The Woodsman’s Dilemma – Over the Garden Wall Analysis

The month is October; we are well into fall
and quickly approaching Halloween, and for many of us, that means it’s time to rewatch
the delightful and outstanding piece of animation known as Over the Garden Wall. If for some unknown reason you have yet to
see it, I urge you to go do it this very moment. It’s an elegant tale of great fun and whimsy,
but with a strong emotional core at its heart, with wonderful music and scenic design that
is to die for. Back when this channel was still very young,
I actually recorded a review of Over the Garden Wall, but I wasn’t fond of how it turned
out and scrapped the video. Now, I think it’s time for me to revisit
the Unknown, but for now, I’ll just be setting a foot in, and testing those murky waters. In this video, I’ll be discussing just one
aspect of the show that I appreciated and found really interesting, and that is the
tragic circumstances surrounding the character of the Woodsman. He was a man who lived on the forest’s edge
with his daughter, but after she became lost in the woods, the Woodsman ran into the Beast
in his search for her, and the Beast tricked the Woodsman into believing her soul was trapped
in the lantern. In the epilogue, we see the Woodsman return
to his abandoned home, only to find that his daughter was already there. She had managed to find her way back home
and was waiting for her father’s return the entire time he was doing the Beast’s
bidding. This of course is a happy ending to the Woodsman’s
tale, and some found it a bit too convenient and sappy of a resolution, which, I can’t
say I entirely disagree with that notion. It certainly would have made for a far more
heartbreaking tale if the Woodsman’s daughter had met the same fate as the other lost children
– if she was also turned into an Edelwood tree. However, the happier ending does manage to
provide an additional layer of depth. While the tragedy becomes less sad, it also
becomes more dynamic and more entrenched in circumstance, and I personally find that quite
interesting. The Woodsman, as his name implies, is a man
of the woods, but the woods carried more mystery than he alone could handle. The danger of the Unknown is the… unknown
after all. A recurring theme throughout the entirety
of Over the Garden Wall is that things are not always what they seem. Brash assumptions can be quite incorrect. Motivations may not be that clear. Those who are friendly may appear evil. Those who act like friends may hold nefarious
intentions. Performing actions with a lack of information
and erroneous assumptions can lead to horrible consequences, as it did with the Woodsman. Unlike the many adventures of Wirt and Greg,
where they managed to figure out the truth and managed to turn the unknown into the known,
the Woodsman remained in the dark until Wirt and Greg helped him see the light. See the light in the lantern for what it really
was, that is. He was blinded by his own guilt, which he
saw reflected in the Beast’s deceptive lantern, and he isolated himself, living a desolate
existence while begrudgingly carrying out the Beast’s bidding unknowingly. I’d wager guilt played a large role as to
why the Woodsman chose to abandon his former home entirely and not look back, but whatever
the exact reasons behind his choice, the Woodsman’s stubborn personality led to him being stuck
in a state of constant deception. Had the Woodsman just simply returned to his
home at some point, he would have realized far earlier that his daughter’s soul was
never in the lantern, and that she was still alive, waiting for him. However, The Woodsman went even further with
his hermitic existence. The Woodsm chose a path of living away from
people, from everybody. He stayed at Beatrice’s family’s mill
only after finding out it was completely abandoned [Woodsman: “I found this homestead abandoned;
repurposed it’s mill for my needs.”] and the only reason we saw him near the tavern
was because he had to cut down that Edelwood tree that happened to be there. Ideally, the Woodsman did not want to come
across any other individuals. However, his decision to cut himself off from
others also resulted in cutting himself off from the possibility of learning about the
Unknown from other people – swapping stories and gaining knowledge from the experience
of others was no longer possible for him. This is a truly tragic result because many
of the inhabitants within and around the woods seem quite familiar with the Beast. [Tavern Keeper: “We all know the Beast,
pilgrim.”] Or at the very least have heard of it. [“The Beast is upon me!”] The inhabitants and travelers staying at the
tavern all fear the Beast, and have quite a plethora of information that they express
in song – information that happens to be correct. If you get lost, the Beast will lie and do
all its capable of to keep you astray, until it’s able to… well, I’ll just let you
take it away tavernkeep. [Tavern Keeper: “He’ll turn you to a tree
of oil, and use you in his lantern for to burn.”] They know the lantern is a telltale sign of
the Beast, and they know that Edelwood trees are made from lost souls – they are made
from people. This is something the Woodsman never knew
himself, and did not figure out until the very end of the show. [Woodsman: “I didn’t know! I didn’t know this is where the
Edelwood trees came from!”] It’s sad to consider that if the Woodsman
merely made the choice to spend a night in the tavern out of convenience, or heck, if
the Woodsman even turned to drinking and wanted to wallow in his misery and drench his guilt
in alcohol, he might’ve gone to the tavern and been coerced into telling his story, which
of course would lead the tavern keep and other inhabitants to share their opinions and knowledge,
which might’ve just led to the Woodsman realizing he was tricked by the Beast long
before Wirt and Greg ever crossed over into the Unknown. The tavern keep may have presumed he was the
Beast and tried to kick him out with her broom skills, sure, but dialogue with others helps
broaden perspectives, and I think any interactions would have aided the myopic Woodsman. And that is the Woodsman’s dilemma – the
tragedy which unfolded from unfortunate circumstances. The Woodsman’s own decisions played a part
in keeping him from his daughter – his choice of a lonely solitary life is what allowed
him to fall astray. The Woodsman’s own choices played a prominent
role in his tragedy. One really can’t blame the Woodsman for
such a decision though. At most, one could call him foolhardy, but
he was a good man with good intentions. The Woodsman was legitimately trying to keep
others safe by keeping his distance, because the Beast was always lurking in his shadow. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions,
and not until the end of the show does he realize his choices weren’t actually helping
keep anyone safe. While unfortunate circumstances led the Woodsman
to carry a fabricated burden, the happy ending was only possible because the Woodsman did
maintain his resolve and managed to maintain control of the lantern long enough for two
boys to come along and make him realize the error of his ways. The happy ending was also only possible because
the Woodsman remained a good man who cared about the wellbeing of others. When he stumbled upon Wirt and Greg, they
were lost children in the woods, far away from town, and he tried to take care of them
and set them on the proper course so they could avoid a terrible fate. [Woodsman: “I have work to do in the mill. When I’m finished I’ll do what I can do
guide you, if you are still here when I return.”] While the Woodsman lived in isolation, he
was still very much willing to help those in need if the scenario ever arose. And because he chose to help Wirt and Greg,
circumstances played out such that they were able to help him overcome his own burden when
everything was at its most dark. And in the end, that is the reason why I’m
okay with the Woodsman’s daughter having returned home while he was away doing the
Beast’s bidding. Because it emphasizes that to overcome the
Unknown, you have to be able to rely on others, not just on yourself. And sometimes, the only thing keeping you from what you desire are your own troubled feelings. And that theme extends to multiple stories
we’ve seen in this beautiful and wonderful show. Thank you for watching. If you enjoy my content, considering supporting
my videos on Patreon, and if you’d like to hang out with me while I play video games,
follow me over on Twitch. Happy Halloween, everybody.

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