It takes a certain strange sort of imagination to put a plant at the centre of a horror story—the sort of imagination that not only sees the twigs brushing a window as tapping fingers, but that also assumes that the tree itself has hands. In the spirit of my recent review of The Day of the Triffids, here is a brief, undoubtedly incomplete list of horror/weird fiction featuring botanical antagonists. Anyone with additions, please chime in in the comments. (All links are to free full texts when they’re available.)
The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham
As discussed in my previous post, this is an eerie dystopian book in which most of the population goes blind and is then preyed upon by mobile stinging plants. Subtle, unsettling, and deep.
The Willows – Algernon Blackwood
“It’s the willows themselves humming, because here the willows have been made symbols of the forces that are against us.”
Two friends go on a canoe trip down the Danube. When they stop to camp on a willow-covered island, strange things begin to happen. Things go missing, strange prints appear in the sand, and the canoe is mysteriously damaged. All the while the river is rising, and the tangled willows seem to have a mind of their own. In addition to being charged with suspense, this tale has some lovely descriptions of the riparian scenery.
The Man Whom the Trees Loved – Algernon Blackwood
“It really is extraordinary,” said a Woman who Understood, “that you can make that cypress seem an individual, when in reality all cypresses are so exactly alike.”
This Blackwood guy has a thing for evil trees. In this short story, an artist by the name of Sanderson has a knack for painting trees. And to him, each tree is indeed an individual, and they seem to know that he knows this. They seem to call to him, and he is drawn out into the forest around his house for longer and longer walks. It sounds incredibly cheesy, I know, but it’s phenomenally gripping, as the view shifts from that of the artists who really gets trees to that of his wife, who fears but can’t quite believe that the trees are after her husband.
Specimen 313 – Jeff Strand
It’s basically Little Shop of Horrors with an added love story—featuring not the gardener but the plant. And somehow, that’s adorable.
The Tree – H. P. Lovecraft
An old beekeeper tells the tale of an ancient, gnarled, sinister-looking olive tree, a tale of a competition between two skilled sculptors in ancient Greece. One of them sickens and dies, first instructing his friend and rival to bury olive branches by his head. As the surviving sculptor finishes his statue, an unusual tree grows above his studio. It’s far from HPL’s best work, but unusually understated; one that leaves you scratching your head.
The Tree on the Hill – H. P. Lovecraft and Duane W. Rimel
Just your standard dimension-jumping cosmic horror tale. A man sits down under an odd-looking oak and glimpses an evil dimension. His learned friend hastily prevents humanity’s doom at the expense of his sanity. The usual, but not up to HPL’s best—I’ll blame Rimel.
The Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien
LotR has some classic nasty vegetation. The Ents, of course, are only horrific to Saruman’s lot, but Fangorn forest has an evil reputation. But when I first read the saga as a young’un, I was really creeped out by the Old Forest outside the Shire, which Frodo et al. have to cross as they flee towards Bree. The menacing trees trip people deliberately and gradually channel the travellers towards the river Withywindle, where they are nearly devoured by a sly old willow.
The Harry Potter series – J. K. Rowling
Vines…vines are great subjects for creepy stories, the way they twine around things and climb up walls. My memory of this is dim, but in Philosopher’s Stone, a trapdoor in Hogwarts hides a Devil’s Snare vine that tightens as its victims struggle. And, of course, the Whomping Willow (again with the willows!), introduced in Chamber of Secrets, has it in for anyone within reach of its bludgeoning boughs.
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