What a wild beauty and fragrance and melodiousness it possessed above all forests, because of that mystery.
After fleeing his home country of Venezuela, the protagonist of Green Mansions travels to an Indian village ruled by ‘savage’ natives. There, he eats, sleeps, and hunts with local tribes. He has just begun to settle into his new home when he makes a mysterious discovery. Not far from his camp, there is a forest untouched by human footprints. It is filled with so much wildlife that the trees ring with music. Abel is drawn to it, fascinated by how the animals do not seem to fear him. It is as if they have never encountered a human before. After questioning the natives, Abel discovers that no one hunts in this particular forest: they are too scared to enter its borders, for whenever they do, they are chased from it by some kind of demon.
By now, Abel is accustomed to hearing the natives’ strange superstitions, so he ignores this ominous warning, and spends day after day in what he believes is his own, private forest. Then, one morning, he hears an enchanting bird song that he follows through the trees. At its source, he lays his eyes on the most beautiful girl he has ever seen. Her name is Rima, and although she is a woman, she makes bird-like noises that connect her with the forest, enabling her to communicate with the creatures around her.
After a brutal storm that leaves Abel severely injured, he is taken into the care of Rima and her grandfather, who live in the forest, isolated from the natives. He soon learns of Rima’s unusual habits. In her company, he cannot harm a single creature. He cannot eat meat, and he cannot take the forest for granted. Meanwhile, Rima learns from Abel; she asks him about the world and the sights he has seen. She is desperate to know whether he knows of anyone like her, who, through her mysterious bird song, is able to communicate with the natural world. Although he says he does not, he sparks a curiosity in Rima that causes her to leave her forest home. She, Abel, and her grandfather travel across a perilous country to learn about her past. They are determined to discover who – or what – Rima really is.
William Henry Hudson was a dedicated naturalist. He not only spent years observing the natural world: he was also a founding member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, a group which, over time, became known as the RSPB. He possessed a literal love for nature that is imprinted across the pages of Green Mansions. With its rich, detailed descriptions, it will make you share this love. It dwells on minute moments, such as the sunlight as it falls across a dew-covered spiderweb, or Autumn leaves as they fall from the top of an ancient tree. Such descriptions draw attention to the beauty of nature, painting the world as Hudson saw it.
His passion is reflected through the romance constructed between Abel and Rima. The protagonist is not only falling in love with a beautiful girl: he is falling in love with nature, itself. Yet the importance of this symbolism never overshadows their relationship. Green Mansions is, at its heart, a romance. It focusses on Abel’s emotions, and his struggle to communicate them to Rima. Throughout the novel, they toy with one another, testing their emotions as their relationship grows. This takes the form of childish games: Rima does not understand her emotions, so she hides them, avoiding Abel by disguising herself amongst the trees. Abel responds by leaving the forest, returning to stay with the natives until Rima notices his absence. Although these games take place throughout the novel, they never seem repetitive. They are exciting, for this is not a straightforward romance. Rima’s bird-like nature adds a fantasy element to the story that makes it truly mesmerising.
The issues in this novel tend to arise through the questioning of this mystery. Although Hudson frames Green Mansions as a romance, he also attempts to mould it so that it fits the conventions of the Victorian adventure novel (epitomised by books such as Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and R. M. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island). This takes some of the magic away from the story, for as the characters depart on their perilous quest to uncover Rima’s origins, they change. They become less curious and more direct, thinking in terms of actions, rather than emotions. This cannot be a fault of Hudson’s, for action-based stories are a product of the Victorian period; they were what people wanted, and Hudson is merely meeting consumer needs by adding this element of drama to his novel. Yet it changes the story, and although Hudson returns to his detailed descriptions before the novel’s conclusion, it is a shame that he did not feel able to maintain them throughout the narrative.
Of course, any issues with this novel cannot eradicate its beauty. Even readers who rarely enjoy romance novels cannot fail to appreciate the magic of this story, for it is not only about two people falling in love. It is about nature, human interactions, and the beginnings of conservation movements. It reflects its author’s genuine emotions, and, as a result, it is exceptionally powerful.