The Hedge of Thorns

"A forest of thorns shall be his tomb!"
Maleficent, Disney's Sleeping Beauty

A classic trope usually seen within the Fantasy genre, the Hedge has both a literal and metaphorical purpose within any story that features it.

Physically, it is a place of painful passage, thorns and brambles, that acts as a hazard for the main character(s) as they try to either pass it, or escape it. More often than not, it is connected to fairies (Fae) or some other mysterious group of creatures, as the trope is linked to the idea of a natural barrier to some greater prize (or terrible horror). Fantasy-wise, the Hedge usually appears within enchanted forests. However, sometimes the Hedge is conjured by a "higher power," and thus can appear anywhere the summoner demands (though not the golden rule). Also, the thorns tend to quickly eat whatever dies or lets its guard down within it.

The Hedge is most often a home for various forms of life, whether carnivorous or not. Sometimes it's a kingdom in-and-of itself, being ruled by an Overlord, Sorceress, Bandit King or similar character. Outside of the previously stated genre, the Hedge can be a torturously difficult labyrinth made from plants and fungi, or a hideaway for smaller characters against the Big Bad.

Metaphorically, however, the Hedge of Thorns can stand for something that tears at the psyche as well as the body of anyone who tries to get through it (fairies often are linked to madness). It also acts as a test of character, since it can stand between the Hero(ine) and the Bright Castle that holds what (s)he seeks. Usually the ordeal of the Hedge, as previously stated, is one of mental endurance and brinking on insanity, since it questions one's principles and bravery, as well as capability to adapt to the harshness of the reality that exists within the Hedge.

Note: the Hedge can also be a catch-all term for lands belonging to the Fae, such as the The Lost Woods.


Anime and Manga
  • The first arc of the Sailor Stars anime had Usagi having to go through one of these to reach Queen Nehellenia's castle while she's barefoot in her civilian form.
  • The "Briar Rose" spell from Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force summons one of these. Like the one from the spell's namesake fairy tale, it impedes the path of those trying to enter the place it was summoned in and could completely engulf those who let their guard down within the affected area.

  • Castle Waiting is sealed off by one of these. Fortunately a tunnel has been cut through, although it's still an unpleasant experience thanks to the skeletons of people who didn't make it through still caught up in it.
  • Once the Wolfrider elves in ElfQuest establish a new Holt, their tree-shaper, Redlance, creates a thorn wall surrounding the area which only he can create a path through, to protect them from intrusion by unfriendly humans.

Fairy Tale
  • Rapunzel has thorn bushes growing at the base of the tower, on which the prince is blinded near the end of the story.
  • Sleeping Beauty's castle is surrounded by roses. Many princes have met miserable ends in them.

  • Willow uses some magic to burn a hole through the otherwise impassible wall of brambles.
  • Maleficent magically creates one to defend the Moors. King Stefan later follows her example, except his version is made of iron.

  • A hedge also separates the faerie world from the normal world in Robin McKinley's The Door in the Hedge. In that case, it's a fairly normal hedge.
  • In Summer Knight, near the end of the story a Fey conjures up a nasty, poisonous hedge to keep Harry from interfering.
  • In One for the Morning Glory, Amatus invokes this as an analogy of their situation.
    "This is not how these tales end," Calliope said firmly.
    "This is not the way that things end when they get to be tales," Amatus said, "but since ours is not told yet, we cannot count on it. There were a hundred dead princes on the thorns outside Sleeping Beauty's castle, and I'm sure many of them were splendid fellows."
  • In Teresa Frohock's Miserere: An Autumn Tale, the Rosa acts as this. Fortunately it's one of the good guys.
  • Interestingly, in the traditional poem Thomas the Rhymer, it's not Faerie, but the path of righteousness that is a "narrow road, so thick beset with thorns and briars", difficult compared to the broad and inviting road of wickedness. Faerie is down another, completely separate road.
  • In E. D. Baker's The Wide-Awake Princess, Annie is nearly caught in the hedge of roses that grows up to encircle the castle while her sister sleeps.
  • In the Shannara series by Terry Brooks, the Druid castle of Paranor is protected by a poisonous hedge. Some parts are actually illusions, and passable, but usually a druid guide is required to find them.

Tabletop Games
  • The Hedge from Changeling: The Lost, which is the border between the "real world" and the fae world of Arcadia (not in any way to be confused with the trope of the same name). There are actual thorns and a wide variety of other dangerous features, including living creatures, and it's generally an unhealthy place to be. Oh, and getting dragged through those thorns as a human rips your soul to pieces, which you then (possibly) only gather together once you escape from Arcadia.
    • There's other ones in the rest of the New World of Darkness, like the one that surrounds the Whispering Wood (a Circus of Fear that slowly mutates people in ways symbolically connected to their sins).

Video Games

Web Comics

Western Animation
  • The thorn bushes growing around the castle in Sleeping Beauty.
  • One of No Heart's schemes in an episode of Care Bears involved leading the bears into a hedge maze that he had augmented with thorns.

Real Life
  • A really tall, thick and well-tended hedgerow can be a formidable obstacle to a burglar or an angry mob and seriously inconvenience an advancing army. It's difficult to cut through or climb over without making a lot of noise, catapult or cannon-fire will go through it without doing any serious damage and suitably thorny plants will do an excellent impression of barbed wire. Common hedge components like hawthorn or hazel don't burn very well either.
    • French Bocage country, consisting of fields demarkated by hedgerows planted on top of rubble walls. A significant impediment to military operations in WWII.