Sondheim and Lapine’s Into the Woods takes the simple figures from fairy tales and weaves them into a world in which they have complex psychologies and rich inner lives. They create human characters with intense desires, compelling motives, and deep flaws. To understand why this iteration of characters standout from other adaptations, it is important to understand how they existed in the past. These sources dive into fairy tale character archetypes, provide a literary analysis of their stories, and apply psychological theories, helping to contextualize the inhabitants of Sondheim and Lapine’s woods through an understanding of their ancestors.
The setting of a story can impact it in subtle but strong ways. For Into the Woods, the setting of a dark forest provides the key to happiness for the Baker and his wife, it holds the sanctuary of Cinderella’s mother’s grave where she often visits, and Jack and Little Red Riding Hood must travel through it to get to the market and to the grandmother’s house. Each of the characters need something and to have it, they must go to the woods. But Sondheim and Lapine tie desire to danger in these woods as it is easy for the characters to lose their paths and encounter deadly creatures. They are not the first writers to do so, as stories involving journeying and the woods as a setting are often tied to character desire, dangerous obstacles challenging characters, and larger questions about life. These sources go into further detail explaining how the woods and journeying through it is a motif which greatly shapes the characters and the arch of their story.