Study Guide

The Forest of Hands and Teeth Setting

By Carrie Ryan

Setting

The Village

No, we're not talking about M. Night Shyamalan's Village here. Or… wait… maybe we are. Let's see. Small village surrounded by a barrier? Check. People stuck with prehistoric technology and no access to the outside world? Check. A group of elders who rule the village? Check. Creepy monsters outside the borders? Check.

Hmmm… apparently, the villages are pretty similar. But while Shyamalan's village is surrounded by creepy bloody monster beasts, Mary's village is surrounded by flesh-eating zombies instead.

In The Village, the elders created a haven to escape from the moral depravity of the outside world. Mary's village however, was created out of necessity. It used to belong to a larger network of villages, but over time—what with zombie population growth and the whole vegetation overload in the Forest—the Sisters decided to close their village off from the rest of the world.

So there are differences, yes, but what both settings teach us is that no matter how hard you try to contain people within boundaries, it just ain't gonna work. In both cases, the Elders/Sisters attempted to keep the villagers safe through strict rules. But that doesn't work on everyone, and zombies or not, people have an itch for freedom. The Village's Lucius Hunt wants to travel outside the walls, and in our book Mary longs for her own excuse to breach the fences. In both cases, when they have their chance, they take it.

The village was meant to be a safe place, but by confining people's freedoms, it seems about as safe as prison at times.

The Path

The literal truth of the Path is that it's a series of fenced-in walkways winding around the Forest of Hands and Teeth. We think it was originally meant to connect villages, but it's fallen so far into disuse that no one really knows or cares anymore. Except Mary, of course, who even figures out the Roman numeral system of directions in the fence maze.

That there's the surface rundown, but let's get into the dirt a little. The Path is also a source of hope and, ironically, freedom for Mary. As long as they're on the Path, they're moving toward the ocean, which is Mary's dream of freedom (a.k.a. life without zombies… check out the "Symbols" section for more on that bit). This means that even though the Path is narrow and surrounded by blood-sucking dead people, it gives Mary hope for eventual escape and freedom.

The Outsiders' House

Ponyboy ain't hanging with Johnny and ducking the law at this abandoned house. It's a big ol' home in the middle of a village overrun by zombies. In fact, it's most likely Gabrielle's hometown. While the others monkey around up in the tree houses connected by wooden paths, Mary and Travis end up stuck in the mother of all houses.

And when we say mother, we're not kidding. The woman of the house was, indeed, a mother. How do we know? Well, her zombie baby is moaning in the crib when they first arrive—how creepy is that? And the attic is stuffed with photos and dresses and kids' clothes and everything a mom would want, including dreams of a life away from the Unconsecrated mess. Mary finds old photographs and newspapers and even postcards in the upstairs boxes. Like the long-gone mother of the house, Mary clings to those things and (no surprise here) obsesses over them.

Here's the kicker, though: sure the house is big and full of food and cool memorabilia, but the fact remains that its inhabitants are, well, dead. Sort of. The house oozes that haunted sense of "we got eaten by zombies and so could you" feel, so no matter how much hope is in the attic, the house itself isn't a hopeful place. At least, not for someone like Mary, who's all ocean-or-bust about everything. As for Travis, he's not complaining. Stuck in a house with the love of his life and nobody to tell them what to do? That's heaven right there as far as he's concerned.

But heaven or hell, the zombies still attack and destroy the place. Stupid zombies. Where's Dally when you need him, anyway? (We couldn't help throwing in another Outsiders reference. That book is so good.)

The Forest

Lions and tigers and bears? Not so much. Zombies and waterfalls and cliffs is more like it. After escaping the path, Mary and Jed take off through the Forest of Hands and Teeth in search of Mary's dream ocean. There's not much time to swing arms and admire the view though, since the Forest is chockfull of moaning, groaning, hungry zombie folks. So despite the beautiful trees, frothing waterfall, and glorious vegetation, Mary and Jed really just scramble to survive.

The Forest, in a sense, is like Mary's mind—full of potential, hope, and beauty, but constantly in a state of survival and unease.

The Beach

For most of the book, the ocean was merely a figment of the imagination—a picture on a faded photograph, an image from a children's story. (Again, check out the "Symbols" section for the whole enchilada on this.) Yet Mary actually sees the place with her own eyes at the end of the story when she steps foot on the sand of the ocean, and she sees the… gasp... zombies… that still infest the area. It's not the safe, free place of her dreams, but it still gives Mary hope for her future (thanks to the lighthouse dude who hacks washed-up zombies and takes her hand).