Saturday, December 20, 2014

Brian's Saga, continued: Winter, River, and Return

Brian's Winter /  The River / Brian's Return
© Gary Paulsen 1996, 1991, 1999

            Hatchet told the story of a young teenager named Brian who survived a crash landing in the middle of the Canadian wilderness.  Forced by the pressing urge to avoid death to become student of the landscape and a tinkerer, Brian discovered and invented ways to provide food and shelter for himself for over two months in the wild. The story ended when he triggered an emergency transmitter, and for some readers this felt like a bit of a cheat. What would have happened had Brian not stumbled upon the transmitter in the plane wreckage?  Brian’s Winter is an ‘alternate’ history that picks up after his dive into the lake to rummage through the plane, and sees him continue to mature as a woodsman, as he must to survive the Canadian winter. As with Hatchet, Paulsen takes readers through Brian’s thinking as ideas come to him, and as he struggles to turn them into fact. The River is the first sequel to Hatchet, and begins with a trio of men from the government asking Brian to return to the wilderness, this time with a psychologist in tow. They want to understand the mindset that makes survival possible -- how can it be taught, ahead of time?  Their mission goes the way of most well-thought plans: within days, the psychologist is in a coma, and Brian must construct a raft and get his deadweight companion back to some semblance of civilization before he dies.  Brian's Return is a sequel to both of these,  and depicts Brian's inability to cope within the zoo that is domesticity after having sucking all of the marrow out of life for months in the wilderness.  After realizing the woods are in his bones, he decides to return -- and there the novel ends.

     Although these three books don't complete Brian's saga (there is a fifth novel, Brian's Hunt), I bundled them together here because the last two are so minor. Brian's Winter is  almost as fascinating as the original novel, forcing Brian to adapt to completely new circumstances.  The larger animals that ignored Brian in Hatchet, like bears,  become far more interested in him as summer gives way to fall and they must prepare for hibernation. In addition to having to learn new skills -- weatherproofing his shelter,  creating winter clothing out of rabbit skins, fabricating snowshoes --  Brian takes on larger challenges, like hunting moose and deer. He does this not for sport, but out of necessity:  the Canadian winter storms are so savage that he is safer taking the occasional big kill than risking exposure every day looking for rabbits and grouse.  In River and Return,  river navigation gets some attention but wilderness survival plays second fiddle to the book's respective little plots.  Far more interesting than the plot of Brian's Return, I thought, was the author's note that almost everything that happens to Brian within the novels in the wild happened to him during his twelve years of living in the wilderness, including deer jumping into his canoe and skunks rescuing him from bears.  Brian's Winter  is a strong sequel to the fascinating Hatchet, but the other two seem more like extras than anything else.


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