May 29, 2013 by drandmrso
Raise your hand if you had to read this book in grade school:
I am raising my hand. I read it somewhere between 4th and 7th grade I think, though it’s hard to recall exactly. But it was the first book that came to mind when I decided to tackle thing #79 on my list of 101 Things to do in 1001 Days; namely, re-read a book that I haven’t read in 15 years.
Before I started reading, I wrote down what I thought I remembered of the plot. Here are my ramblings.
“The Hatchet.” A teenage boy is in a plane crash in northern Minnesota. There were a couple other people on the plane but they die in the crash, which occurs near a lake. He has a hatchet (duh) and using only that single tool the boy survives until someone finally finds him six months later. At some point he has to dive into the lake to find something and he sees a body. There’s also a river by the lake and that’s how he gets rescued. Book has a cool watercolor-y cover. Fairly long.
Turns out almost all of this is wrong. But first things first: the book is actually called “Hatchet,” not “The Hatchet.” I suspected they must have changed the title at some point because I swear it had the article when I first read it, but Dr. O saw it on the table and didn’t hesitate over the name, so I’m probably misremembering. Secondly, what I recalled as a really distinctive and artistic cover turned into this piece of mass-market garbage:
It screams “angsty teen novel plus fearsome weapons and also plus wolf.” Fun fact: there is literally one sighting of a wolf in the novel and it is most certainly not howling at the moon.
Spoiler alert! I’m going to do an old-school book report now and lay out the plot, ending and all. Scroll down to the paragraph after the asterisks if you’re looking to keep the plot a mystery.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Once I moved past the title and the cover and started diving into the story, all sorts of little details reemerged. Turns out the boy—who was actually only 13; in my memory he was older and more mature and capable of surviving in the wilderness—was named Brian and his plane had only one other person on board (the pilot). The pilot was flying Brian from New York to Canada somewhere to visit his dad who had recently separated from his mom (the divorce plays a major role in the kid’s internal monologue yet I managed to remember absolutely zero about it). And not only does the plane crash: the pilot has a heart attack and dies right in front of Brian! Brian continues to fly the plane for several hours until it runs out of gas, and then he crash lands it himself into the lake. He somehow couldn’t get a solid radio signal that whole time. Obviously, he is not in northern Minnesota.
There are a number of animal run-ins that happen throughout the novel that I’m frankly surprised I didn’t remember. He gets spined by a porcupine, sprayed by a skunk, eats snapping turtle eggs, eyed down by a bear, absolutely massacred by swarms of mosquitoes, and attacked by a moose. He also sees a wolf pack from across the lake.
I was correct in my assumption that he only has his hatchet; he uses it to make a fire, construct a shelter, create a spear so he can catch and eat fish and birds. But for a kid that had supposedly previously lived only in New York City he knew an awful lot about how to start fires without matches and such. At one point he is able to put together a rifle merely because he has seen rifles on television. Needless to say, the survival aspect was a bit hinky.
The believability is especially lacking when he withstands a tornado that tears directly over his little rock cave shelter. The tornado is a blessing in disguise, however; it shifts the underwater plane so its tail sticks up out of the lake and Brian remembers the survival pack that must still be inside it. He also remembers the pilot who went down with the plane, strapped into his seat, and realizes he’ll probably have to see the corpse. He musters up the strength to build a raft (without any rope) and swim out to the plane—all while healing from what I diagnosed as several broken ribs from the crazy moose attack. He dives down to the plane and sees what remains of the pilot and promptly vomits underwater. Not surprising that this aspect of the story stuck with me. Then Brian successfully retrieves the survival kit from inside the plane, triggers the emergency transponder accidentally, and gets rescued that very night. In total he spent 54 days in the woods; much less time than I had previously thought.
The memory of “The Hatchet” was, for me, quite different from the real “Hatchet.” I wonder when, exactly, the plot points started fading and being replaced with tidbits of other books and movies (like the river thing…still don’t know where that came from). What other books do I think I remember? And does it actually matter if I really don’t remember them faithfully?
I’m starting to think I liked the version in my head better: Brian was a hero in my head, not a just whiny kid that is more lucky than anything else. What book from your childhood would you re-read—or would you?