About the Book

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



By Gary Paulsen

Gary Paulsen's ‘Hatchet’ tells the story of Brian Robeson, a thirteen-year-old boy still finding it hard to believe his parents have become estranged, now thrown into another turbulence when he crash-lands in a wilderness.

After the pilot flying him to Canada on his routine visit to his father dies, Brian has to take control of the plane. He tries to use the transmitter and gets through once; however, that does not materialize into much or anything at all. Finally, he crash-lands into a wilderness.

‘Spoiler-free’ Summary of Hatchet

With the hatchet (a gift from his mother) and the will to survive, Brian faces each day in the wilderness as it comes, sometimes with hope or hopelessness, courage or fear. He comes face to face with death so many times. He endures wild animals, bad food, tornado, mosquitoes, ants, and so on. The fifty-four days Brian spends in the desert become life-changing. According to him (and we could see that too), after day 5, he was reborn.

Hatchet Summary

Warning – This article contains important details and spoilers

The novel begins with Brian Robeson on his way to Canada on a routine visit to his father. Gifted a hatchet by his mother, Brian boards the plane controlled by a middle-aged man whose name he never really did catch. Thousands of feet above land, the pilot suffers a heart attack and dies. Brian is left alone to control the plane. He has to make tough decisions; he either lands on anything he sees below now or waits for gas to finish and crash-lands. He decides to go with the latter. The transmitter hasn’t been of much help, and he is alone.

Eventually, he runs out of gas. He stared death in the face continuously for his first few days in the wilderness. Viciously attacked by the porcupine and having the rescue plane come and go without finding him, he feels he has survived the worst. He still has more coming for him, but they would now meet him tougher and more prepared.

Brian builds himself a place to stay, an abode, what he’d now go on to call his home. He does this with the help of the hatchet. Nature already took care of most of it anyway, his “home.” With the hatchet (the precious gift from his mum, a gift he didn’t seem to like very much when it was given to him) he builds fire and tools for hunting.

He makes mistakes and learns very quickly from them, because in there in the wilderness, there were no small mistakes, and every mistake was life-threatening. Instead of treating the skunk as the predator that it is, he makes the mistake of treating it as if it were the cute ones from TV. The skunk blinds him for two hours and eats all the turtle eggs he’s got.

Severally, Brian faces death and survives—the porcupine and skunk, the bear, the wolves he nods and smiles at (which he’d later learn were not troublesome at all, and this explains why they left him. But, better safe than sorry), the moose, the tornado and so on.

Brian learns to be proactive. He learns to do away with fear, to be patient, and to think things through. Brian becomes more sensitive, he could now tell sounds apart now and tell when danger was approaching. He becomes more thoughtful and more appreciative. The wilderness toughens him up, as much as it humanizes him.

On day 53, he retrieves the survival pack from the plane after the tornado hit. The tornado (the same one that almost tore him apart) brought its tail out. In the pack, he sees goodies, lots of them, things which, to him, would last forever. He finds a first aid kit, a knife, pots, a frying pan, cutlery, fishing tools, a transmitter (which he thinks is no longer working), a lighter, and even a rifle. It makes him feel so powerful like he didn’t need to do most of the things he had to do to survive.

It was very much like putting the power of life and death in his hands. He didn’t like how some of these things changed him, especially the rifle. He drops it to deal with the emotion later and to prepare for a feast. Just as he is about to get comfortable feasting, a rescue plane comes. Apparently, the transmitter had been working all along. He makes to offer the pilot some food.

Out of the wilderness, there is so much buzz about his experience and even the promise of a film (which was yet to be fulfilled). But it all dies down soon. He engages in research to know better some of the things from the wilderness: the berries, the raspberries, and the other type that nearly ended him, the animals—apparently the bird he thought to be foolish and called so, was actually called the foolbird. Quite close.

Brian Robeson lost seventeen percent of his body weight while in the wilderness. He gains six percent back and would likely remain that way, lean. The predictions have it that assuming the winter met him there, he would likely not have survived. It’d simply have been too harsh for him. He now often dreams of the wilderness. No, not bad dreams. He almost had hope that his presence would make his parents reconnect, but within a week or so, things were back to normal for his family, whatever normal means.


Is the story told in ‘Hatchet’ true?

No, ‘Hatchet’ is not a true story. It is a young adult, coming-of-age adventure fiction; however, Gary Paulsen tapped from his wealth of experience. With the way he often wrote about the wilderness, it is clear he was fascinated by it. His experiences in the wilderness inspired a lot of stories from him, and one of them is ‘Hatchet.’

What would you consider most ironic in Hatchet?’

The hatchet, the gift from Brian Robeson’s mother, the gift he didn’t care much about, ended up saving his life. This has to be the most ironic thing in ‘Hatchet.’ Without the hatchet, even the strong will to survive would likely not have taken Brian so far.

How is Hatchet’ structured?

Hatchet’ has a total of 195 pages with no illustrations. It is in prose form and has a total of nineteen chapters. Gary Paulsen employed a simple writing style, language, and sentence structure for ‘Hatchet.’ This is commendable because simplicity is key.

Is ‘Hatchet’ a children’s novel?

Yes, ‘Hatchet’ is suitable for children, so it is a children’s novel; however, it is also suitable for other demographics. Young adults and older ones can and should also avail themselves of ‘Hatchet.’

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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