In Strange Woods is a 2021 musical podcast by Atypical Artists that tells a fictional story in a true-crime documentary style.
Telling the tale of an eventful two years in Whitetail, Minnesota, the story focuses on Peregrine Wells (Lily Mae Harrington), a teenager who finds her life upended when her brother Jacob vanishes in the woods during a party. His body is later discovered by an enigmatic recluse named Peter "Howl" Howland (Patrick Page), who knows quite a bit about surviving in harsh conditions. At Peregrine's insistence, he takes her under his wing and teaches her what he knows.
Wanting to both do something in her brother's memory and ensure nothing like his death can happen again, Peregrine ropes her friends into weeks of harsh survival training which will culminate in "The Final"—an exercise where they'll enter the woods themselves and attempt to make their way home with nothing but the skills they've learned. But Howl has his secrets and the town has its feuds, and the more investigative journalist Brett Ryback (Brett Ryback) learns, the more concerning the already-dangerous plan becomes.
The podcast can be listened to here, and transcripts of the audio can be read here. In 2022, In Strange Woods was nominated for Best Fiction Podcast at the iHeart Radio Podcast Awards.
This podcast contains examples of:
- Abusive Parents: Howl's father was emotionally and physically abusive to him, and he grew up in a house without love.
- Accomplice by Inaction: Brett realizes that by keeping information to himself he helped endanger the teens of Whitetail, and at the very least did nothing to stop the feuding.
- Adults Are Useless: This is discussed throughout the series as the teens of Whitetail take this viewpoint about their elders, leading them to train with Howl to learn survival skills. It's then played with in episode 5, as while the teenage Lexy and John Francis rally everyone to save Peregrine and Shane when everyone else is initially sure they'll be fine, the teamwork of the whole community, including the adults, helps them get home alive.
- Bears Are Bad News: A bear visits the site of the annual Turkey Drop on New Year's Eve, threatening a neighbor's dog and the guests. Peregrine successfully driving it off is what convinces her mother to let her do the Final.
- Big Brother Instinct: The first version of "Come And Find Me" is about how Jacob promised to be there for Peregrine if she was ever hurt or down.
- Both Sides Have a Point: While the teenagers of Whitetail have a point about their elders overprotecting them, the adults have a point in that there are things their children can't handle.
- The Cavalry: When a snowstorm hits during the Final, Lexy and John Francis mobilize a rescue team to save Peregrine and Shane.
- Chekhov's Classroom: While Lexy stops going to survival training after John Francis breaks his wrist, she takes what she learned to heart and uses examples of dead reckoning and other things Howl taught to make a case for sending a search-and-rescue team in the final episode when the adults assume the kids would be fine.
- The Corrupter: After Jacob's death, Peregrine initially spends time processing her trauma and grief, as do her friends. Howl's influence drives her to embrace her grief instead and come up with the plan for The Final, which puts her and everyone in danger before it even begins when one of her friends injures himself during training.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Howl has a twofer, with episode 2 going into his sordid past with Gerda, a war photographer, and his time in the Marines. Episode 4 delves into his childhood as part of a family of war profiteers and his murder, by inaction, of people working at a chemical plant.
- Death by Irony: Howl, the one who trained Peregrine and her friends to survive, ends up (apparently) dying when he's unable to make it back alive.
- Death Seeker: It's implied Howl agreed to the Final to die on his own terms after spending his life running from everyone he was ever close to.
- Don't Go in the Woods: The woods are vast, deep, and easy to get lost in on good days, and when coupled with snowstorms, this results in Jacob's death.
- Empty Bedroom Grieving: Peregrine makes references to going into her dead brother Jacob's room and being sad to find it empty.
- Family Theme Naming: Shane "Woodsley" O'Connor has four brothers named Shannon, Seamus, Sean, and Shanley.
- In episode 3, the bear that attacks the New Year's party is hinted to have had contact with humans before, and it's the kids resolving the incident that lets their parents okay the Final. It seems like Howl may have had something to do with it, but ultimately he didn't.
- Howl's shady past and the ambiguity of whether he let Jacob die or not seems like foreshadowing that he'll be up to something during the Final, or perhaps is training Peregrine for a sinister purpose. Ultimately, his actions are sincere and nature itself is the only obstacle to making it back.
- Hope Spot: Bobby finding Jacob's cufflink on the second day of the search raises morale and the hope that he could be alive, but the team's effort is wasted when they find a dead deer and nothing else.
- Intrepid Reporter: Brett uses his podcast and interviews to let the residents tell their stories in their own words. His actual motives are more selfish, as he wants to learn more about his great-aunt Gerda.
- Karma Houdini: Depends on what you think happened.
- Donald, if you think Howl really didnít have anything to do with Jacobís death, faces no consequences for starting a witch hunt against an innocent man.
- Howl, if you think he did have something to do with Jacobís death and/or the chemical accident happened the way Sandra said, disappears without ever facing justice for what heís done.
- Little Dead Riding Hood: In the cover for the show as well as the album cover for the soundtrack, Peregrine is shown wearing a red hoodie that stands out sharply against the ominous forest background.
- Murder by Inaction: In the second episode, it's speculated that Howl let Jacob die after making his initial call to the police, only confirming that he found the boy when it was too late. In the past, Howl let his uncle and seven others die because he didn't tell anyone about the cracks in the fuel drums, even though it was his job.
- My God, What Have I Done?: In Episode 5, once the Final begins and a life-threatening blizzard hits, Peregrine realizes how reckless and stupid the idea was and laments endangering herself and her friends.
- Never Found the Body: Unlike Jacob, Howl's body was never found, leading Peregrine and Brett to speculate that he survived and went elsewhere.
- Noble Wolf: A wolf is a symbol of survival in Episode 5, where it seems to help Shane find Peregrine, and the others to find them during the Final.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Shane O'Connor is much more commonly referred to as "Woodsley", stemming from a nickname he got during Scouts due to a malapropism of "I'm really woodsy."
- Plot-Triggering Death: The death of Jacob Wells is the catalyst for the events of the entire series.
- Posthumous Sibling: Howl's older sisters Charity and Mercy died while his mother was pregnant with him.
- Red Herring:
- In episode 2, Lexy is audibly struggling with the preparations for the Final and Brett has warned of the danger and that someone would be injured, but it's star athlete John Francis who is injured in training instead.
- During the Final, the listener learns that Peregrine made it out alive but that someone close to her died once again. The story leans towards several candidates in various stages of distress, with Woodsley getting hypothermia and Eric not being found, but those crises are resolved and the real victim was Howl, who never made it back and may not have died at all.
- Riddle for the Ages: Many of the mysteries surrounding Howl are left unsolved by series' end, particularly whether or not he let Jacob die and whether Howl himself died or not during the Final.
- Smells of Death: When telling the story of finding Jacob's body, the first thing Howl remarks on is the smell.
- Survival Mantra: Peregrine and the teens' chanting as they train for The Final includes how long you can last without basic needs, such as air, water, food, and hope.
- There Are No Therapists: Peregrine offhandedly mentions counseling after Jacob's death, but none of it helped. By the time she makes plans for the Final, everyone else has moved on and expects her to do the same.
- Unreliable Narrator: By his own admission, Brett is captivated by Peregrine, Howl, and their stories, leading to bias towards them in his narrating and thoughts.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The final part of episode 5 includes Brett telling us where the other characters, as well as himself, end up after the main story concludes.