A Tree Grows in…Various Novels

Some memorable characters branch out in novels. Yes, I’m talking about trees.

The Overstory, the masterfully written and researched novel I haven’t quite finished yet, features a wide-ranging cast that comes together to try to save centuries-old trees on America’s West Coast. The amazing descriptions of those trees and other trees in Richard Powers’ heartfelt, heartbreaking, monumental book make them feel almost as human as the humans.

There’s also the titular tree in Betty Smith’s poignant and compelling A Tree Grows in Brooklyn that survives in a tough urban environment, illustrating not only its own tenacity but symbolizing the tenacity of many of the neighborhood’s residents.

Another book with “tree” in its title — in this case plural — is Barbara Kingsolver’s very good debut novel The Bean Trees.

Many decades earlier, Edith Wharton wrote Ethan Frome with a story line that hinges around a tree-related occurrence — as we find out late in the emotionally wrenching novel.

What happens to a tree during a storm portends what will happen with the relationship of Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester in Charlotte Bronte’s classic work. 

A 20th-century classic, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s brilliant One Hundred Years of Solitude, has its gone-mad character Jose Arcadio Buendia tied to a tree in the later years of his life. A weird metaphor for being the patriarch of the Buendia family tree?

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s celebrated The Lord of the Rings, major supporting characters include the tree-like Ents. Those delightful beings are a major force for good as the trilogy’s climax nears.

Anne Shirley’s love of beautiful trees is among the traits that make her endearing in L.M. Montgomery’s beloved Anne of Green Gables. For instance, the precocious Anne — when first brought to Green Gables in a horse-drawn wagon — is driven under a canopy of blossoming apple trees and memorably names that road “The White Way of Delight.”

Children’s books also fit this week’s theme, with Shel Silverstein’s much-read The Giving Tree one of them.

Any novels with prominent trees that grew on you?

“One Tree Hill” by U2:

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — which discusses an appalling number of teacher layoffs in my town — is here.

99 thoughts on “A Tree Grows in…Various Novels

  1. OMG! I’ve read 4 of these books.

    As to your question, I’d like to submit – “The Wind in the Willows”.
    It was a long time ago, but the characters remain & I remember loving it more than I remember it now.
    Good topic. Thanks Dave!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. TALE TALL AS A TREE

    As a child, I enjoyed nothing more than the perspective of my surroundings as seen from the highest branches of the trees I climbed. I was also brought up a little Confederate (an identity that I grew past), so it would be most appropriate that I might have enjoyed a story out of Joe David Brown’s “Stars in My Crown” that featured a tree, a sword and a love pledge between an officer in gray, departing for war, and his betrothed. And I would have too, but the book had yet to be written. It was left to my own beloved to recount the story, which she has done a few times over our 40+ years together.

    As I recall her recollection, a young Confederate soldier, on the occasion of his unit’s departure, shinnies up a tree and with some force plunges his word into the trunk of the tree, promising to retrieve it and his bride-to-be, upon his return. But he is killed, and his betrothed grows old and dies. For years, the glinting metal, ever higher up the growing trunk, is occasionally seen and wondered about by townsfolk, who from time to time recount the love story from the past among themselves. Eventually, somebody climbs up for a closer look. Turns out it’s no sword at all, but a piece of iron, though why and how it got up there no one can remember– and a story of faith and romance out of the Lost Cause is just that: a story.

    Of course, there’s a chance that my beloved’s memory of the story is likewise altered over time in her own memory…

    Reminds me of another sort of story, as told season after season on PBS’ Antiques Roadshow: Family lore holds that the handsome sword, say, passed down the generations from an ancient relative after its gift to him by George Washington is no such thing, but rather a Knights of Columbus item out of the 1920’s– yep, the tale beats the truth there also.

    (This attempt is my third and final. Somehow, something has changed at wordpress for me. The way in which I was able to send things in under my old moniker no longer works, though it seems as if it will, as it has always done. But now, nope. I write my piece, put in my email address and then the site supplies the other items, but I am jumped to a query as to my ID. Then I put in my password and, voila! Except now, all steps taken, and no voila. So, now I’m the former jhNY, dammit)

    Liked by 2 people

    • As you’ll see below, NYjhh, I found your second attempt in my spam folder a few minutes ago and then posted and replied to it here. Very sorry that WP was acting so wonky and that you had to change your longstanding jhNY screen name to make your third comment attempt appear. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m going to reply under my new moniker, though I want to ditch it at earliest opportunity (reserving the right to use it if the jhNY entries once again fail to take). Glad you saw my 2nd attempt; sorry to see where it landed. But where o where is my first?

        And– I notice few new replies over the last couple of days. Maybe there is a more universal problem with wordpress and your blog than my own.

        And too– the look of the screen announcing one’s new comment , and likely something more substantial has changed recently– even last week, when things were still working as before.

        Next week, on your newest topic, I’ll try again under jhNY, should I find I have in me some comment or reply.

        As Trini Lopez once opined “If I had a hammer…”

        Liked by 2 people

        • It’s possible that your first attempt is buried deeper in my blog’s spam folder, which I check every day or two. When I saw your second attempt, I transferred it to this comments area and didn’t look further.

          I did notice some changes in WP. Seems like various blog platforms, websites, and social media platforms like to revise things — even if all is working fine. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, to repeat that hackneyed but sensible cliché.

          I hope “jhNY” works the next time you try it!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I thought I had successfully sent this in earlier today, but I see it somehow didn’t take.

    TALE TALL AS A TREE

    As a child, I enjoyed nothing more than the perspective of my surroundings as seen from the highest branches of the trees I climbed. I was also brought up a little Confederate (an identity that I grew past), so it would be most appropriate that I might have enjoyed a story out of Joe David Brown’s “Stars in My Crown” that featured a tree, a sword and a love pledge between an officer in gray, departing for war, and his betrothed. And I would have too, but the book had yet to be written. It was left to my own beloved to recount the story, which she has done a few times over our 40+ years together.

    As I recall her recollection, a young Confederate soldier, on the occasion of his unit’s departure, shinnies up a tree and with some force plunges his word into the trunk of the tree, promising to retrieve it and his bride-to-be, upon his return. But he is killed, and his betrothed grows old and dies. For years, the glinting metal, ever higher up the growing trunk, is occasionally seen and wondered about by townsfolk, who from time to time recount the love story from the past among themselves. Eventually, somebody climbs up for a closer look. Turns out it’s no sword at all, but a piece of iron, though why and how it got up there no one can remember– and a story of faith and romance out of the Lost Cause is just that: a story.

    Reminds me of another sort of story, as told season after season on PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow”: Family lore holds that the handsome sword, say, passed down the generations from an ancient relative after its gift to him by George Washington is no such thing, but rather a Knights of Columbus item out of the 1920’s– yep, the tale beats the truth there also.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, jhNY!

      I just found your terrific comment in my blog’s spam folder; I have no idea why it ended up there. I just approved the comment, which is now here. 🙂 Glad I spotted it, and sorry about the delay in responding.

      Very interesting tales showing that fact is often much less compelling than fiction/myth/legend. But there’s certainly something poignant about something embedded in a tree growing higher and higher over the years.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A very interesting topic this week, and one that has “stumped” me a bit (tree puns). Simply because you mentioned all the books I would have thought of! Although I’m also partial to the Whomping Willow in the Harry Potter series – a tree that bites back, if you will 🙂 I also might mention the Secret Garden, which has such excellent descriptions of the gnarled and overgrown trees there. And finally, I have to bring up the Giving Tree – one of my favorite childhood books! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Dave, please stop sending me e-mails notifying me of new posts on your blog since I enjoy reading your blog and I already know that you have a new essay every week. Thank you for your kind attention.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Tony. Glad you enjoy the blog! 🙂

      I don’t personally authorize or send the emails. People who read my blog decide whether they want those emails or not when they check or don’t check the “Notify me of new posts via email” box on WordPress. You probably checked that in the past; you can un-check that any time. 🙂 I can’t do that for anyone; bloggers are not allowed. Same goes for individual comments; people can decide whether or not they want notifications of them by checking or not checking the “Notify me of new comments via email” box.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Dave, it seems like WordPress doesn’t have an option for un-checking the box unless I log out of WordPress entirely which means that I wipe out all my previous comments. Thank you very much anyway.

        Like

        • Oh, I didn’t realize that. (I’ve never tried to stop emails connected to blogs I follow.) Another possibility would be to un-follow my blog; I think that would stop all notifications connected with it. Then you could just “manually” look for the new post every Sunday. I’m not 100% sure that would work, and there might be complications, but that’s all I can think of.

          Like

    • Thank you, Maria!

      I just read a summary of the plot of “Seven Little Australians,” and the heartbreaking moment with the tree accident is indeed devastating. Yes, that kind of thing is no fun at all for kids to read, though I suppose there’s something to be said for showing life’s at-times harsh realities. Still, haunting the dreams of young readers feels kind of cruel. 😦

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Michele!

      I watched the video, and that woman is indeed admirable. A shame the tree was taken down despite her efforts. A healthy 80-year-old tree deserves to live.

      “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” IS a wonderful novel. I appreciate you being one of the people who recommended it to me. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Interesting post, makes me think of books as you list above as extensions of the green man myth, dryads, et al., Interesting also is the idea that tree sap was once equated with semen (link below) which might explain why trees are, indeed, a significant literary device in books that allude to the sexual nature of man such as Ethan Frome. And, of course, ha: “Where the Wild Thigs Are” Maurice Sendak and where the bong tree grows “The Owl and the Pussycat”. But shhhh, don’t tell anyone cause the books might get banned from your public library. https://occult-world.com/green-man/#:~:text=The%20Green%20Man%20appears%20in%20the%20form%20of,her.%20Tree%20sap%20was%20once%20equated%20with%20semen.Hope this link works. Another great post Dave, thanx. Susi

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Another great post Dave. Love the idea of the tree in literature and the tree in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is so symbolic is indeed so symbolic. I have never forgotten that bit about it growing through the concrete cos a determined tree will grown through anything. So thinking about trees and seeing many books and plays have already been mentioned, I thought about Wind in the WIllows. The title always summed up how that book came to be written. I always imagined Grahame making up bedtime stories for his son, while outside the wind blew through the trees.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Shehanne!

      Yes, the tree in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” is as symbolic as can be. Growing through concrete, or cracks in concrete, is impressive indeed; trees and other plants in urban areas can be amazingly strong. (I lived in Brooklyn for three years, and remember. 🙂 )

      “The Wind in the Willows” is a great mention!

      Liked by 2 people

  8. A few months ago, Elisabeth Van Der Meer recommended Three Apples Fell From the Sky by Narine Abgaryan. From beginning to end, this book was an absolute joy. The title comes form an old Armenian Saying:

    “And three apples fell from heaven:
    One for the storyteller,
    One for the listener,
    And one for the eavesdropper.”

    My father loved trees and would take us out into the woods to find simplicity and tranquility. Hence, my love for trees and books that honour their lives. From my non-fiction collection, Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees, discussed how trees communicate with each other, that they have families with parents and children. Maybe the ents do live in our midst.

    “When you know that trees experience pain and have memories and that tree parents live together with their children, then you can no longer just chop them down and disrupt their lives with larger machines.” Peter Wohlleben.

    Another wonderful post and follow-up discussion, Dave. I am now ready to begin a new week.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Rebecca!

      “Three Apples Fell From the Sky” sounds like a must-read!

      Wonderful that your father loved trees, and was an influence for you to feel the same. I’m thinking of your many terrific videos in which you recite poetry with trees and other elements of nature as a backdrop.

      “The Overstory” definitely sees trees as sentient or near-sentient beings that communicate with each other in their way.

      Liked by 3 people

  9. Another brilliant topic Dave, thank you. I am currently reading Elif Shafak’s The Island of Missing Trees which very charmingly features as one of its main characters a fig tree. And I’ll shortly be starting The Woodlanders as part of a year-long Thomas Hardy reading project. Thinking about trees as part of forests, how about The Jungle Book? And I think I am right in remembering that forests play a key part in Shakespeare’s As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Finally, let me add my vote to that of Roberta’s for the Faraway Tree books. I have vivid memories of these stories, both fond ones and nightmares of being trapped at the top of the tree when it moved on to a different land…… 😱

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Liz!

      Very glad you brought up literary works with prominent woods and forests. Trees multiplied! In addition to your excellent mentions, there are also the Robin Hood stories, several of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking novels set in the New York State woods of more than two centuries ago, etc.

      I wonder if stories, plays, and books from many years ago (including those by Shakespeare and Hardy) had more tree mentions simply because there were more trees and untouched land back then.

      Liked by 4 people

      • It’s an interesting one, isn’t it. Reading Thomas Hardy this year (and of course I forgot to mention previously his Under The Greenwood Tree), I have been so struck by the luscious descriptions of nature – the landscape of each book has been a character in itself. And I think this applies to Shakespeare too. But would past authors have viewed untouched land as such? I wonder whether we see this as more important now that we have lost so much of it. Certainly the rise of non-fiction nature writing in recent years has placed a welcome and important spotlight on our surroundings.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Very true, Liz, that Thomas Hardy was masterful at depicting landscapes.

          And you’re right that unspoiled nature was probably viewed from a different perspective back in the day. Perhaps taken for granted because there was so much of it.

          Well said!

          Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you Dave for having proposed “The Overstory”, which much be a great book. Maybe you remember that I very much liked “A Tree grows in Brooklyn” and the family’s struggle to survive. About trees there is another book, which I read a long time ago and which I could maybe add and I am thinking of “Walden” by Henry Thoreau. I have just read the following sentence, which he had written in his journal in 1855: “Old trees are our parents, and our parents’ parents, perchance.”

    Liked by 5 people

  11. Hi Dave, the series of books that came immediately to mind for me when I saw this topic were Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree books. I just loved them with the Faraway Tree that had different lands at the top of it that the children, Silky and Moonface could visit. My favourite lands were the Land of Birthdays and the Land of Take What You Want. Michael absolutely loved these books and I read them over and over to him. I have read Anne of Green Gables and know the White Way of Delight which inspired me to write descriptive paragraphs as a child. The Ents from LOTR are outstanding and I liked the Milkwood forest in The Hobbit. I’ll will reflect on this as I can’t think of other books revolving around trees off the top of my head.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. What a fun post today, Dave! Trees…Others have mentioned good ones like Swiss Family Robinson…I’d like to read “The Island of Missing Trees”. I can think of more poems that rely on the metaphor of trees. If you extend the tree to include shipbuilding and ship stories, then “Moby Dick” comes first to mind.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Cindy!

      Excellent, wide-ranging comment! Definitely plenty of poems with a tree and/or forest motif; Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” is one that comes to mind.

      And, yes, masts and ships in general were of course made of wood in the 19th century and earlier. And those tree-filled tropical islands in Herman Melville’s “Typee” and “Omoo.”

      Liked by 1 person

    • It might be a bit of an extreme reaction in the video, Bebe, but felling “Old Growth” trees that date back centuries just seems so wrong. Certainly something “The Overstory” addresses brilliantly.

      Liked by 2 people

      • True…Dave where we live, out back yard is a creek, dry normally, but when it rains water starts flowing, in heavy rains like yesterday it is a sight.
        Beyond that we have big trees , some could be very old. Beyong tose area another set of houses on another street.
        Last night there was a deer , peeking in through our windows, and was staring at me going from window to window as if wanted to come in.
        This was their land now with human habitat they have no place to go.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Glad you live close to a good amount of nature, Bebe! Open land is indeed shrinking, but it can be wonderful to enjoy what’s left — including trees, creeks, and deer. Deer also visit my garden-apartment complex from time to time. 🙂 And, yes, they have fewer natural places to live their lives than they used to. 😦

          Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Becky!

      I really enjoyed the symbolism, too, in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” If I’m recalling correctly, the very start of the novel focused on that tenacious tree.

      Nice mention of “The Swiss Family Robinson,” which I haven’t read. Would you recommend it?

      Liked by 5 people

        • Lol. SO long since I read it I had forgotten that they lived in that. Another ‘classic’ of its time that way was the Children of the New Forest, where the surviving children of a Royalist family actually live in the forest, so plenty trees, while was rges all around them.

          Liked by 2 people

            • It is a good premise. It was one of the first historicals written for younger people. Of course in some ways it is biased and stereotypical with the children all becoming glowing specimens of adulthood BUT then that’s me judging it today. Not at the time when it was written where there was a lot of unrest across Europe and an obvious desire to underline the ‘status quo.’

              Liked by 2 people

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