Lord of the Forest is a stunning visual and lyrical ode to nature and the untamed freedom of the wild.
The reader follows the story of Tiger as it unfolds along its natural arc from birth as a small, blind and defenceless cub, through his young days exploring his environment, encountering new and interesting creatures, then experiencing fatherhood and family, and finally growing into the majestic adult animal he is destined to be.
When Tiger was a young cub taking his first tentative steps in his world, curiously wondering and embracing every new sight, sound and smell, his mother had admonished him to listen out for the day silence enveloped the forest: ‘…then, my son, be ready. The Lord of the Forest is on his way!’ As Tiger becomes familiar with his surroundings, the animals and plants, the waters and the skies of his forest, in his solitary hunting days, his mother’s warning accompanies him; he asks other creatures, but their screeches and noises, their graceless ways, prove that none of them can be the Lord of the Forest. Only at the end of his wanderings, as the cycle of life in the wildness has continued through his family and his cubs, he finally hears the silence that salutes him as the Lord of the Forest.
This book is so beautiful, it is impossible to do it full justice here. Caroline Pincher’s lyrical text is a rich texture of descriptions and figurative language, her use of metaphors, alliteration and onomatopoeia weaving the mesmerising rhythms of nature into the story: ‘the grass growing’, ‘the shudder of branches’, ‘the curling of Chameleon’s tongue’; crabs creep, fish flip, Tiger’s paws are ‘scimitar claws’. There is a three-dimensional quality to these descriptions which brings the story to life and conjures up a multitude of sensations.
As Caroline Pincher’s printed words achieve the vividness of pictures, Jackie Morris’ brushstrokes in the illustrations match and add to the splendour of text. Her watercolours are vibrant and luminous, bringing to life the animals, vegetation, light and surfaces of the jungle down to the smallest detail: one can feel the coolness of the lake water, the orange sunlight at dawn, the shine in Tiger’s eyes, the texture of plumes, furs, leaves, an elephant’s velvety red covering.
In the classroom, Lord of the Forest would be a precious and versatile addition to topics focussing on jungles and rainforests, India, the use of watercolour in art, animals and their habitats, conservation and ecology. Beneath its dazzling beauty, this book is in fact about the right to roam and explore one’s natural habitat free from the boundaries and threats imposed by humans; the right to be wild. As such, it invites readers to reflect on issues of conservation and would be an exceptional text to share with children in discussions on the rights of the natural world and the dangers posed by human interference and exploitation.
Revealingly, there is only one human being portrayed (pp.16-17): a beguiling image of an elephant ridden by his mahout. This illustration, and the associated text, would make an ideal stimulus for a class to compare and contrast the luxurious embellishments imposed by human beings with the actual subjugation of a wild animal; the discussion could be further enriched by reflections on how certain communities – e.g. in India, Mongolia, Africa, Greenland – have historically relied on nature and wild animals to survive and how a strict conservation policy might negatively affect their livelihoods and cultures.
Ultimately, Lord of the Forest is a uniquely beautiful picture book to be read, looked at, enjoyed and contemplated by a universal audience and one which I strongly recommend.
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