Friday, July 23, 2021

Over the Garden Wall

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the miniseries Over the Garden Wall (2014). It's one of the most unique and quirky series in recent memory.

There are a hodgepodge of influences. The setting is predominantly but not exclusively 18th-19th century New England or the Midwest. The specific season is Autumn; I suppose Halloween best suits. Aesthetically it elicits an old timey wimey Americana feel. Other influences I noticed: the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, gothic horror, Peter Rabbit, the Wind in the Willows, Betty Boop, Shirley Temple, Little Nemo, Studio Ghibli, even Disney (e.g. a songbird albeit a sarcastic one). Likewise I detected shades of Dante. For example, the opening chapter begins with the characters lost in a deep dark wood. Our protagonist is "midway" between childhood and adulthood. Also, Beatrice serves as a guide. And the ten shorts seem to roughly correspond to Dante's ten divisions in Inferno.

Story-wise, it's about a pair of brothers on a journey or pilgrimage to return home. One wonders if the story is allegory or reality. Is the pilgrimage in the similitude of a dream (cf. Bunyan) or is it meant to be real - a world between worlds, perhaps a limbo between life and death (cf. Dante)?

The characters are universal archetypes. Wirt is a Byronic hero. Greg is a knight of faith. It's interesting the two brothers are juxtaposed with one another like this - one the prototypical heathen, the other a kind of Christian. The Woodsman is a wild-eyed prophet in the wilderness. The Beast, in my view, is the personification of hopelessness: cue Dante's "abandon hope, all ye who enter here". Same with places and events. For instance, the Unknown seems to represent the afterlife or something like it. At the same time, there's a subversion of expectations in Over the Garden's archetypes (e.g. the big bad wolf is a tame pup).

Pilgrimage stories typically consummate in reaching a destination where the end is the narratival summum bonum. The Pilgrim's Progress' end is the celestial city where God and his people dwell. The Paradiso's end is the beatific vision: "l'amor che move il sole e l'altre stelle". Over the Garden Wall's end seems to be romantic love in the guise of a girl named Sara. If so, I'm afraid that's a bit of a letdown, for it would suggest (among other things) that even the best secular pilgrimage or journey stories like Over the Garden Wall haven't evolved much since Homer's Odyssey in which Odysseus longs to return home to reunite with his beloved Penelope. Perhaps this is what adolescent or youthful love finds most grand, but then it'd better suit springtime rather than the autumnal themes which are what pervade the entire series. Perhaps this reflects the sad fact that our secular culture has no higher aim or ideal in life to live for than romantic love.


  1. "Perhaps this reflects the sad fact that our secular culture has no higher aim or ideal in life to live for than romantic love."

    Sounds like that's secular culture's candy camouflage.

    Having been needy in my early days (oh geez, I sound old), I can understand how making another person the central fixture of one's life doesn't lead anywhere good.

    1. Lol, TFC! I was "needy" too so I'm with you. :)