chapter  1
35 Pages

THE ENGLISH, THE TREES, THE WILD AND THE GREEN Two millennia of mythological metamorphoses

ByPaul Thompson

Environmental activism is rightly seen as one of the most distinctive forms of political consciousness in the late-twentieth-century developed world. But as soon as one begins to ask how people conceive of the relationship between themselves and the natural world, and why they dedicate themselves to particular causes and campaigns, it soon becomes clear that the stories which they are telling are a remarkable mixture between the very old and the very new. Indeed even the very idea of urgency, that change has become especially fast and catastrophic in our own generation, goes back hundreds of years. Already in sixteenth-century England-which is about as early as one can find recorded oral traditions there-old men could be found bemoaning the loss of woodland in their lifetimes, and narrating mythical stories of travelling in boyhood from one village to the next through the woods without ever touching the ground.1