Written by Julia Wros
SDSU History Master’s Student, 2021
The Low, Low Woods follows the story of Octavia (Vee) and El, two girls in the town of Shudder-To-Think; a town over a perpetually burning coal mine where women have strange lapses in memory and monsters of flesh roam the woods. Vee and El go see a movie and have a lapse in memory where they forget what happened during the entire show. There are strange things haunting the forest, and there is a history to the town that people are reluctant to speak about – or just do not know.
It is revealed that the reason for the memory issues experienced by the women is related to water from a specific spring in the town, one that is compared to the Greek river Lethe from mythology, a river that takes away all of the memories of anyone who drinks it. The six issue comic follows the two girls as they struggle with the question of what happened during that short time period, and if they want to know at all. In the end, it is revealed that the memory problems are induced by a group of men in order to make women forget the abuse that they suffer at their hands.
When this is revealed Jessica, Vee’s girlfriend, joins in remembering the trauma that they all went through, and her body opens up into a sinkhole that sends the boys responsible and the monsters that taught them back down to the everlasting fire. Her body, like the body of other women in the town, is transformed into a tool of justice – and of pain.
The Low, Low Woods. Published by DC comics. June 23, 2020. Written by Joe Hill and Carmen Maria Machado.
Jessica’s mother suffers from the same fate earlier in the comic, but unlike Jessica she was transformed into a sinkhole that never closes. The turning of a woman from the waist down into a sinkhole reminds me of the idea of the monstrous feminine.
Written in 1993 by Barbara Creed, The Monstrous-Feminine presented a way to look at the role that women held in horror movies; analyzing the way that women’s actions would play on the fears of the men watching. The roles of women in horror, Creed argued, could show what society feared.
In the case of The Low, Low Woods – the fear is consequences. The flesh monsters that plague the town are remnants of men who also abused women, stopped by the witch of the town, a young girl who was taught witchcraft by a trans-woman. She tried to destroy them all, but ended up starting the fire in the mines and turned the men into reflections of their monstrous deeds.
Jessica turning into a sinkhole here sends not only the old monsters, but the boys who continued the abuse against her and the other women of the town, back down into the eternally burning coal mine – a representation of hell, where the boys will presumably pay for their crimes. The ability of women to cause consequences to men, by using a supernatural ability that stems from their body, is a form of the monstrous feminine.
The ending of The Low, Low Woods is not necessarily a victorious one, even after Vee and El figure out how to restore the memories that were lost, some people chose to forget rather than remember. And as the comic says poignantly; the lesson for the men was not that what they did was wrong, it was that they got caught doing it.
The choice to remember is poured over by everyone in the town, and also Octavia, who gets accepted to college and has the choice to leave the pain behind. The comic leaves us in the dark on whether or not Vee chooses to remember or chooses to forget in order to leave the town behind. It mirrors the language around the choice, something that Vee talks about earlier, saying that people could pretend to know who had remembered and who had not, but no one could, that was the nature of the choice.
We are left with a sense of curiosity, even as the comic hammers home the lesson of bodily autonomy. Rarely do we get a sense that some questions should not be answered, but these characters reach through to remind us that even as actors on a page, the characters have an agency of their own.
Through using bodies as a tool of justice and as a remembrance of autonomy, The Low, Low Woods is a poignant discussion on marginalized bodies and how we view them in media.