In this question, the reason the Doctor's Sonic Screw Driver 'doesn't do wood' is covered. It's weakness is described below:

As such, throwing in an arbitrary weakness, like being unable to do anything to any wooden objects, allows the writers to add tension to a story. If your all-powerful device suddenly can't do anything, then you are in a bit of trouble and need to find a new way out.
~Jonathan Thiele

But something struck me after reading that, which is that the Green Lantern's Ring's weakness is also wood:

Power ultimately corrupted this early Green Lantern, as he attempted to rule over mankind, which forced the Guardians to cause his ring to manifest a weakness to wood, the material from which most Earth weapons of the time were fashioned

Now, I'm not insinuating a similarity between devices, or between Time Lords/Green Lantern Corps, and there is a 'meta' explanation for both. But with only a small change the weakness for either could be something else, Copper, Stone...etc.

Is there something else special about wood, that may have been the underlying reason for this woody-weakness? Are other fictional devices likewise hindered?

  • 1
    The cause of the GL's weakness to wood that you quote is a retcon; the original GL couldn't defend against wood but as the Guardians of Oa hadn't been invented yet it was more of a general naturey thing.
    – BESW
    May 8, 2013 at 11:57

6 Answers 6


Wood is traditionally associated with power and protection

Specific trees, and wood in general, have been associated with many superstitions. The idea of "knocking on wood" is common to many cultures, and trees like the oak and rowan are traditionally associated with good, protection, and purification. Mistletoe, a tree-growing parasite, is associated with any number of traditions. In European contexts, the power of wood is often associated with the wooden cross on which Christ was crucified; this may be why vampires (in their role as the soulless or damned servants of Satan) are so easily dispatched by wooden stakes.

In a comment, Bakuriu pointed out that

Also in latin the word for strength, vis, in its declension has some missing cases. These cases are replaced with the correspondent cases of the word robur (which means oak).

With all this in mind, it makes sense that "the protection of wood" might be a common go-to trope device for modern writers. There's no single answer here, just a common folkloric trope that wood is protective, purifying, and powerful. In both of the cases you cite, it's a handy common material for the writers to use to place artificial obstacles in the way of a hero's power that has gotten too powerful for the plot to handle gracefully. (The sonic screwdriver didn't get its allergy to wood until the 2008 episode Silence in the Library, after New Who turned it into a magic wand.)

It's also useful to note that until relatively recently, wood was a truly ubiquitous material. Its role in daily life has now been largely replaced by plastics and other synthetics (the common folks' suspicion of which is why so many plastics have fake wood patterning, and provided the impetus for the creation of the Doctor Who villain the Autons), but at the time of Alan Scott it would have actually been a crippling hole in his abilities.

  • 2
    Also in latin the word for strength, vis, in its declension has some missing cases. These cases are replaced with the correspondent cases of the word robur(which means oak). Hence the "power of wood" in European contexts dates before Christ, although Christians probably changed the association during the centuries.
    – Bakuriu
    May 8, 2013 at 17:00

tl;dr: Because wood is cheap and common, making it easy to introduce plot tension for otherwise overpowered characters.

Beyond that, wood is generally viewed as part of the Earth, a "force of nature" and representative of life, natural order, balance, etc. It invokes images of huge forests standing for thousands of years against opposing forces.

Or, depending on the tone of the work, it's such a seemingly silly weakness that it makes good comic relief.

First of all, since you're asking about very different science fiction universes, you are asking a fundamentally out-of-universe question, so the only real answer is going to be practical, and probably not very satisfying.

As mentioned in the answer you already cited, any time you have an overpowered character, you run the risk that the audience will lose any sense of drama or tension over that character's ability to get out of trouble. You need to introduce some weakness to keep things even. But you need to be careful what you select if you want it to be effective.

For any plot element to make a legitimate weakness, it needs to be something that your hero is reasonably likely to encounter, and that writers can introduce without jumping through a lot of hoops. (Contrast with, for example, Superman's weakness, and the amount of justification and effort it takes to explain why there's so much kryptonite on Earth.) You'll want to pick something that is easy enough to bring into the story, but not so common that your hero is constantly hamstring. This is why, for example, "air" or "water" or even "stone" might be a bad idea. Materials like wood strike a nice balance of being common while not being ubiquitous.

Besides just being one of the common materials you could pick, there are some specific reasons why wood seems to make a good foil. For starters, it's "all natural", so there is a sense of poetic justice that this super-advanced high-tech screwdriver can handle anything artificial we throw at it, but can't deal with a stick. Plus, in the Doctor Who case, it's just funny. (e.g. when the Doctor meets the creatures made of wood in the Christmas special and says something like "I knew this day would come.")

Wood is also something we are all familiar with; we understand where it comes from, how it works, what it does. It's simple, straightforward, and easy for even the most primitive society to work with. The idea that something so simple and basic can be a foil against impossibly powerful opposing weapons gives a sense of balance, that the "common man" isn't completely helpless in the face of these awesome forces. The ret-con justification for the Lantern ring's weakness formalizes this idea in-universe: the Guardians picked wood because it was the only source of weaponry available to primitive mankind, thus giving them a means to fight back against rogue Lanterns.

  • There's some good stuff in here about the nature of wood as an inherently familiar thing and thematically anti-science; these are directly answering the OP's meta-level question about why wood is apparently a common choice for weaknesses. If you could remove the bits that are basically restating this answer (which the OP cites in his question), then your answer to this question will have a better chance to shine through.
    – BESW
    May 8, 2013 at 21:54
  • good point; i didn't actually read the cited answer before writing mine but I'll take out the parts that are just rehashed.
    – KutuluMike
    May 8, 2013 at 23:11

I am going to disagree with the basic premise that wood is any more protective or more often used in any particular works as a protection, defense or limitation in science fiction or fantasy works. Mythology may be the only place where wood is seen to offer more defensive properties and that is basically due to the fundamental and cultural ideas around the natural world. This varies from culture to culture as well. In some, wood or plant matter was able to break boundaries. Mistletoe was the only thing which could harm the invulnerable Norse god, Balder.

  • Works which have their basis in magic or mythology use wood as a protective element because many mythologies base their magic around wood as an mystical element. Asian cultures use Earth, Air, Fire, Metal and Wood as their elemental basis. Since Alan Scott, Golden Age Green Lantern stories are based in this mythology (the lantern was a Chinese one, and crafted by a Chinese metal-smith, it makes perfectly good mythological sense to use wood/plant matter as an antithesis to the power of the Green Flame (as the Green Lantern power was called in those days).

  • In the Silver Age of comics when science was more prevalent, few heroes possessed weaknesses which used mythological references. Heroes were vulnerable to exotic radiations (Kryptonite), alien energies (red sun radiation) or ultra-specific flaws (lack of water (Prince Namor), powers last only for an hour(Hourman)) as weaknesses or creative writing foils. Science had replaced magic and heroes were expected to deal with the modern world rather than the mystical one. Mistletoe gave way to Kryptonite for being able to fell the invulnerable hero (Balder/Superman).

  • In my forty years of science fiction and fantasy reading which includes comics, manga, anime, and American cartoons, I don't find wood a more prevalent weakness than any other types mentioned in this range of fiction. As a matter of fact, reading the fiction, I am surprised at how many different kinds of vulnerabilities have managed to make their way into stories.

    • Golden Age Green Lantern, vulnerable to wood or significant amounts of plant matter
    • Silver Age Green Lantern, vulnerable to yellow painted objects or golden materials
    • Superman, vulnerable to a metallic alloy, Kryptonite
    • Hourman, had incredible superpowers but only for one hour
    • Homunculi, Full Metal Alchemist, vulnerable to materials from their once living bodies
    • Pride, Full Metal Alchemist, a shadow being, vulnerable to complete shadow or ultrabright light
    • Zentradi of Macross, weakened by music
    • Shinigami, Death Note, if they extend the life of a person rather than shortening it, they die instantly.
    • Inuyasha, on the night of the new moon, he has no demonic powers and can be killed like a human.
    • Goku, superhuman powers are canceled out completely if you manage to grab his tail.
    • Makoto Shishio from Rurouni Kenshin is a super-swordsman, but if he fights for 15 minutes he can overheat and die.
    • Aizen, from the Bleach anime, god-like former member of the 13 Court Guard Squads whose powers made him the equal of a dozen of his former enemies could be defeated if you grabbed his sword-blade in combat, which rendered his power of perfect illusion inert.
    • Riddick, formidable alien hand to hand combatant, vulnerable to extremely bright light due to his sensitive eyes, wore goggles to protect them.
    • Juggernaut of Marvel Comics fame was all but unstoppable, but was vulnerable to telepathic attack.
    • The alien symbiotes which once made Spiderman his most famous black costume and now comprises half a dozen less savory characters (Venom and Carnage to name two) are vulnerable to intense sonic vibrations.
    • The mighty Thanos of Marvel Comics fame, was vulnerable to self-doubt and defeatism; no matter how powerful he was, he never felt he deserved to win, so would sow the seeds of his defeat without realizing it.
    • The sonic screwdriver doesn't affect objects made of or comprised primarily of wood.

While I like the answers which promote wood having magical or defensive qualities, the answer tends to be more simple. Writers create weaknesses for characters to create challenges, engender diverse settings and to offset the power creep common to science fiction and fantasy genres. When your characters can travel through time and space, lift battleships, walk through walls, the normal challenges able to be used by writers to hinder, challenge normal characters simply won't do in the SF and fantasy realms. Weaknesses become a necessity when characters become larger than life.


Well, trees are made from a complex chemical compound. But wood is also made of dead trees. Trees are a plants, so wood is a material made form the corpse of a living organism. From that point, you could say it's living past give it some magical proprieties, or that the soul of the tree make the difference, or any other meta-physic excuse to confer it a special resistance.

Metals and others mineral have a simpler origin. They are made from melted elements, sometime with a chemical reaction.

An other material that have similar origin than wood is ivory, which is made from tusks and teeth of animals. I don't know how the Doctor's Sonic Screw Driver or a Green Lantern would react when confronted to it.

  • 1
    Trees were at some point alive, while iron was smelted with science.. This reminds me of how iron is sometimes said to protect against magic (particularly against fairies), so these technologies being weak against wood are like a parallel: science (fiction) vs fantasy
    – Izkata
    May 9, 2013 at 11:07

I believe that the in-universe explanation for the Sonic Screwdriver not being able to do anything to wood is that it can only affect mechanical/electronic systems. That being true has something to do with the nature of the Sonic waves that it uses and them not being able to affect biological/organic systems as well as what I said above. I'm pretty sure the 11th Doctor said something about it, but I can remember where. I don't know about the Green Lantern ring, though. My family is very anti DC comics.

  • The Twelfth Doctor explained in Series 8's "Forest of the Night": Wood doesn't have circuits. Wood is not electronic. That's why the Sonic doesn't do wood.
    – tilley31
    Nov 21, 2014 at 17:37

In addition I'd like to add that wood is a known Electrical Insulator.

Large power transformer windings are still mostly insulated with paper, wood, varnish, and mineral oil; although these materials have been used for more than 100 years, they still provide a good balance of economy and adequate performance¹.

Green Lantern's ring appears to have some electrical properties

Energy Absorption: The ring can absorb and store most other energies. Doing so does NOT replenish the normal store of energy the ring has. A ring that needs recharging but contained a store of electricity could only discharge that electricity, for example. In an episode of Static Shock, John Stewart was able to defeat Sinestro via merging the remainder of his Oan energy and discharging it simultaneously with electrical energy supplied continuously by Static².

It is reasonable to suppose that this property (perhaps subconsciously?) played a part in attributing immunity to wood.

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