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The Hedge of Thorns

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"A forest of thorns shall be his tomb!"

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 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, and may serve as a strange and hostile biome in its own right. However, sometimes the Hedge is conjured by a fairy, witch, or other magic-user as a barrier around a specific place, and thus can appear anywhere the summoner demands. 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 Evil 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.


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     Anime and Manga 
  • The Ancient Magus' Bride: Elias Ainsworth is nicknamed "Thorn Magus" or "Child of Thorns" for a good reason. A black hedge of thorns often appears around him when he casts his spells, and while sometimes it's just a cosmetic effect, he can also send these thorny brambles to attack his foes.
  • Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics: The series' versions of Rapunzel, The Iron Stove, Sleeping Beauty/Princess Briar Rose and other Grimm tales use this trope. In Rapunzel the Prince is blinded as he falls on it, in Iron Stove the Princess must go past hers to save her prince and it turns out to be an illusion, in Briar Rose the thorns and vines catch anyone but later split when the destined Prince arrives, etc.
  • Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force: The "Briar Rose" spell 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.
  • Sailor Moon: The first arc of the Sailor Stars anime has Usagi go through one of these to reach Queen Nehellenia's castle while she's barefoot in her civilian form.

     Comic Books 
  • 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.
  • ElfQuest: Once the Wolfrider elves 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.
  • Fables: Whenever Briar Rose (aka Sleeping Beauty) pricks her finger on a needle, it triggers the curse and puts her and everyone in the building/her vicinity to sleep, and then a hedge of thorns will grow.

     Fairy Tales 
  • "Mary's Child": The heroine is cast out into the wilderness, where she is confined by thick, thorny hedges that she cannot break through. Fortunately, a king who was out hunting cut through the hedges with his sword and freed her.
  • 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: The castle where Sleeping Beauty lies is surrounded by roses. Many princes have met miserable ends in them.
  • Thomas The Rhymer: The path of righteousness 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 variants of tale type Aarne-Thompson-Uther (ATU) 425B, "The Son of the Witch" (e.g., Cupid And Psyche), after the heroine finds her husband at the end of her arduous quest, her mother-in-law forces her on hard tasks, one of which is to pay a visit to another witch. The path to the witch is fraught with dangers, among which a path of thorny branches in some variants.

     Film — Animated 

     Film — Live-Action 
  • Maleficent: Maleficent magically creates one to defend the Moors. King Stefan later follows her example, except his version is made of iron.
  • Pan's Labyrinth: Invoked when Ofelia tells a story about a mountain covered in thorns whose poison makes a single scratch lethal. The thorns never show up in the movie's main plot, but feed into the story's themes of fear keeping people within preset boundaries.
  • The Satanic Rites of Dracula found a novel way of polishing off the Count: luring him into a tangled hawthorn thicket. Hawthorn being (at least according to Van Helsing) what Christ's crown of thorns was made from, the spiky branches prove as effective as holy water would've been.
  • Willow uses some magic to burn a hole through the otherwise impassible wall of brambles.

  • The Door In The Hedge: A hedge separates the faerie world from the normal world. In this case, it's a fairly normal hedge.
  • I Am David: A non-fantasy example. When David escapes from a concentration camp, having been told to follow a compass southwards, he finds himself facing a vast thicket, and the compass tells him he should go through it. He considers going around it, but knows so little about the world, that he does indeed force his way right through.
  • One for the Morning Glory: Amatus invokes this as an analogy of the characters' situation, by pointing out that there were many dead princes impaled on the hedge around Sleeping Beauty's castle.
    "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."
  • Shannara: 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.
  • Summer Knight: Near the end of the story, a fairy conjures up a nasty, poisonous hedge to keep Harry from interfering.
  • The Wide-Awake Princess: Annie is nearly caught in the hedge of roses that grows up to encircle the castle while her sister sleeps.

     Tabletop Games 
  • Changeling: The Lost:
    • The Hedge, 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).
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Spike Growth is a 2nd level spell that creates an area of difficult terrain which causes damage to anyone who moves through it.
    • In the 5th Edition, black and green dragons cause plant life to warp into moss-hung tangles of knotted vines, slashing thorns and choking brambles in the vicinity of their lairs, which they respectively make within dense forests and deep swamps. The effect only fades after the dragon has been killed or driven off.
    • One of the first evil-infested locales ever described for a D&D adventure, the Caves of Chaos, encompasses a rocky ravine approachable through a briar-choked forest of forbidding thorny tangles.

     Video Games 
  • Brain Dead 13: A hedge of thorns forms a giant maze, and can be deadly. In one death scene, if Lance goes the wrong way, he accidentally runs into the thorny hedge and comes back out as a skeleton; in another, if he goes through the wrong gate and is trapped, a tentacle vine grabs him while he tries to get out and pulls him into the hedge.
  • Dragon's Lair: This happens in the second part of one of the levels in Time Warp. After the fall of Eden, numerous thorny branches start sprouting all over the place.
  • Donkey Kong Country
  • Don't Starve: In the Hamlet expansion, brambles appear during the Lush Season which are essentially thorn barriers that require the player to chop through as they do damage.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
  • King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow: There's a magical hedge surrounding the Beast's abode.
  • Guild Wars 2 has the Heart of Maguuma, a jungle overrun with the barbed vines of Mordremoth. Just breaching the first ring of the Heart sees the Pact all but shattered, a major hero dead, and three more missing in action. And it's even more harrowing for Sylvari players as the entire time they're suffering Mind Rape from the Dragon.
  • Metroid Prime 3: Corruption features the Thorn Jungle zone in planet Bryyo. The Space Pirates installed one of the sources of the defense barrier protecting the Leviathan Seed in this region, requiring Samus to storm the area in order to disable said source. The local flora is uniquely colored with shades of pink and orange, and several overgrown roots can be seen along the way. Late in the game, it's possible to connect this area with that of the Cliffside, and doing so is part of the process to obtain one of the Energy Cells of eventual use in GFS Valhalla.
  • Rayman 2: The Great Escape has them in the Menhir Hills, the Sanctuary of Rock and Lava and Beneath the Sanctuary of Rock and Lava. The ones in The Menhir Hills require using a walking shell to get past, while in the latter two levels they simply act as obstacles, killing Rayman on contact.
  • SINoALICE: Sleeping Beauty is often seen with purple thornlike appendages around her, referencing the hedge of thorns preventing the prince from reaching her in her legend. It's also what keeps her upright during battle.
  • Super Mario World: Piranha Island: Many levels contain sections where Mario has to avoid thorns, but StarMan Muncher is hard because Mario has to rely on the power of the Starman powerup to get through a thorny maze in a limited amount of time.
  • Tales Series
    • Tales of Hearts: The legend central to the story is a fairy tale about a sleeping princess in a forest of thorns. However, the twist is that it is not, in fact, a literal hedge. the Forest of Thorns is a codename used to identify an ancient control unit known as the Mysticete. It also happens to be the Flying Whale worshiped by the church and the place where Lithia's physical body has been preserved in stasis, since it's a remnant of a very advanced alien civilization that was destroyed 2,000 years before the game's time.
    • Tales of Arise: Shionne is afflicted with the "Curse of Thorns", that manifests as thorny vines and inflicts great pain to whoever touches her. This curse left her a pariah, and as a result she became cold and aloof, almost a literal "rose with thorns". An actual hedge of thorns appears when Shionne gets a huge Heroic BSoD and is subsequently captured by Vholran. When the party tries to rescue her, the Thorns manifest around the entire hall she's being held in, forcing the party to cut their way through them. The hedge disappears once Alphen manages to break Shionne out of her despair.
  • The Tenth Line: The tutorial takes place in the Tangle, a region overrun with giant thorns where the Princess first meets Tox and Rik while fleeing from cultists. It's one of the few areas that the player can't return to in the postgame and is represented by the Tangled Origins card in the Betting Minigame.
  • Warcraft:
    • Warcraft III has Thorns Aura, which causes enemy melee units to hurt themselves when attacking allied units (strangely enough, the Night Elves' buildings are trees but lack this feature, while the orcs have their Spiked Barricades upgrade for this effect).
    • World of Warcraft has a pair of dungeons called Razorfen Kraul and Razorfen Downs that are both built under a network of huge, thorny trunks. The occupants aren't faeries, though: they're savage boar-people, and the thorns aren't all that difficult for a player to get through.
  • Zork: Grand Inquisitor has one blocking the way to the Dungeon Master's Lair, where the rank undergrowth prevents eastward movement.

  • Champions of Far'aus: The Hyperia Pantheon temple grounds are encircled by a magic hedge that mainly consists of thick, thorny vines. The various vines and branches of the hedge move out of the way for the protagonists when they want to enter or leave, a curtesy granted by Hyperion and Leilusa, the pantheon's deities (and the protagonists bosses) who enchanted it.
  • Girl Genius: A tangle of giant thorny vines is one of Mechanisburg's outer defenses, and can be induced to burst from the ground and form an impassable wall around the city. After the Time Skip, the vines have overrun most of the outer town, preventing outsiders from entering it and growing back as fast as they are cut.
  • No Rest for the Wicked: Prince Ricardo tackles one to reach a castle hidden in its center, where a sleeping princess lies. He passes through it by cutting a path with his sword.

     Web Original 
  • Hamster's Paradise: The saberleaf savannahs are a variant: due to the abundance of efficient grazing herbivores on the planet, the saberleaf grass evolves razor-sharp leaves and stems that can injure herbivores trying to eat it, and in grasslands where saberleaf dominates the only animals that can survive are those equipped with tough skins and hard hooves the protect their bodies from injury.
  • Serina: The cactaiga, a biome that develops during the glaciation of the Ultimocene, consists of a dense growth of cactus-like sunflower descendants that covers a good quarter or so of the world's sole remaining habitable continent. They endure the powerful winds of their environment, which can snap trees like toothpicks, by growing in an interlocking mass of plants all mutually supporting each other. This makes the cactaiga very difficult to live in, as the whole thing consists of a solid mass of slashing spines and vicious thorns, with virtually no open space between individual plants. Most of the area's megafauna goes extinct once the cactaiga forms, as it literally squeezes out both edible plants and animal populations; this only changes with the arrival of the thorngrazers, who can chew their way through the plants using their massive tooth plates and keratinized spikes that defend their faces from the thorns, and which literally eat their way through the mass to create open spaces and paths that allow other plants and animals to find shelter from the ice age storms within the resulting maze of thorn-walled pocket environments. Following the Great Thaw, however, the warmer environment proves too much for the cactaiga and it dies out save for holdouts in Serina's harshest environments.

     Western Animation 
  • Care Bears (1980s): One of No Heart's schemes involves leading the bears into a hedge maze that he had augmented with thorns.
  • My Little Pony 'n Friends: In "Would-Be Dragonslayer", when the heroes find a castle surrounded by an impassable wall of thorny vines, they immediately think of the usual reasons this trope shows up in fairytales and heroically charge through to rescue the princess trapped behind it. As it turns out, the princess is getting married to a knight and her fairy godmother raised the hedge to keep trouble away.
  • The Simpsons has the Eliminator, featured in the Season 8 episode "The Secret War of Lisa Simpson". It serves as a final test for the cadets of the military school, and consists in a rope suspended several feet over a thick bush of thorn-filled brambles. All cadets (including Bart and Lisa) must go through it.
  • Total Drama:
    • "That's Off the Chain!": Izzy steers her bike through a wall of thornbushes. It doesn't wipe the smile off her face, but Leshawna, her co-rider, is less amused. The chipmunk they picked up along the way loses all its fur from being cut by the sharp branches.
    • "The Treasure Island of Doctor McLean": The trail from the swamp to the clearing where Sam and Gwen are to be found is blocked by a thornbush forest. There is no way through it, but Dakotazoid clears a path by clocking a mutant alligator through the bushes.

     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, and that's assuming you can manage to set them alight.
  • French Bocage country, consisting of fields demarcated by hedgerows planted on top of rubble walls. A significant impediment to military operations in WWII.
  • When the East India Trading Company occupied India, it charged taxes on purchases of salt made by residents of the inland towns and cities. To prevent them from going to get their salt from either coast of the Indian Ocean, EITC planted over 650 miles of hedges, that in some places were 12-feet high and 14-feet thick. Wikipedia


Video Example(s):


The Thorn Forest

While trying to flee from the Skullasaurus, Rabbit leads the party into a maze of thorny vines where they soon become lost.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheHedgeOfThorns

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