The Trees Speak for Themselves

How Non-Human Narrators in Fiction Influence Multispecies Encounters


  • Bella Hughes Ball State University (DLR)



multispecies theory, prosocial behavior, narrative fiction, non-human narrators, non-living narrators


Elif Shafak's 2021 novel The Island of Missing Trees describes fictional events that occur on the real island of Cyprus during the war between the Greek and the Turkish inhabitants of the island. This story is told from multiple points of view at various points in time in both Cyprus and London, where the characters move to and live following the events of the war and their families’ disagreements with their relationship. What is unique about Shafak's storytelling is her use of a fig tree as a primary narrator of events. While the use of non-human narrators is not a new strategy, most of these occurrences involve animal speakers rather than plants or objects. In delivering a fiction narrative from the point of view of a fig tree, Elif Shafak's The Island of Missing Trees introduces readers to multispecies encounters by providing an example of how arboreal figures communicate and experience history alongside humans in an anthropocentric world, and further encourages prosocial behavior between human and non-human species. Based on Shafak's novel, theories of attentiveness and slow-violence, and studies on the effect of non-human narrators on readers, including these "non-living" narrators in widely accessible pieces of fiction not only informs audiences of the multispecies encounters that occur in everyday life, but also opens more avenues of multispecies conservation.


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How to Cite

Hughes, B. (2024). The Trees Speak for Themselves: How Non-Human Narrators in Fiction Influence Multispecies Encounters. Digital Literature Review, 11(1), 24–39.

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