Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 443
Green Mansions contains many elements found in W. H. Hudson’s other books, both fiction and nonfiction. Both The Purple Land That England Lost (1885), Hudson’s first novel, and El Ombú (1902), a collection, reveal Hudson’s extraordinary talent for observing creatures in their natural habitat. His treatment of natural settings and...
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Green Mansions contains many elements found in W. H. Hudson’s other books, both fiction and nonfiction. Both The Purple Land That England Lost (1885), Hudson’s first novel, and El Ombú (1902), a collection, reveal Hudson’s extraordinary talent for observing creatures in their natural habitat. His treatment of natural settings and wild creatures has been interpreted variously as pantheistic mysticism, mystical ecstasy, Wordsworthian romanticism, and primitive animism. His books on ornithology and the English countryside have been praised for their scientific accuracy and thoroughness.
As a romance, Green Mansions recalls William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595). That work contains a forest in which magical transformations occur and supernatural creatures abound. Hudson’s novel differs from other romances in the attention it gives to the natural world. The novel’s tropical forest, though idealized (Hudson claimed never to have seen a forest), is given so much detailed attention that it would be too real for romance were it not for the presence of Rima. In some respects, the novel resembles Heart of Darkness (1902) by Joseph Conrad, which recounts another journey into the interior of a tropical forest.
Green Mansions merits a place in fantasy literature by virtue of its treatment of Rima, the bird-woman whose mysterious presence gives the story a strangeness that realistic fiction cannot achieve. Rima’s ability to disappear into the wood, reappear, climb high in the trees, trip along a limb, and communicate in some nonverbal way with the monkeys, snakes, and other creatures in the forest gives the novel a supernatural aura and arouses wonder. Wild creatures do her no harm, and rain and heat have no effect on her. Rima personifies nature’s essential beauty and mystery as Hudson perceived them. She embodies the soul of nature.
Abel’s reaction to Rima is a key element in how the reader responds to the novel’s enchantment. Nowhere does Abel question or in any way disbelieve Rima’s supernatural abilities. To him, they are as ordinary as the rain that gives the forest its resplendent beauty and life. To him, Rima represents perfection in a world that possesses too little of it in human form. The ease with which he accepts her birdlike nature, behavior, and appearance is communicated to the reader. Neither Rima nor Abel ever doubt their ability to be lovers in a physical sense, yet a part of her is not human. Her origin remains a mystery, her melodious language remains incomprehensible, and her ability to communicate with other forest creatures and her affection for them suggest a nature too pristine and spiritual to be entirely human. She is as elusive as fantasy itself.