Originally published in 2002, Michael Punke’s fictional account of frontiersman Hugh Glass’s wilderness meeting with a grizzly bear in 1823 and its stranger than fiction results, The Revenant, is back in a new edition from Picador as a tie in with a film version starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy and directed by Oscar winner Alejandro González Iñárritu set for release in December.
Out on a scouting mission for a small party of trappers working for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, Glass comes upon the grizzly and is horribly mauled. Nearly dead from his wounds and certainly unable to go on, he is left in the care of two of the party—a young boy, Jim Bridger and a scheming malcontent, John Fitzgerald—presumably to wait for his inevitable death and then bury him. When a band of hostile Indians appears close by, Fitzgerald and Bridger run off and leave Glass on his own. Almost more importantly, they steal his rifle, his knife and everything else he has that might be useful in the dangerous wild. After all, they caviled he was as good as dead already.
Turns out it takes more than a bear to send Glass to meet his maker, and the wounded man sets out to crawl his way through hundreds of miles of wilderness seeking help and eventually revenge on the men who abandoned him. It is an epic tale of mythic proportions, a testament to one man’s courage and indomitable will, and much of it is based on fact.
Punke’s narrative is spare, but he does manage to include some vivid pictures of what life must have been like for the trappers and traders living in the undeveloped territory. We learn how to make a variety of traps for small animals. We learn what the best tidbits of the buffalo are, as well as a little bit about butchering and building fires. We learn how to make bullboats out of buffalo skins. It is the kind of validating information that make incidents like his description of the wounded, weaponless Glass fighting off a wolf pack over the remains of a buffalo calf believable. Frontiersmen needed to depend upon themselves. Those that depended on others didn’t always last very long.
Hugh Glass is a name that belongs with the likes of Daniel Boone and Davey Crockett, and if Punke’s account doesn’t put him in that pantheon, perhaps Leonardo DiCaprio and Iñárritu may do the job.