Sunday, November 27, 2011



by Gary Paulsen

Gary Paulsen's Hatchet is a much-read, much-recommended Newbery honor book from 1988. It has sequels about Brian's further adventures, also much-read by many, many boys. So many readers have been fascinated with the survival adventures and the hardships that Brian goes through as he struggles his way out of the wilderness that Paulsen has had, over the years, stacks of letters asking him about various aspects of the book. Has he ever tried to start a fire the way Brian did? Do moose really attack people? Can a plane really crashland the way Brian's did and leave a survivor? Finally, he decided to write about some of his own experiences and how they came to form the ones Brian has in Hatchet.

This book is incredible, in that it is full of crazy experiences that are all drawn from Paulsen's real life. The man has seen a lot. A lot of death - by sharks, deer, or freezing alive. A lot of wilderness, where he hunted, camped, and learned some of the secrets of the forest and the animals, and how to use those to survive out there. A lot of brutal cold, on two Iditarod races. And a lot of hunting, which he talks about in great detail, talking about the differences between hunting with guns versus bows, and how he came to make his own bow and arrows as a young man. It's stuff from another time and place, except that some of it is not in fact that far removed by time or geography, but rather style of living.

The most interesting thing about it all, really, is maybe that Paulsen isn't being sensational about any of it. The deaths and hunting are not relished, he is factual, and shows plainly that he has enormous respect for the animals he hunts for food and for the forces of nature. His lifetime of experiences have been well-selected and boiled down to create Hatchet, and as he walks us through these times in his life and relates them back to the book, I found myself completely amazed at the varied, tough, and extremely full life he's led. Very much a worthwhile read for anyone who enjoyed Hatchet or more classic stories like those of Jack London.

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