Post-Colonial Literary Theory and Robert Macfarlane’s “The Wild Places”

Hello, all!  Here’s a video, which explains post-colonial literary theory and how it relates to The Wild Places.  I’ve included a transcript below.

Hi guys, and welcome back to my blog!  This time we’re discussing the second half of Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places, and how it relates to post-colonialism literary theory.

To start things off, I’ll establish who the coloniser is, and who the colonised is.  In this book, humans are the colonisers, and the wild places of the United Kingdom are being colonised.  I’ll give you an example to show how this is the case.    Macfarlane, the author, visits a holloway on one of his journeys, which is essentially “[a] route that centuries of use has eroded down into the bedrock, so that it is recessed beneath the level of the surrounding landscape.  Most will have started out as drove paths, paths to market.  Some as Saxon or pre-Saxon boundary ditches.  And some, like the holloways near Bury St Edmunds, as pilgrim paths.” (135).  These paths are created out of the landscape by human actions.  The people responsible for creating these paths, pushed nature and the wilderness out of their way, and forced their will upon it.  This aligns perfectly with post-colonialism literary theory, because it is clear that there are two, distinct groups: the humans, the colonisers; and the wilderness, the colonised.  

This theme of the wilderness being oppressed and changed is frequently mentioned in the book.  I’ll give you another example.  Robert Macfarlane has a friend, Roger.  Roger has a farm, and has lived there for a considerable length of time, almost forty years.  At the time Roger first moved to his farm, “…he estimated there to be four miles of hedge within half a mile of his house, excluding his land, and a total of thirty-seven miles of hedge in the parish itself.  Now only one and a half miles were left in his vicinity, and no more than eight miles in the entire parish.” (Macfarlane 140).  This is just in one parish, but, “[s]ince the Second World War, the UK’s ancient hedgerows have dramatically declined due to removal to increase field size and to make way for development. By the 1990s, 121,000 km of hedgerows had been lost across the UK.” (The Wildlife Trusts 8).  This shows that the destruction of these hedgerows is very widespread, and has been occurring for quite some time.

In these two examples, you can see that there is a trend of almost hostility towards the wild, where humankind bends the wilderness to its will.  These two examples also show how this is done both consciously, and unconsciously, but both examples have the common fact that the colonisation of the wilderness benefits humanity.  Whether it is so that people are able to transport their goods to market more efficiently through the holloways, or for farmers to remove hedgerows to create larger fields, for more efficient farming, the destruction of the wild has clear benefits for mankind.  

Robert Macfarlane, in one of his travels, visits Orford Ness.  The Ness is a place consisting mainly of shingles, with sparse vegetation.  Its size and shape shifts with every tide and storm, and wind is constant.  Even in a place such as this, humanity has left their mark, with “…enigmatic military structures…protrud[ing] from the shingle – pre-fabricated barracks, listening stations, beacons, watch-towers, bunkers, [and] explosion chambers.” (Macfarlane 161).  The resilience of humankind, and our ability to build and shape nearly every location and landscape is remarkable, but it is also damaging.  Humanity often has little regard for the importance of the wilderness, typical of the colonisers for the colonised, and this importance is often not recognised until too late.

Nearer to the end of the book The Wild Places, there is almost a reversal of the theme of the book, where instead of the humans being the colonisers, and the wilds the colonised, humankind and its civilisation and legacies are shown to be colonised by the wilderness.  For example, Macfarlane mentions what happened with the wilderness around Chernobyl in the years after the disaster, and the establishment of the exclusion zone.  He mentions that “…silver birch now throng the empty streets and court-yards.  Flower meadows of exceptional botanical diversity have grown up through the paving stones.  Forests of pine and willow have populated the city’s outskirts…” (175).  This reversal of the roles of coloniser and colonised is unique, and interesting, as it is not evident in other works.  Macfarlane does not say that this reclamation by nature is happening soon, but rather that it is coming.  With global warming, and rising sea levels, settlements will be abandoned, and “[v]egetable and faunal life will reclaim them: the opportunist pioneer species first – dog-rose, elder, fireweed, crows…” (175).  Global warming and the rise of the sea can almost be seen as the revenge of nature for colonisation, and they are very real events, that are happening. Evidence such as “[c]ore samples, tide gauge readings, and, most recently, satellite measurements tell us that over the past century, the Global Mean Sea Level (GMSL) has risen by 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters).” (National Geographic 1).  It is human activity that has caused this rise, and nature is fighting back, similar to the colonised rising up against the colonisers.

I hope I’ve outlined how The Wild Places demonstrates attributes of post-colonialism literary theory, and offered some insight as to how humanity interacts with the wilderness.  The wild is essential to the planet for a myriad of reasons, and how we use and treat this wild can have a significant impact on the environment, both short-term and long-term.  We must take care, and be mindful of what we use from the wilderness, for these reasons.  Thanks for reading, everyone!  See you soon!

Works Cited

Hedgerows | CPRE Herefordshire. Web. 20 July 2017.

CITiZAN – Blog – Orford Ness: An Amazing Landscape with a Rich and Varied History – and an Extremely Dynamic Coastline. Web. 20 July 2017.

“Dog-rose – Rosa Canina.” Dog-rose | NatureSpot. Web. 20 July 2017.

Douville, Amanda. “Inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.” NY Daily News. 26 Apr. 2016. Web. 20 July 2017.

Faherty, Mike. “Symondsbury, Holloway.” Symondsbury, Holloway (C) Mike Faherty :: Geograph Britain and Ireland. Web. 20 July 2017.

Farminguk. “Farming Connect: Potential of Tree and Hedgerow Planting to Reduce Frequency and Impact of Flood Events – Farming UK News.” Farminguk. FarmingUK, 03 Nov. 2016. Web. 20 July 2017.

“FireweedChamerion Angustifolium.” Edible Wild Food. Web. 20 July 2017.

“Hedgerows.” Hedgerows | The Wildlife Trusts. Web. 20 July 2017.

Macfarlane, Robert. “The Wild Places.” Goodreads. Web. 20 July 2017.

Macfarlane, Robert. The Wild Places. New York: Penguin, 2008. Print.

“Orfordness.” The Crown and Castle. Web. 20 July 2017.

“Treasures from the Hedgerow: Elderflower Cordial.” The Teacup Chronicles. 15 July 2010. Web. 20 July 2017.

Warne, Kennedy. “Sea Level Rise.” National Geographic. 07 Apr. 2017. Web. 20 July 2017.

“The Circle of Life. The Little Elder Tree Mother. Elderberry Syrup and Tea!” Wildlettucegal’s Blog. 22 July 2015. Web. 20 July 2017.

Archetypal Literary Theory and Robert Macfarlane’s “The Wild Places”

Hey, guys!  Welcome back to another blog post!  This time, I’m discussing archetypal literary theory and the role it plays in Robert Macfarlane’s  The Wild Places.  For those who don’t know, The Wild Places is a novel written about the author and his journey to find the last remaining wild places of the United Kingdom.  Although I’m only halfway through, I’d highly recommend that you give it a read!


The Wild Places, Robert Macfarlane


The main character in The Wild Places is the author himself, Robert Macfarlane.  In the novel, Robert fits quite well into the archetype of the Hero.  I say this because he is on a sort of quest, if you will, and feels the draw to go on the quest, like many heroes in other tales; “For weeks before the windstorm, I had felt the familiar desire to move, to get beyond the fall-line of the incinerator’s shadow, beyond the event-horizon of the city’s ring road.” (Macfarlane 10) Unlike many heroes, I would say, Macfarlane plans out his journey, “I listed hill-forts, barrows and tumuli in the Welsh marshes and the south-western counties, and plotted routes between them.” (Macfarlane 15). In my experience, most heroes start off with a rough idea of where they are, and where they want to go, then make up the in-between as they go.

Throughout his travels, Macfarlane both brings along with him different characters fulfilling the archetype of the Mentor, including his father and an old friend, but also gathers information from those he meets along the way. For instance, whilst exploring a river-mouth, he encounters a lumberjack by the name of Angus. Angus invites Macfarlane to come fishing with him the next day, to which Macfarlane agrees. It is when they are fishing that Angus points out “…the ruins of a nineteenth-century look-out point. [It was there that] [d]uring the spawning season, men would sit there watching for incoming shoals of salmon.” (Macfarlane 78). It is through the teachings of his companions that the author learns more about the wild places that he visits, and their histories. Gathering mementos and objects from the places of his travels also helps Macfarlane remember and learn about these places. It was from his parents, one of whom accompanies him on one of his travels, that he learned to do this; “My habit of gathering stones and other talismans was a family one. My parents were collectors. Shelves and window-sills in my house were covered in shells, pebbles, twists of driftwood from rivers and sea.” (Macfarlane 58)

There is also a fair amount of symbolism through things such as water and wood, in this book. For example, a piece of pine wood that Macfarlane picks up in the moor symbolises life, even after death in this case, since the wood is long dead; “I placed the pine fragment at the end of the loose line of objects, and it watched me with its knot-eye while I worked” (Macfarlane 58). Trees are very important in many cultures, often representing life, sometimes even people. For example, First Nations teachings “speak of trees as ‘The Standing People’.” (Touch Wood Rings 4). Pine, specifically, symbolises peace (Touch Wood Rings 9).

Knotty pine driftwood


Water is also key in Macfarlane’s journey, being present in almost every location in some form or another. The many forms of water mentioned in the book, from sea to snow, from river to loch, show how water, archetypically, is used to symbolise rebirth. I think that, since Macfarlane mentions water so much, and that water is a symbol of rebirth, he is stating, albeit indirectly, that, although much of the wilderness of the United Kingdom has been lost today, he hopes that at least some of it will be able to reclaimed in the future.

Colours and the archetypes they represent are also mentioned frequently in this work. Macfarlane begins with describing the phosphorescence of the ocean off of Ynys Enlli, “I walked down to the edge, squatted, and waved a hand in the water. It blazed purple, orange, yellow and silver.” (Macfarlane 29).

Ocean phosphorescence


The number of colours and their vibrance, I feel, symbolises the many wonders of nature, much like the colours of autumn leaves mentioned in numerous films and books, and how the different aspects of it can be the same, whilst other aspects remain different. Also mentioned in the book so far is the colour white, as in the snow found in the Black Wood, “A flake fell on the dark cloth fell on the dark cloth of my jacket, and melted into it, like a ghost passing through a wall.” (Macfarlane 60). The archetypical role of the colour white is to symbolise innocence, whilst dark colours, such as black, are used to symbolise darkness, chaos and upheaval. The fact that the white melts into the dark is representative of the white innocence of the woods and the wild melting into and being absorbed by the dark human machine.

As I hope I’ve made clear to all of you, there are quite a few good examples of archetypes in The Wild Places, at least in the first half. I encourage you all to look into it a bit more, maybe even read it! Just in case there are a few of you out there who will take me up on that, I’ll try to stay away from giving away too much, but I’ll still keep everyone up to date and posted on what happens in the second half. That’s all for now, and thanks for reading!

Works Cited:

Driftwood. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 July 2017.

Macfarlane, Robert. The Wild Places. London: Granta , 2010. Print.

Ocean Phosphorescence. Digital image. Pinterest. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 July 2017.

The qualities of wood for your wood ring. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 July 2017.

The Wild Places. Digital image. Amazon India. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 July 2017.