by Gary Paulsen
Where It All Goes Down
The North Woods of Canada
We don't know exactly where the story of Hatchet takes place because Brian is very, very lost. Here's what we do know:
- Brian's plane comes down somewhere in the North Woods, a vast area that covers much of central Canada.
- The airport he flies out of is in Hampton, New York, and he's headed for the oilfields of northern Canada where his father is working.
- Since the plane goes off course when the pilot bumps the steering wheel, it ends up going northwest instead of due north, stranding Brian far away from where he was expecting to end up.
We're guessing he's somewhere around here.
Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw
Brian's exact location, of course, isn't as important as knowing that he's, well, totally alone in a vast wilderness, miles and miles from where the rescuers may be searching for him. Oh, and that he's more or less at the mercy of any strange animal that may happen to come by.
So yeah, let's just say, he's not in the best place he could be.
The North Woods of Canada are home to a huge number of animal species, including wolves, deer, black bears, otters, skunks, and many more. And Brian has his fair share of encounters with these little buggers during his stay in the woods.
At times, the natural setting seems really threatening and scary—we're talking Forbidden Forest level here—and it seems like every creature in it wants nothing more than to serve Brian up as some kind of human sacrifice. The porcupine stabs him with its quills, the skunk sprays him in the face, and the moose—don't even get us started on the moose.
At first, Brian is terrified by this angry, dangerous world around him:
He looked around suddenly, felt the hair on the back of his neck go up. Things might be looking at him right now, waiting for him—waiting for dark so they could move in and take him. (5.71)
This passage pretty much sums up how Brian sees nature in the first half of the book. Anything could be out there. Sure nature's pretty and all, but underneath all that, the woods are just full of dangerous, scary, unknown and unknowable creatures, all of them thirsting for Brian's blood.
Mother Nature, Human Nature
As the story progresses, though, Brian's view of nature does a complete 180. As he spends more time in the woods and gets to know the animals and the environment better, he comes—slowly but surely—to see them as not so different from himself.
Especially after his failure to signal the rescue plane, Brian seems to see his place in the woods in a whole new way. Once he stops thinking of himself as just a visitor, someone who can dip in and dip out quickly, how he feels about the animals and the world around him changes. His new attitude is neatly summed up in his encounter with the wolf:
Brian looked back and for a moment felt afraid because the wolf was so … so right. He knew Brian, knew him and owned him and chose not to do anything to him. But the fear moved then, moved away, and Brian knew the wolf for what it was—another part of the woods, another part of all of it. Brian relaxed the tension on the spear in his hand, settled the bow in his other hand from where it had started to come up. He knew the wolf now, as the wolf knew him, and he nodded to it, nodded and smiled. (13.8)
Wow. This is so totally different from the way Brian reacts to the bear earlier in the book, isn't it? It's not that the wolf is any less frightening or powerful than the bear, it's just that Brian is able to see the wolf as "another part of the woods, another part of all of it." Which is just what Brian is, too. His nature, he realizes, is not all that different from the wolf's—or the bear's, or the porcupine's. Both Brian and the wolf are just doing what they need to do to get through to the next day.
Which way of looking at nature do you think our modern way of life encourages—nature as a dangerous, hungry battleground where man has no place, or nature as a harmonious but competitive kingdom where we fit in just fine? Which way do you think Paulsen thinks is right?
One more thing about the setting: it's lucky for Brian that his time in the woods coincides with the season of late summer/early fall, when food is plentiful and the temperatures aren't too extreme. If you want to know what might have happened if Brian had been lost in the woods at a different time of year, check out Brian's Winter, a sequel Paulsen wrote in response to his readers' questions about that very issue. This guy leaves nothing unanswered, that's for sure.