Tim Bird’s The Great North Wood is a mystical and nostalgic retelling of the history of the forest that used to cover all of London, but now only remains in South London. The narrator, a fox representing Bird himself, walks through history from ancient times to modern day, detailing how the formally massive forest has been cut back and the legends that made The Great North Wood important to the long history of London. Each story about the wood is told, then the fox will tell what building lies there today, then the fox will walk on to the next story and location.
The art is a beautiful representation of the natural landscape. If it wasn’t for the art, the writing and stories would fall flat. The seemingly simple style leads to beautifully detailed landscapes. The often monochrome colour palette makes every colour pop exactly when we need it too. Our fox narrator is always immediately obvious, as are the main players in each story. The humans in the stories can be a little cartoony, but that seems to be the purpose as they are retellings of stories from several decades/centuries before now.
Where the book fails is the use of Romani stereotyping in one of the stories (including the use of the g-slur), which I know the knowledge of the more politically correct treatment of these groups is a fairly recent thing that many still don’t know about, and is largely contained to one story. Some of the long monologues can get repetitive as well. The transitions between stories tend to be the fox walking through the wood talking about it’s beauty with no new story elements. This isn’t something that is needed every couple of pages, though this definitely seems intentional. Impatient readers (like myself) would want to just get back to the stories as soon as possible. It seems to be a bit of padding. Many of the monologues and imagery in these transitions reminds me of Wes Anderson’s unique style of directing. While that’s not a bad thing (I love Wes Anderson films), I don’t know if that’s exactly what Tim Bird wanted the reader to be thinking about.
While I overall enjoyed the book, I can’t help but feel that if I was a Londoner, or even British, I would understand more of the background, and recognise locations. Despite my ignorance, and as someone who watched their hometown turn from mostly wooded to mostly buildings, I found the yearning for a simpler, more natural environment relatable, and the experience of reading the piece calming. I highly recommend The Great North Wood for anyone interested in a new perspective on history, stories that maybe you wouldn’t hear outside of London, and beautiful interpretations of nature.
Do you want to take a walk to the past with The Great North Wood? The Great North Wood is available now on Avery Hill Publishing’s website. Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter!