Study Guide

The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge

By Michael Punke

The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge Introduction

Move over Chuck Norris, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and dude from the Dos Equis commercials—your stay as America's most beloved alpha males is officially over. Sure, you may have served your time battling Bruce Lee, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and the monotony of flavorless adult beverages, but you have nothing on the toughest man in the West: Hugh Glass himself.

Glass is a true OG. Born in the late 1700s, he made a name for himself as an explorer and trapper on the great American frontier, though many seemingly mythical accounts of his life credit him as a part-time pirate and Pawnee as well. Despite this prodigious résumé, Glass is best known for one important event in his life: his quest for revenge.

While on a trapping expedition in 1823, Glass is brutally attacked by a bear. Ouch. He manages to take the bear mama down, but not before she tears him to veritable shreds, leaving him as close to dead as you can possibly get. Two men in the company are left to care for him, but he Glass looks like he was nearing the end of his rope, they takes his supplies and prized rifle, turn tail, and skedaddle.

But Glass doesn't die.

In fact, he totally starts off on his hands and knees, crawling across hundreds of miles of wilderness, battling wild animals, and evading ambushes from hostile Native American forces. It's insane stuff. By the end of it, we think Glass has earned the nickname "Double-Cat"—dude has had, like, eighteen lives.

Although this true story has been told many times over the years, The Revenant perfectly captures it for modern audiences. Author Michael Punke has written several other historical novels, but he's perhaps best known as an American ambassador to the World Trade Organization. Unfortunately, this high-ranking political position means that Punke isn't authorized to speak to the press about his book, so we have no insight into his perspective. (Seriously, we're not joking about this one.)

While The Revenant might hook you with its action-packed plot (and swoon-inducing images of Leo gallivanting around the frontier), it will leave you with some real insight into American history. From the complex interrelationships between the frontier's various communities, to the ever-encroaching reach of Big Business, The Revenant highlights many issues that are still relevant today.

We don't always read novels about bear attacks, but when we do, we make it The Revenant.

What is The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge About and Why Should I Care?

Even if you never plan on throwing hands (and claws) with our mighty ursine friends, you can learn a thing or two from Hugh Glass's ordeal. That's because, like Glass, we're all drawn to our own personal frontiers.

Okay, honestly, we're probably nowhere near tough enough to compare ourselves to Glass—even metaphorically. Most of the time we're like Jim Bridger, with big dreams but not enough confidence to pursue them. Sometimes we're like Captain Henry, so burdened by our past that we lose sight of the present. And we'd even say that we're like Fitzgerald at other times, too, but...well...that's a frightening thought.

The point is that each of these men came to the frontier for a reason. Some came to leave their marks on history. Others came to explore the wild unknown. Still others came to become rich men. While their individual motives vary, the common thread is that the frontier is the only place where they can become the people they were always meant to be.

That's something we can all relate to. Maybe your frontier is college or graduate school. Maybe it's a concert hall or theater. Maybe it's a firehouse or a restaurant or a punk rock club. Regardless, The Revenant shows us how fear can prevent us from reaching our full potential, and how the only way to resist this urge is to show courage, compassion, and determination in the face of overwhelming odds.

The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge Resources


The Unforgettable Man: Hugh Glass
Just look at that page title. There's no way you aren't dying to click that.

Discovering Lewis and Clark
Although they don't appear directly, Lewis and Clark hang heavy over The Revenant. Why not learn a little more about America's first dynamic duo?

Movie or TV Productions

The Revenant (2015)
This thing's got Leo, baby–'nough said.

Trailer Time
Now that's an intense trailer if we've ever seen one—makes us want to stay indoors forever.

Articles and Interviews

Michael Punke Can't Talk About His Book
Due to his work with the U.S. State Department, Punke can't actually talk about The Revenant (even the movie version); this article from Maxim is the closest that we can get.

Arikara Man Was Technical Advisor for The Revenant
After being cast as an extra in the film adaptation of The Revenant, an Arikara man named Yellow Bird was hired to be an advisor to the film. Check out his story.

The Revenant as Told in 1939
This piece examines a 1939 account of Hugh Glass's bear battle and uses it to understand our continuing fascination with this tale of revenge.


1830s Beaver Trapping
Want to see a modern guy pretend that he's a beaver trapper from the 1800s? As usual, you can find anything on YouTube.

Arikara Word Song
We'd definitely buy this album.


The True Story Behind The Revenant
In this interview with WKMS, historian Ted Belue digs deeper into The Revenant's historical context.

Composing the American Frontier
This fascinating radio piece examines our modern view of the frontier through the lens of music.


Arikara Warrior
This drawing was made in the 1840s by an explorer named Karl Bodmer.

A Bullboat
In case you're having trouble visualizing what a bullboat actually looks like, we've got you covered.