Author: Gary Paulsen
Series: Brian Saga, Book 1
Start & Finished: 4/3/09
Published: September 30, 1987
Publisher: Bradbury Press
Pages: 195 (paperback)
Genre: Juvenile Fiction- Wilderness Survival
You can’t help but make comparisons between Hatchet and My Side of the Mountain. The themes of surviving in the wilderness are remarkably similar but where Sam actually ran away to the woods to live, Brian definitely didn’t want to be there and is quite the city boy. Jean Craighead-George’s main character actually knew what he was getting himself into and was somewhat prepared while Mr. Gary Paulsen’s young hero nearly didn’t survive several times. Honestly they have little in common at all besides being set in the wilderness and both being Newbery Honors but of the two I believe I enjoyed Sam’s story more.
That’s not to say that Hatchet wasn’t a terribly wonderful story because it is, and it even has a gritty “real-life” feeling that the other doesn’t have. The main reason for that is the author researched the book in a unique way: he lived it. He said, “I have been in forced landings in light planes and had to survive in the woods with little or nothing; virtually everything that happens to Brian in the book has happened in one form or another to me, just in the process of living.” Of course not everything happened to him in real life and for “pure research” he actually ate a fresh water turtle egg and his reaction is about the same as Brian’s initial reaction. According to Paulsen, “it tasted something like old motor oil or tired Vaseline.”
Hatchet was published only a year after I was born but it was still popular once I was in school which is where I first read it. The entire class enjoyed it so much that the teacher read us Brian’s Winter which is about what would have happened to Brian if the ending of Hatchet had been a bit different. That particular story is not usually considered part of the official Brian Robeson saga though (which is in order below), however it is the only other book by this author I’ve ever read. Hatchet was also made into a TV movie A Call in the Wild in 1990. One thing that I found interesting though was how much of a better person Brian was after being stranded in the woods…
The River (aka Hatchet: The Return or The Return) (1991)
Brian's Winter (aka Hatchet: Winter) (1996)
Brian's Return (aka Hatchet: The Call) (1999)
Brian's Hunt (2003)
First Paragraph: Brian Robeson stared out the window of the small plane at the endless green northern wilderness below. It was a small plane, a Cessna 406-- a bushplane-- and the engine was so loud, so roaring and consuming and loud, that it ruined any chance for conversation.
Three-time Newbery Honor author Gary Paulsen writes of Hatchet:
What makes Hatchet stand out for me was the research I did- or rather lived- for the book. I have been in forced landings in light planes and had to survive in the woods with little or nothing; virtually everything that happens to Brian in the book has happened in one form or another to me, just in the process of living.
But there are two things that I made myself sit down and do as pure research. First, I ate a raw turtle egg. I was sitting on my porch by a small lake and I saw a snapping turtle come out of the water and lay her clutch of eggs, so I knew they were fresh. I also knew that the skunks would get the eggs that night. So I decided to try it. It was not the high point of my eating life. I cut the end off, held it up to my mouth without looking, and slurped it down. Or tried to. It got hung up about halfway down my throat and I had to work really, really hard to get it all the way down. It tasted something like old motor oil or tired Vaseline.
I also made a fire with a rock and a hatchet. It took me close to four hours, sitting in the backyard slamming at a rock until- finally- I got sparks to fall into the fluff bed I had made (as Brian made) and got a fire going. My wife came out and looked down at my small fire.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I made a fire,” I said proudly. “With a hatchet.”
She looked at the fire, at me, nodded, and went back in the house without saying anything, but it’s been some time since and she still looks at me strangely now and then and nods and smiles….
Hatchet: The thing that helps Brian survive.
Turtle Egg: According to Brian, not particularly yummy
Moose: Avoid at all costs!