About the Book

Book Protagonist: Brian Robeson
Publication Date: 1986
Genre: Action and Adventure, Coming of Age, Teen and Young Adult

Historical Context


By Gary Paulsen

‘Hatchet’ is a well-crafted adventure story, and there is nothing as timeless as a well-crafted adventure story.

Hatchet,’ published in 1986 by MacMillan, is arguably Gary Paulsen’s most popular book. Hatchet‘ takes imagination to the next level, telling the story of a thirteen-year-old boy, Brian Robeson, and his life before, in, and after the wilderness. Brian experiences a myriad of things that would go on to change him forever.


Hatchet‘ is amongst the best coming-of-age stories ever written. Brian grows before our eyes, and he toughens up. Brian enters that wilderness as a boy who could barely handle his bicycle but leaves as someone who has rid himself of the emotion called fear. In the wilderness, he loses the less useful senses, and develops the important ones: a sense of gratitude; he becomes more appreciative and more thoughtful. He could never see food the same way again. No longer in the wilderness, he would sometimes stop to stare at food, amazed at the quantity. Time and age pass through Brian in the 54 days he spends in the wilderness and changes him forever.

Similarities with Gary Paulsen

Gary Paulsen has his own history. In his autobiography, Gary Paulsen exposes some things about himself. He recalls his mother having an affair with a corpsman they met aboard a plane, how he mostly winged it himself (worked in between jobs), and how at the age of 14, he ran away from home. This fully awakened the sense of adventure lying docile in him prior. Are you noticing the trail here? Brian Robeson, the main character in ‘Hatchet,’ is from a broken home.

The visit he was about to pay his father before the plane crashes wouldn’t have been initiated if his parents had been together. We also see how he is bothered by his mother’s affair with the blond guy, how he would sometimes be imagining what his mother was doing at a particular time- if she’d be with him, and how she always went to see him on Thursdays. The similarities are there, and it is clear that Gary Paulsen tapped from his wealth of experiences while crafting ‘Hatchet.’


Inspired partly by Gary Paulsen’s experiences, the story of ‘Hatchet is one of the many series of a bigger story. A story titled: ‘A Hatchet Adventure Series’. The series comprises ‘Hatchet’ (1986), ‘The River’ (1991), ‘Brian’s Winter’ (1996), ‘Brian’s Return’ (1999), and ‘Brian’s Hunt’ (2003), in that order.

Film Adaptation

Many remarkable books have had movies made of them. ‘Hatchet’ is one of those books. One notable movie adaptation of ‘Hatchet’ is A Cry in the Wild. It is an adventure/drama released in 1990. With a duration of 1 hour 33 minutes, A Cry in the Wild tells the story of Jared Rushton, a boy who crash-lands in Canada bear country, and with a hatchet, a gift from his mother, he survives.

The movie was directed by Mark Griffiths. Gregg Heschong and Carol Oblath handled the cinematography and editing, respectively. It is distributed by MGM Home Entertainment, New Concorde. It is part of a series named White Wolves. So far, the movie has grossed $1.4 million domestically. There are other movies whose makers drew inspiration from ‘Hatchet.’ Some of them even titled theirs Hatchet; however, A Cry in the Wild comes closest to telling the story told by Gary Paulsen’s ‘Hatchet.’

The Significance of the Hatchet in Hatchet

Hatchet is derived from the old French word, “hatchette”. It is a versatile tool. Brian Robeson taps from this versatility. This gift from his mother—something he didn’t seem to like very much when it was given to him—becomes a lifesaver. We watch the hatchet go from a not-so-useful tool hanging on Brian’s belt to something precious, so precious he dives into murky water to retrieve it. To him, without the hatchet, he may not survive the wilderness. It comes as no surprise that Gary Paulsen named this book ‘Hatchet.’ It is a befitting name, to sum up the story told in one word.


Arguably Gary Paulsen’s most popular book, ‘Hatchet’ is a story written in the sands of time. This ageless coming-of-age story is bound to leave one thrilled. One moment you’re happy for Brian; the very next, you’re holding your breath, muttering a prayer for him to survive this one. ‘Hatchet’ is a rollercoaster of emotions and is not leaving the shelf now or any time soon.


Is ‘Hatchet’ a true story?

Hatchet’ is not a true story; however, Gary Paulsen’s knowledge about the wilderness served as a mine for the events in ‘Hatchet.’ He loved adventure. His sense of adventure grew sporadically after he ran away from home at the age of fourteen. As much as ’Hatchet’ is mostly a sad story (that ends well, as far as we know, anyway), it is also an adventure story. It is clear that the author tapped from his experience while writing ‘Hatchet.’

Where was ‘Hatchet’ set?

Hatchet’ was set primarily in a Canadian wilderness. Brian Robeson on his way from his mother’s to his father’s in Canada, crash-lands into a forest, a wilderness presumed to be in Canada.

Was a film adaptation ever made of ‘Hatchet?’

Yes, there is a film adaptation of ‘Hatchet.’ It is titled: A Cry in the Wild. It is an adventure/drama released in 1990. It was directed by Mark Griffiths, with the screenplay handled by Gary Paulsen and Catherine Cyran. The film tells the story of a boy, Jared Rushton, who crash-lands in Canada bear country and has just his hatchet (a gift from his mother) and the will to live.

What makes ‘Hatchet’ timeless?

The story that is ‘Hatchet’ makes it timeless. The entire story is ageless. ‘Hatchet’ is a classic coming-of-age fiction. It is timeless because the themes explored will always be relevant.

Chioma Julie
About Chioma Julie
Chioma is a graduate of Mass Communication. With an unwavering love for music, movies and books, sometimes, she also writes to unwind.
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