The Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland: A Discussion Guide

Use this extensive guide when teaching Susan Vreeland's novel The Forest Lover.
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Updated on: October 10, 2006
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Individual Research and Creative Projects

  1. Use a painting by Carr to spark a poem. Start by surveying, the paintings on this site. Don't try to narrate the meaning of a totem or scene the way Emily might have seen it. Just respond from your own well of experience to the shapes, colors, setting, the feel of the subject. Don't feel you need to write a direct answer to the question in a poem. Just let one of the following questions (or one you pose) together with an image suggest a line of thinking, and follow it. (The questions are roughly in the order that the paintings appear on the website. Many of them involve T-S, Text to Self considerations.)

    1. What land's edge am I living on or in? In what colors, other than the natural or obvious, do I imagine this dwelling place?

    2. Where does the path in the forest lead? What path am I beginning to see ahead of me? Should I follow when I don't know where it's going?

    3. What might it feel like to live in a house dwarfed by the forest? What looms over my house, or the row of houses on my block, that is, my neighborhood? What protects me?

    4. What strange or hideous creature is reaching out her/his arms to me? Should I run toward it or away?

    5. Why is the parent holding the child outward? Would I rather be the parent or the child?

    6. What does it mean for a bird to be stuck in the earth? What would it feel like? What might it be similar to in the realm of humans?

    7. What religious symbol is in my wilderness? What feeling does it create in my private self?

    8. What would make a person weep so much that his eyes would be washed out of his face? How have you responded when you've seen someone cry this much?

    9. What pillar of strength and growth can I claim in my wilderness?

    10. What does it mean when the sky vibrates in waves? Under what personal circumstances might the sky seem to be doing this? When have I felt some natural phenomenon respond to my state of thinking or feeling?

    11. How does a single remaining tree feel when all his life-long companion trees are hewn down by loggers? How might this translate into the human realm? What are the benefits of being alone?

  2. Most cultures have mythic figures that serve as bringers of good or evil (such as Dzunukwa, for example), tricksters, creators. People need ways to explain bad things that happen, ways to give gratitude, ways to explain creation and the origin of man. In Native Northwest Coast cultures, Raven is a trickster and can change into other creatures to play tricks or do evil. Perhaps this suggests why it's difficult to identify and eliminate evil because its identity is masked or elusive. In the Native cultures of the American Southwest, there are the mythic figures of Coyote who functions in ways similar to Raven, and Kokopelli, the flute player. And of course the Greeks, Romans, and Norse have a large pantheon of gods and goddesses. Select a culture that you identify with or appreciate (it need not be your own ethnic heritage, but it can be), and either narrate a story or folk tale in which an authentic mythic figure takes part, or invent such a figure that would be representative of the geographic locale and the social, religious, or cultural climate of that place. (T-W)

    As the creative adjunct to the mythic figures work above, students can construct masks using a variety of media (clay, paper, cardboard, fabric, stuffed fabric, feathers, leaves and branches, shells, beads, false hair) of the mythic figure they wrote about, or one from The Forest Lover. And further, students can create a piece of jewelry of that mythic figure.

Topics of Personal Inquiry

  1. If you were to choose an animal or an element of nature as an expression of yourself, what would it be? Why do you identify with this creature or thing? (T-S)

  2. Write the words to a power song as a gift to someone else in the class so that this song would empower that person.

  3. The Forest Lover includes many descriptions of Emily's thoughts as she's composing a painting. Find half a dozen of them and study them. After viewing Carr's work, select one painting which is your favorite. Write a detailed description of it and explain what you think Emily was thinking about this scene. You may write this in third person, as if from the outside, or first person, getting inside Emily's head. Conclude with why this painting appeals to you.

  4. Of all the places on the planet, do you have an illahee, a place that gives you comfort? Describe it in poetry, prose, narrative, or song. Include at least three details of sensory experience, and have at least one detail be kinetic (moving or changeable). Infuse the description with your feelings, whether you choose to use first or third person. Do not use "I like this place because..."

  5. Select someone you think of as a hailat. This person can be known to you or not, living or dead. Do some research about this person and his or her art. Compose a narrative in which this person is working at his art or craft. Get inside the person's head and reveal his or her feelings and considerations as he or she approaches, designs and executes the task. In terms of painting, two approaches exist: intuitive painting coming from one's soul or instincts, and technical painting coming from the application of aesthetic principles. Which of these two approaches does your hailat typically use? Or which does he or she use just in particular stages in the creative process? Find a photograph or take a photograph of this person, if possible a shot with your hailat engaged in the creative act. Teachers: either have students read their results aloud to the class, or have the photographs and written material posted around the classroom, and have students circulate to read each one.

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