Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Hatchet - Gary Paulsen

“When he sat alone in the darkness and cried and was done, all done with it, nothing had changed. His leg still hurt, it was still dark, he was still alone and the self-pity had accomplished nothing.”

My first encounter with this book was in grade five when it was read to our class. At the time I found it rather long, boring and too descriptive. This summer though, I happened upon a free copy and decided to see if I still felt the same way. I loved revisiting this story, especially since I had forgotten so much that had happened.

I don’t know why I love survival stories. Perhaps it’s because it allows for man to be stripped down to his base instincts, to do without. I’m always fascinated by what people can do with less. And there’s always the ever dependable basic conflict of man versus nature and the more interesting, man versus himself. In ”Hatchet”, Brian Robeson, a thirteen year old travelling by bush plane to visit his father, survives a plane crash, leaving him alone in a forest. Faced with starvation and threats from weather and wild animals, Brian must look inward and find the strength to survive and escape the forest.

“You are your most valuable asset. Don’t forget that. You are the best thing you have.”

As a child listening to the story, I couldn’t fully comprehend what it would be like to face survival in the forest alone but as an adult Brian’s situation seems far more tenuous. He has limited supplies and more importantly, limited knowledge about wilderness survival. His most important ally though is his hatchet, a gift from his mother before his flight. The hatchet plays a key role in Brian’s survival and helps supply everything from a shelter to a fire to food prep, satisfying the most basic of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I’ve often wondered if I would be able to survive in the wilderness, alone and with no access to civilization. As a child I was enrolled in Junior Forest Wardens which is basically a Canadian version of Scouts and while we received wilderness training that was many years ago and only basic training at that. What Brian accomplishes is far more impressive. Not only does he manage to keep a level head he makes good use of his time and faces challenges with an open mind. Not only is Brian confronted with the self-doubt of rescue, he also literally faces death in the guise of the dead pilot still trapped in the plane. He is a physical obstacle in the way of precious supplies and the tracking beacon but is also a psychological a fear Brian must confront if he wishes to escape.

Approaching this as an adult of course I have a different view of the story. I appreciated how Paulsen didn’t shy away from the possibly scarier and more gruesome aspects of a plane crash. It didn’t treat its audience like a child, instead, allowing the reader to experience a full range of emotions when it came to Brian’s situation. As well, I liked that nature’s indifference is on full display here. People are used to being surrounded and comforted by fellow human beings/society/cities. In the forest there are no safety nets; if you fail you die.

“Patience, he thought. So much of this was patience - waiting, and thinking and doing things right. So much of all this, so much of all living was patience and thinking.”

If you like survival stories then this is one you might want to look at. Written for young adults, I enjoyed revisiting this book and would recommend this book as a library loan.

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