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The lesson in the Bercé forest

4 March 2021

« There has to be one last in the class. Emmanuel was that one, not that he was unintelligent, but, pushing the art of laziness far, he considered school a place of exception if not of penance. One morning he decided not to go.”

Emmanuel preferred the forest into which he walked into more in depth than usual and where he met a beautiful young blonde woman who was none other than Chanterelle, the fairy of the oaks and queen of the forest of Bercé. The character of Chanterelle, guardian and spirit of the forest, is a modern version of the mythological of the dryads.


The story does not say if Emmanuel knew the real identity of the oak fairy who is presented to him as a beautiful young woman. Questioning him on the reason of his presence in the forest and then pretending to share his opinion on the school, Chanterelle suggested that he teach the forest animals himself: “If the class is boring for the schoolboy, don’t you think, said the fairy, that it is of more interest to the one who teaches?” Emmanuel accepted Chanterelle’s proposal. Seeing the young boy in difficulty in front of his new pupils, the fairy, smart and skillful, advised him to prepare carefully for his next lesson. What the boy did with pleasure.


“From that day a life of work began for Emmanuel. He carefully followed his teacher’s explanations, learned his lessons, did his homework, even tried to learn more than was necessary for children his age. It all had one purpose at the beginning: to prepare the lesson he regularly gave in the evening to the animals of the forest. Then, the habit of work having been acquired, Emmanuel soon no longer knew whether he was seeking to teach or to learn. ”


Having become a brilliant student, Emmanuel one day left his village to follow his fate that is said to be exceptional, to the heartbreak of the animals of the forest who nevertheless continued to pass his teachings down from generation to generation. This explains why “the birds of the forest of Bercé still know their multiplication table today, the deer and the wild boars consult the signposts when they hesitate on the direction to take, the ants draw up complicated statements of their winter provisions […] But how would people know that the animals that they hunt, crush, despise or ignore know almost as much as most of them? ”


Visual: Drawings taken from the book Histoires de la forêt de Bercé by Christian Pineau, 1958 © D.R.

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