly come to life is the atmosphere the narrator Tobias Finch creates with his words. A 400-year old man who has seen the Woods change and whose routine involves darning socks, planting vegetables, and looking after the local people, the forest, and all manner of creatures within it.
Even the way he thinks and feels seems green and ancient, with trunks as strong as an old oak tree and with roots that run deep into the soil. Here is a character who is like a tree himself that can feel the bright power of the dryads, the bracken and ferns, the songbirds and burrowing rabbits, thick and steady around him. He’s very much part of the Woods and so people have created this myth around him, the Wild Man who might be a priest of the old gods, who might have a preference to eat yellow-haired maidens, or just an ordinary madman running around in the forest with unwashed hair.
But while he is not quite mortal, he did have human origins. A history troubling enough that he actively prepares for the encroaching equinox each year to better protect the town and the forest from the Lord of Summers — another figure who also used to be a mortal and who had been significant in his becoming the Wild Man.
This is one of the ways Silver in the Wood is unique, no matter that the narrative itself is a retelling of an existing folklore. In less than a hundred pages Emily Tesh was able to conjure both what is natural, beautiful, strange, and terrifying about being in Greenhollow. And these are exactly what makes the place so entrancing.
Tobias quickly forms an attachment to the handsome new owner of Greenhollow Hall, one Henry Silver — an amateur folklorist who is too curious to realise that some secrets are just too dangerous to prod with a stick.
If there’s a better way to describe how this relationship developed, it would be like how the magic of the forest treads carefully around you, mindful that it doesn’t scare you off. It’s reluctant but it’s there, like a stranger who becomes one of the few people who sees and who can understand.
In a way this isn’t a love story, but the beginning of one. A romance that has found its footing on the beautiful and horrifying, and where courtship involves Tobias hunting monsters with practical folklorist and Henry’s mother, Adela Silver.
Perhaps one of the most striking themes in this book is its focus on choosing how you want to grow into the world even if it means leaving the magic behind, distant from the usual motifs in folklores where the centre of the narrative is embracing the unnatural.
Tobias and Henry had been in their paths not because they chose to be there, but because of the circumstances that they were stuck in. In quite a funny way, it’s the situations they eventually came upon during the course of the story that has forced them out of their existing paths to trudge a newer but more appropriate one for them.
Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh is a novella that presents a new perspective to old world magic and uses it to sow seeds of self reflection. While an economic prose, it’s still a meditative narrative, one that invites you to a quaint cottage in the woods to think about where you’ve planted yourself, and if you can choose, where you want to regrow.