The Forbidden Forest Essay - Critical Essays

Mircea Eliade

Critical Context

Eliade was a unique and isolated figure in Romanian and world literature, resisting attempts to be classified or associated with schools or models. Among his acknowledged idols were Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Honore de Balzac, Fyodor Dostoevski, James Joyce, and William Faulkner. Having begun in his youth to write autobiographical and semiautobiographical novels (his first published novel appeared in 1930, when he was twenty-three), he next experimented with the interior monologue, stream of consciousness, and the “journal novel” while in pursuit of “authenticity.” From here, Eliade evolved a third-person narrative style resembling that of The Forbidden Forest in which the reader follows the thoughts of the characters thanks to the omniscient narrator. A stylistic peculiarity of this novel, related undoubtedly to its theme of time, is the flashback technique, in which past events are presented, apparently, as thoughts of the characters.

The Forbidden Forest was written between 1949 and 1954 in Paris when Eliade was establishing his reputation in the scholarly world as a historian of religions, his “other vocation,” in which he achieved worldwide recognition. The novel reflects themes familiar to readers of Eliade’s nonfiction, especially his Le Mythe de l’eternel retour (1949; The Myth of the Eternal Return, 1955). The Forbidden Forest, written in Romanian, was immediately translated and published in French, being offered to a public for whom existentialism and plotless novels were in vogue. (It was not published in its original form, as Noaptea de Sanziene, until 1971.) Eliade expected his work to be viewed as old-fashioned, but it was his conviction that narrative, a form as old as the myth and fairy tale, fulfills an inherent human need and would, in time, be appreciated again.

While in one sense The Forbidden Forest is a patriotic Romanian novel voicing the sorrows and hopes of a people who have known for millennia the “terror of history,” in another sense, it is a universal work with themes that are concerns of all human beings in all times and places.