The Aesthetics of Brokilon Forest

By: Holly Ross

The first picture we’re painted of Brokilon Forest, in the short story “Sword of Destiny”, is a grim one. The body of a dead teenage boy. A reputation of causing fear. Three warnings. Then two. Now one. These are the first we learn about the forest. 

But this is not all that we’re told about Brokilon. Mere paragraphs later It is described with beautiful words and flowing prose. Sunlight filters through the leafy branches of tall trees. Colorful insects scurry about. Little blue flowers grow in a clearing. Just as quickly as we turn to this picture of tranquility, we’re thrust back into reality by the appearance of yet another bloody corpse. Our time in the forest continues like this: threats of danger are interwoven with beautiful imagery of the thick trees and glistening swamps.

Within these beautiful forests lurk dangerous threats: giant Centipedes, treants and vyppers. Home to the dryads and hostile to men who cross its borders, Brokilon is an ancient magical forest located in the northern realms. It is controlled by nonhuman species and holds Duén Canell, a powerful magical source. Apart from dryads and monsters, other humanoid creatures reside inside Brokilon. Leprechauns, Sylvans and other species of nymphs are a few of the intelligent species that find their home here. Used only for their ability to reproduce, human men are usually found as dead corpses, floating away in the river if deemed a threat, or not strong enough to be worthy to reproduce with.

The image we’ve given of Brokilon over the course of the approximately sixty-six paged short story “Sword of Destiny ” is fraught with contradictions. Death and life. Violence and Peace. The all-female dryads and men. Choice and fate. Brokilon represents the border between. It’s a border that only few can cross, and we see it represented most clearly in the Netflix adaptation, when Dara is shot by an arrow just outside of the forest’s entrance. And this is a border that once you cross, you can’t go back.

As made clear by its name, Brokilon is likely based off the mythical forest from Arthurian legend, Brocéliande, Although most notable for its role in Arthurian legend, Brocéliande forest has appeared in a number of other medieval European works as the setting for many mystical feats and enchanted tales. In each of these tales the forest is the place of legends, wrought with magic and adventure. Many notable heroes and wizards have passed through its trees and completed extraordinary tasks within them. And this forest itself draws influence from the real-life Paimpont forest, located in Ille-et-Vilaine, Brittany, France. 

The Forest of Brocéliande | Brittany tourism

Just as legends find themselves born in Brocéliande, they too find themselves born in Brokilon. Just like the forest presents itself as two opposite sides of the same coin, it represents a distinct moment of change in our story. This is true in both the short story and the Netflix adaptation.

In the short story, it’s where Geralt finally comes face to face with his Child Surprise. It’s when Geralt and Ciri finally meet each other for the first time. Ciri’s drinking of the Water of Brokilon and consequent departure from Brokilon represent yet another contradiction: the border between free will and coercion. The water is potent, and meant to transform any female completely into a dryad. However, Ciri seems to be the only female to be left unaffected. While little explanation for this is given beyond her own belief in her destiny, we can assume that just like human borders, destiny is another concept that the dryads do not care to recognize. However, in this case, destiny is the stronger force. Although Ciri was permitted to cross the border, this is not a world that she belongs in. Those who live in the forest cannot exist as humans. Young girls are forced to drink the Water of Brokilon in order to fully become dryads. Humanity cannot thrive here.

In the Netflix adaptation, it’s when Ciri learns about Cintra’s genocide of the elves and begins to see visions. Here she learns more about her people and her destiny, spurring her on to leave the forest to continue her search for Geralt.

Brokilon is a forest that represents something completely outside of human control. It exists beyond human understanding, as it has existed beyond human life and will not bend to its rules or borders. The borders of Brokilon are the borders of the unknown. Many who enter the forest do not make it out, and those that do, do not often tell their tales. Creating Brokilon out of contradictions highlights the separation between Brokilon and the rest of the continent as well as makes us feel as if we’ve been spirited away to a completely new place, far removed from whence we came.

In literature (and to some extent, in real life), forests represent danger, but also protection. Just as our heroes don’t know what’s lurking in the trees, the villain also cannot find where our hero is hiding. Forests are magical, as often depicted as being the homes of fae and other powerful creatures. Forests take us out of the world we know and place us in a realm that doesn’t abide by the rules set and followed by the rest of the universe. 

Brokilon is beautiful because it tells a story through contradiction. The danger of the forest is contrasted with the safety Ciri finds when she’s finally united with Geralt. The lack of choice to become dryads by the girls who are kidnapped is contrasted by Ciri’s free will. Houses made of living wood contrast the dead bodies scattered about. It’s a place that draws you in with beauty, only to shock you with cruelty and harshness. Brokilon highlights through contrast, and uses this to paint us a vivid picture of a world seemingly separate from the one our story has already placed us in.

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