I went back to my young adulthood this week as I read an old favorite, the book “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen, and was able to check that off of my Book Bingo list. I haven’t read this book in twelve or thirteen years so I was worried about it losing its luster upon my revisit. I’m happy to say that it didn’t, and for anyone looking for a survival book with a determined protagonist alone in the woods resting on their own volition, I would recommend this short novel.
Paulsen’s use of foreshadowing in this book makes the narrative really easy to understand. In the first few chapters the brief dialogue, in a way, summarizes all of the thematic elements of the story (survival, independence, instruction, parental secrets). Essentially, the main character Brian, at the age of fourteen I believe, crashes into the Canadian Wilderness after the bush plane he is riding goes down, due to the pilot having a heart attack. From there the plot is easy to foresee. Brian must survive in a land he is completely unaccustomed to. Through animal attacks, mosquito attacks, hunger attacks, and attacks of his own mortality, Brian manages to survive. Not only does Brian survive he manages to learn the comfort he gets in resting on his own laurels. So in a way near the end Brian does not want to leave the forest. Paulsen does this to show the attractiveness of simple, primitive living and to set up a sequel to Hatchet. While in the wilderness Brian learns to “do” rather than contemplate every single thing that is out of his control. I think this is an important message to send in a young adult novel. In order to survive, sometimes you just have to “do” and rely on your own intelligence and intuition to make it out. The novel has allegorical tones in this respect in relation to human survival and sense making. By Brian falling into action, rather than continually self grief and contemplation, he is able to form a more wholesome philosophy of life, and is able to train his mind and body in order to handle anything. This novel is all about action and trial and error in the wild, with the occasional flashback to a distant world.