“We are destroying the habitats—the homes—of all these plants and animals … Nature, the wilderness, is fighting back.”
Set in an uninhabited island of Skelsay, part of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides (see wilderness), the novel tells of a failed attempt to build a luxury resort for the super-rich (human expansionism). The story is told by a 12-year-old Em, daughter of the chief engineer, and recounts a series of freak weather conditions and improbable disasters that besiege the construction process—as if the entire nonhuman environment of the island were resisting human intrusion. Attacks by frenzied gulls and bats, unexpected wind gusts that sink cargo, sudden fog screens that keep supply boats away, unseasonal freezing that prevents the pouring of foundations … The children realize it first: the island fights back (see nature’s agency). It takes a near-death disaster for adults to understand the message, but they eventually get it too. The project is scrapped and Skelsay’s wilderness is left alone (see Half Earth).
Wilderness Wars is among recent examples of contemporary realistic fiction that brings in elements of fantasy—Em communicating with the island in stories and feelings—to imagine nature’s agency to resist human intrusion. Henderson stops short of giving nature a direct voice, but the novel affirms that the world is alive, species-diverse, and speaking to those who would listen. This animistic perception of nature is implied yet central to the story. It supports the larger argument that hearing nature’s voice starts with the willingness to recognize the aliveness of nature in all its plural expressions and with recognizing nature’s right to remain itself, i.e. wild. What adults dismiss as a concatenation of coincidences thus amounts to ignoring the voice of nature. The book offers many entry points for discussing human expansionism, nature’s agency to resist destruction, the meaning of wilderness and ways to preserve it. It also attests to the need for human-nonhuman coalitions—especially involving children—to stand up for nature’s right to be. The novel is a rare example of fiction that invites a conversation about E.O. Wilson’s concept of Half Earth as one solution to the current biodiversity loss crisis—humans leaving half of the planet for nature to be itself. ©2021 ClimateLit (Marek Oziewicz)