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Forest Ecology in Fantasy Fiction: Mobilising the Imaginative Resources of Fantasy Fiction for Living with Forests


Project Description

Since at least the late nineteenth century, writers have used fantasy fiction to reimagine humanity’s relationship to nature. From lush rainforests to temperate woodlands, forests have been central to this enterprise. Where the forest in Gothic literature is typically menacing, fantasy literature offers a counter-narrative in which forests enable diverse individuals and peoples to thrive within a complex ecology. Yet these forests, like those in the real world, are often under threat from rampant exploitation. The forest thus becomes a site of devastating human impact upon ecosystems as well as a model for sustainable relations between humans, animals and plants.
Fantasy fiction provides a sophisticated medium for thinking through the values we invest in forests and the meanings we ascribe to them. Fantasy emerged as a genre in reaction against the societal and environmental trends – urbanisation, mechanisation, over-consumption, pollution – which precipitated the Anthropocene. Often misconstrued as ‘escapist’, it repeatedly insists on our need to reconceive our relationship to environments which we threaten even as we depend upon them. Although epidemiological literature has revealed the therapeutic importance of forests, humans, now predominantly an urban species, are increasingly losing the capacity to interact healthfully with the natural world. Given its popularity, fantasy literature, with its rich appreciation of forests, has the potential to assist in reversing this trend.
This project will undertake an interdisciplinary study of the function and representation of forests in fiction set in imagined worlds. Major authors under consideration include William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin. The forests in their fiction will be considered as ecologies including imaginary as well as real beings, who in turn epitomise alternative ethical and psychological conceptions of life as part of a forest configured in relation to place, space and time. Through focus groups and an extended partnership with Ruskin Land, these fictional forests will be compared with responses to actual forest sites and experiments in dwelling with forests to establish their potential to contribute to healthy engagement with forest environments and to advance reafforestation and wider rewilding strategies designed to combat climate change and environmental degradation.

Funding Notes

Full payment of tuition fees at Research Councils UK fee level for year of entry (£4,327 in 2019/20), to be paid by the University;
An annual maintenance grant at current UK Research Councils rates (national minimum doctoral stipend for 2019/20 is £15,009), to be paid in monthly instalments to the Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholar by the University.
All studentships will come with a minimum of £3,000 Research Training Support Grant. This can be increased, if there are justified project costs, up to a maximum of £12,000.
Funding is available for UK or EU students only.

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