Nature, Emotion and the Supernatural

Last Monday I dropped the kids to school and escaped into the mountains. This was the view.

 

The mountains remind me of waves. I find this view beautiful, calming, but also have a sense of the vulnerability of this forest. How does it make you feel?

Wondering about how people relate to nature, and how important feelings toward nature are, led me to research the field of conservation psychology. Conservation Psychology by Clayton and Myers (2015) was a key resource, recommending the importance of relationships with nature, supporting anthropomorphic representation of nature (though this is problematic), and perceived efficacy as being motivational.

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Another informative and entertaining resource is John Mooallem’s TED talk about the sudden transformation of the bear into the teddy bear. This talk reinforces the importance of perceptions of nature, because species and ecosystems rely on human intervention and protection to survive.

While care and a sense of nature’s vulnerability and human effectiveness encourage people to support nature, fear of nature can discourage people from protecting nature.

While many other texts rely on environmental-based fear to enhance atmosphere and support conflict within the narrative, in contrast, the following texts seem to support positive emotions and relationships toward forests, offering perspectives of reliance, wonder, awe and respect. In these texts, alliances with forests empower the characters, personas and authors, and benefit the forests, also.

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I found little research about how writing and the arts could support positive relationships with nature, however Matthew Teorey’s paper comparing The Lorax by Dr Seuss to Wallace Stegner’s essay Conservation Equals Survival shows the strength of a fantasy narrative to communicate terrible truths.

 

The effectiveness of The Lorax begins to provide insight to what speculative fiction and the supernatural can offer nature, in terms of a bridge or conduit to present elements of nature as characters — not just settings.

The supernatural has long been used as a way to explain natural phenomena. Many supernatural entities, such as fairies and elves, are strongly associated with nature. As such, the supernatural is well positioned to provide a voice for nature, while also providing the allure of an exciting and popular genre.

Embellishing nature with the supernatural can create characters with which readers can empathise, and provide a clearer sense of nature’s strengths, weaknesses and relationships, with which people may identify. However, it’s important to maintain nature’s otherness, and to seek solidarity with nature not through attempting to see it as like humankind or “alien and unknowable” but through “recognising heterarchical continuity, of bioepistemological embodied connection and understanding” according to Chaone Mallory in “Val Plumwood and Ecofeminist Solidarity: Standing with the Natural Other,” which I interpret as egalitarian continuity, and an ecologically-aware ideology.

This is how I’ve attempted to represent the forest in my novella Unfurl.

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The Greenman by Cyril Barreaux

 

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3 thoughts on “Nature, Emotion and the Supernatural

  1. Helen, Thank you so much for this brilliant post. I fear I don’t have the time to study all this in depth this month but this blog is very thought-provoking and I’m looking forward to checking out your many additional links and resources – especially the teddy bear TED talk (though that is more curiosity on my part). I am so grateful for all that you have embarked upon and are unearthing. This project greatly resonates with me as you help shed light on new discoveries and important truths.

  2. Thanks for sharing these valuable insights about a topic that is close to my heart …. so timely and happens to coincide with Ishan’s unit inquiry how humans impact on their environment been watching mini visual clips on the pros and cons of human impacts on the environmenty litttle man and I have had some interesting discussions on this very topic !!

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