the woodsman tavern

Over the Garden Wall Analysis: The Beast

So I’m planning to post a few of these. I’ve gone through and watched the miniseries several times now and me and my friends have been talking about pretty frequently in the past month or so. We have a lot of ideas of symbolism and what do certain aspects of the shows represent.

This one in particular however I have to give credit to my friend Sydney because it took her one watch to crack this baby open. I hadn’t even thought of it and I haven’t seen one person to take this conclusion away even after multiple re-watches. Looking back on it though, it seems fairly obvious. 

It has to do with the beast and the idea of just what the heck is it?

The most common fan interpretation going around is that the beast resembles the devil, or something along those lines. A monster that feeds on dying souls. However, as a few of my friends pointed out, that interpretation doesn’t really make much sense. 

If The Unknown is the Afterlife, then how would dying be of any real concern? Are you double dead at that point? Does your soul cease to exist? Double Dying is not a particularly novel idea and it does provide stakes to a story, but why does the Beast feed indiscriminately on children? And how does the Woodsman’s daughter come back at the end. There are some missing elements. 

However, when we start to consider other elements of the show, the beast’s true identity becomes clear. 

First things first, let’s take a look at an element nobody seems to be able to make sense of. That being the turtles. 

The Black Turtles are all over this show and most people who’ve tried to interpret them can’t really say that they are much more than a motif. But we know that isn’t true considering what they do to Beatrice’s Dog.

Beatrice’s Dog, smelling the candy Greg put on a turtle, eats it and then becomes a hideous monster with glowing eyes, hellbent on chasing the boys and devouring the entirety of Greg’s candy. The monster it becomes is terrifying and comes pretty close to ripping Greg and Wirt to shreds. So we know without a doubt the turtles have some kind of evil magic. 

Without the turtle, Beatrice’s dog is just a sweet puppy who even helps get Greg out of the river. The turtles make him malicious, and interestingly enough, obsessed with a thing he did when he ate the turtle in the first place. Getting all of Greg’s candy is all it cares about, to the point it jumps off of a house. 

The next time we see the Turtles is in The Ringing of the Bell, when Greg and Wirt encounter bunches of them kept in barrels. This is where people get confused about the turtles because we see Auntie Whispers eat them but without going through any kind of transformation. We assume Auntie Whispers initially is evil but later discover she’s a kind old woman just trying to protect Lorna, and she even warns the boys about Adelaide. However there is one character in the show who is corrupted by evil. 

We don’t know if Lorna ate a turtle or not, but it is interesting she’s another good person turned crazy after being in close proximity to them. I’m going to say she didn’t eat them though, as when Wirt commands the spirit to leave, Lorna isn’t coughing up any black turtles. Auntie Wither’s also mentions it’s Greg and Wirt’s influence that has made her wicked again. But what does Lorna affectionately refer to them as? Her turtles. They are a corrupting force just like the turtles, something Lorna would know, and they corrupt her in the same way the turtles corrupt Beatrice’s Dog. Why then does Auntie Whisper’s have all these turtles? Well, we know Auntie Whisper’s is a good woman, if a bit strange looking, and also has magical abilities. Perhaps she’s eating the turtles as a way of disposing of them to keep them from hurting other people, and over the years it’s taken its toll on her physical appearance.

Either way, this is sort of where we begin to see how evil corrupts souls in The Unknown. Unlike Beatrice’s Dog, the spirit possessing Lorna is a lot more conniving of an evil monster. It uses her voice to speak to Greg and Wirt to try and convince them to let her eat them. It’s a bit more plotting. 

So now let’s look at the beast. A strange monster running around in the woods lying and manipulating people into keeping its lantern lit. However, interestingly enough, we have no idea how long the Beast has been around. It could be generations, or it could be a few months. We have no idea. The woodsman and the tavern people let us know what the Beast does, but it could be the Beast has only been doing it for a few weeks. The warning would be the same either way. 

Let’s say a person, or rather a child, curiously wandered out into the woods and got lost in the dark. Frightened, they ran out of oil for the lamp, and were caught wandering blindly through the forest. Now let’s say that person somehow wound up eating a turtle, or maybe, considering their oily appearance, tried to use the turtle as lantern fuel. 

Of course that’s just a theory, but the give away that the Beast has eaten a turtle comes when Wirt proposes that the Lantern actually contains the Beast’s soul. The Beast immediately evaporates all the light around him, and Wirt frightened, looks into the dark, but then notices the Beast’s eyes.

They’re the same beautiful eyes of Beatrice’s Dog when it ate a turtle and became a monster. Wirt then get’s a look on his face as if he understands something, and he realizes the Beast has no power, and that he can just take Greg and go. 

So if this was the case, then who was the Beast before it ate the turtle? From it’s appearance, it looks distinctly like a tree from the forest. But what I always notice is the Beast’s cape that he wears almost like a shawl. The Beast also has an interesting connection with the Woodsman too. Since the Woodsman carries the Beast’s lantern. But the Beast knows interesting details about the Woodsman’s life, like the fact the Woodsman strayed from his cabin because he couldn’t stand coming home to find it empty. The Woodsman in turn seems to be the person in the wood to know the most about the Beast having wrestled the lantern away from it. They both share a motif connection with tree’s as the Woodsman chops them down for Lumber, and the Beast creates the trees out of souls. 

Who then is the Beast?

The Beast is not lying when it says the soul of the Woodsman’s daughter is in the lantern, because the Beast is the woodsman’s daughter. The black shawl, the connection with trees, the fact that in the series opener, it is spring and she’s looking curiously off into the woods, as if wondering what exists out there. 

When the Woodsman blows out the lantern once and for all, the next time we see him he is home at his cabin, not going inside because we know he can’t stand to see it empty, and who should come out to greet him but his daughter.

She’s even carrying a candle to symbolize the lantern. We don’t see any of the other people the Beast turned into tree’s reappear, so why then does the daughter survive. Because she was the beast.

In the very next cut too, we see the fish in the rowboat from episode 8, which we know was in the same area as the Beast since by that pond is where Wirt begins to turn into an Edelwood tree. And what is the fish pulling out of the pond?

A black turtle. Presumably the one the Woodsman’s daughter ate.

My theory then is this, the Woodsman’s daughter wandered out into the woods, got lost in the dark and had her lantern go out. She tried to use a turtle as fuel and as a result, became the Beast. 

TL;DR: The Beast is the woodsman daughter because she ate/used a turtle as lantern fuel. 

A Private Revelation

“So he got his daughter back,” said Greg.

“Yeah,” said Wirt. “Yeah, I hope so.”

“But how did he get her back?”

Wirt scanned the gray sky. “I figure he just went back to his house,” he said, “and there she was.”

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