Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen


Gary Paulsen introduces his book, Hatchet, saying: “Hatchet came from the darkest part of my childhood. I don’t think I ever realized that before. But now, as we celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the book’s publication, it is what I see the most clearly. The three most important parts of my life are reading, the woods, and writing and they came together in Hatchet”.

Brian Robeson was a 13-year-old city boy when he spends two months alone in the Canadian wilderness. He was on the way to spend time with his father in a Cessna 406 as the only passenger. The pilot did show him how to steer but then had a heart attack and died.  Brian spends hours steering the plane and trying to determine what to do.  He eventually crashes, and the plane sinks into a lake in a remote forested area. His mother had given him a hatchet before he left, and he had attached it to his belt. It was the only thing he had other than the clothes on his back after the crash.

It is a survival story where he builds a shelter and learns, through trial and error, how to find food, build a fire, and much more. His way of looking at what is around him and how to face the challenges, by learning from his mistakes, are the big lessons that the story teaches. 

The plane had crashed through the forest and sunk into the lake but almost two months later, after a tornado hit it the lake, the plane surfaced with its tail sticking out of the water. He has mixed feelings when it happened.  He knew he needed to get into the plane and find a survival pack, but he also knew that somehow this would change who he had become. It would help, but that very help would reduce his reliance on what he had learned from the environment.  He recovers the survival kit from the plane and faces much more than he expected in the plane.  The survival kit contains a "Emergency Transmitter” which appears to not work but even, so it is switched on.  Even before he can prepare a meal from the freeze-dried banquet, a plane who has heard the transmitter lands on the lake to rescue him.

The experience taught him many lessons. Waiting, thinking and doing things right was a critical lesson as was knowing that feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t help.  

His rescue came 54 days after the plane had gone down.

Quotes about Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen

“the most important rule of survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn’t work.” 

“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.” 

“Not hope that he would be rescued--that was gone. But hope in his knowledge. Hope in the fact that he could learn and survive and take care of himself. Tough hope, he thought that night. I am full of though hope.” 

By Gary Paulsen