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An Introduction to Double Room 8

What concerns me at the moment is this question of myths.

Long ago, say the tales we learn as children, when we all lived in the forest. There’s still an anachronistic thrill in hearing those words, even though none of us—or nearly none of us—ever grew up in an actual forest. It is also possible that none of us—or nearly none of us—were ever actually children. Myths complicate our lives in this way.

In the forest, there is both fire and a need for fire. Together, these form a basis for language: but not, perhaps, for literature.

Literature is a problem. It is the forest after the forest has been spotted: that is, noticed, exoticized, Other-ized. Someone stands outside the forest and speaks, “Forest.” Or someone stands inside the forest and speaks, “Forest.” At the edge of the forest Literature stands, gesturing both inside and outside myth.

We listen intently, wherever we are, whoever we are. What is Literature saying?

Sometimes a myth becomes its own myth, a legacy. We inherit a myth’s myth. This is the case with the Greeks, who passed their myths down to us more securely—at least in terms of our collective literary inheritance—than they did their land, their currencies, or their language. When was the last time you opened a major literary journal and did not find a poem referencing Sisyphus, Oedipus, the Minotaur?

In some myths, the forest is actually a construct, a scrim. A device. We are like the men and women of Plato’s cave, or rather more like the theater-goers in John Crowley’s Little, Big, who see the world as if waiting for a play that is always and forever about to start. We sit in darkness, staring at a half-lit stage. We record every detail of the hall, every trembling nuance of the curtains. They are made of dark velvet, we would like to think. We think we would like to touch them ourselves. But we do not leave our seats.

If we touched them—if we could leave our seats to touch them—we would feel bark.

In some myths, the gods save or punish mortal men and women by transforming them into trees: taking them out of the story and converting them into Story itself. “You can find spots on the human body devoid of feeling,” J.M. Tyree asserts in one of the pieces in this issue.

The question Literature asks is whether the forest has a story or a human for its heart.