Jean Hegland’s Into The Forest is one of my favorite books to pick on, but also one of the more thoughtful of the post apocalyptic tales out there.
Is the story of two teenage sisters living in a neo-hippie home tucked into a corner of a national park in Northern California. They are isolated and alone, and need to find a way to survive. But first they must decide to face their dilemma and come to terms with their new world.
One noteworthy point to the story is how long the fall is drawn out. There is no instant of bombs going off, or gasoline running out, and everyone running amuck. Just a slow drip, drip, drip as little pieces keep falling off the Chevy Nova of our economy that’s running down the road. Because Nell and Eva are so far out (~30 miles) from the nearest town, they are insulated from at least some of the day to day events, but with their weekly visits into town, there is a slow progression of change. Of course since they are teenagers, there is also the changes of going from a teenager to a full adult: a progression which they must speed up at some point if they are going to survive.
Their parents are back to the earth sorts of people, so they have a little bit of a library on hand, and a little more in the way of supplies, but you would not call them survivalists in the remotest sense of the word. The father is able to scope out some additional supplies early on in one of the first trips into town where the possibility that food will run out comes up.
There is a small bit of “mutual interest” between the sisters, and a little bit of involvement with men. Which, at least in my mind, would take it out of the YA category. Unless you have a young lady and want her to grow up thinking men are either incompetent or evil. It is not an accident that the first publisher of the book was a small publisher of feminist literature. Ms. Hegland’s small bit of writing seems to focus around abortion, and child birth, so one suspects that she has had some issues with these themes in her personal life, and is using them within her writing.
She did discuss the genesis of the book in an interview.
"I had to research chain saws and native plants," she said. She also researched wild-pig hunting and gardening and drew on her own knowledge of childbirth. Hegland wrote a non-fiction book in 1991 called "The Life Within: A Celebration of Pregnancy" published by Humana Press.
Hegland said she felt driven while writing the story.
"As I was writing it, I was immersed in that world. I wanted to write it before things started breaking down. Now I'm drifting away from that sense of urgency. I was and still am worried about the future but I think it's quite a hopeful book even though not everyone reads it that way."
So why is it also one of my favorites to pick on? Because while it is interesting in some details, it is insanely earth-mother feminist feel good at other times. The girls go from a bunch of noodling around lay-abouts to crack wilderness survivalists by reading a few guide books to natural herbs, etc. They are terrified of any contact with other people, and destroy much of their reserve supplies so that they can live and hide within the natural setting of the forest. At some point they read about a “peaceful“ Indian tribe that lived off acorns in the woods. Between their father’s rifle, which they have never fired, and the acorns, that is their survival plan. Great! Have a survival plan- burn up your supplies and hide. They are going to be a skinny starving mess in no time. But they will be one with the earth goddess bear mother.
It comes very close to being the liberal feminist’s version of being a cozy. But their parents did too much in the way of preparation, and it is not completely a given that society is coming back in a better form, or that they are personally surviving.