Information on the Book "Hatchet" by Gary Paulsen

by Michael Davidson

"Hatchet" is a 1987 novel by Gary Paulsen that tells the story of a boy's survival in the wilderness after a plane crash. The book was named a "Newbery Honor Book" in 1988, which is a children's literary award, by the Association for Library Service to Children. It also won the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award in 1989. An audio version was also done with actor Peter Coyote narrating.

Author Information

Gary Paulsen was born in 1939. He ran away from home at age14 and traveled with a carnival for a time before working a variety of a odd jobs; he also got into dog racing. He continued to travel and decided to become an author while working as a satellite technician in California. After walking out on his job, he traveled to Minnesota and worked on his first novel while renting a lake cabin. Angina forced him to give up his beloved dog-racing; he turned to writing full-time, penning more than 200 novels.

Plot Summary

"Hatchet" begins with Brian flying in a small plane to visit his father. He had discovered his mother is having an affair and plans to tell his dad once he arrives. The pilot of his small plane suffers a heart attack, and Brian is forced to take over the controls; the plane crashes and the pilot is killed. Brian's only tool is a hatchet his mother gave him. He uses the hatchet to hunt, make tools, create fire, design shelter and survive. He later finds a transmitter on the plane and activates it. Brian is eventually rescued by a fur trader who located the transmitter signal.


Hatchet has many themes that apply to young adults. The story is about the discovery of one's self while under adversity. Brian is forced to find an inner strength he didn't know he had in order to stay alive in hostile environmental conditions. He also struggles with memories of his parents while he knows their relationship is dissolving. The book deals with feelings of isolation, since Brian is uneasy after he is rescued, his experience in the wilderness having changed him forever.


The success of "Hatchet" spawned four sequels. "The River" involves the military contacting Brian to request a demonstration of the techniques that kept him alive during "Hatchet;" the project goes awry, and Brian again has to find his way out. "Brian's Winter" explores an alternate possibility of what would have happened had Brian not been rescued and had to face the dangers of winter. "Brian's Return" explores Brian's discontent in normal society and his decision to go back into the wilderness for his own contentment. "Brian's Hunt" tells the story of an injured dog that Brian finds one night; sensing danger, Brian takes the dog and heads North to check on his Cree friends nearby.

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