The Role of Fate and Survival in Hatchet and Walk Two Moons (NC)

While I’m not normally one for “Castaway” type narratives (Sorry, Wilson), I must admit that I found Paulsen’s Hatchet striking in its narration of Brian Robeson’s survival in the Canadian wilderness. Within Hatchet, I think there’s something to be said for this concept of “faHatchette,” or “luck”as Brian might call it. While one might say that Brian suffered bad luck or fate by becoming victim to a plane crash, ultimately, a series of small good turns of fate lead to his survival and recovery (namely the hatchet on his belt, the windstorm, and the recovery of the survival bag followed by the accidental turning on of the emergency transmitter all working in tandem). He needed each of those occurrences combined in order to live on through his journey.

We see “fate” acting in similar manner in Walk Two Moons; the characters are brought together via unfortunate event and ultimately manage survival through each other. Phoebe and Sal heal each other from the loss of their mothers, as Mrs. Cadaver bonds with Mr. Hiddle from their common interest of having had a deep connection with Chanhassen (Sugar).

The question being presented at hand is how much does “fate” affect our chance of survival as people? Do the small, seemingly innocuous actions we take part in (strapping a hatchet to one’s belt to please your saddened mother, for instance) make the most differenceWalk-Two-Moons? Are small chance encounters the ones that end up mattering the most over the course of our lives (Mrs. Cadaver being seated next to Chanhassen during the six day bus tour to Lewiston, Idaho).

I’d be extremely interested in exploring these ideas in a classroom setting with students.


*PO* – “He danced good…”

“He danced good because he was Gabriel and everything he did was good, whether it was being president , or laying basketball or working as a Shepard and going to the mountains” (Pg. 122, Krumgold).

*PO* – Like Miguel, being a younger sibling seems to be hard work! You have to make sure you’re accepted as an individual in the household. You have to work twice as hard to make sure you’re not compared to your older siblings. Yet, it seems that this is what your parents want, another mini-me of the oldest “perfect son or daughter”. Bonus of being trapped in the middle or as a baby, you will forever be jealous of your sibling! Or so you are made to believe by your parents and family members. From the beginning of the story it seems that Miguel has this emotion of jealousy and idolism towards his brother because Miguel states in pg. 3 “It would be god to be Gabriel”.

This bond among brothers reminds me of the movie Home Alone, in this movie Kevin the main character gets into trouble because of his brother and sent to sleep in the artic, where the family forgets about him and leave on vacation. Kevin and Miguel are similar because they both see life as unfair and they both make wishes to alter it. Kevin asks for his family to disappear and Miguel asks to go on a trip that affects the outcomes of his brothers Gabriel’s life. Overall, they both learn to be careful for what they wish for and to let life happen.

Ella, Sophie, and the active fantasy heroine

Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine (1997), and Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones (1986)

Ella_enchanted_(book_cover)These two books work well as source materials for that old English class stand-by, the comparison essay¹. Ella Enchanted can be set against the story of Cinderella, and both can be set against their movie versions. But what I hope teachers will do with this assignment is push their students to go beyond merely listing the similarities and differences between or among whatever works are being compared, to asking their students to explore the reasons for the differences.

UnknownFor instance: the fairy tale Cinderella² gives us a rags-to-riches story, spiced up with some sibling rivalry and a handsome prince. Levine takes the basic premise and inserts a backstory that gives the heroine not just depth and reality, but also agency. When we discussed these differences in class, we noted how flat and passive Cinderella is. The most active she becomes is when she wishes to go to the ball. Ella, however, when given the “gift” of obedience, no longer has the option of choosing to obey, so she shows agency in how she obeys. Levine also puts Ella on a quest (one of the strengths of this book is how Levine so deftly mixes genres). It’s possible to argue that Perrault, writing in the late 17th century, can’t be expected to be a feminist. Fair enough. So when Levine in the late 20th century re-envisions this story from a feminist viewpoint, she creates a tale that surprises with its depth. Even the evil step-sisters have more to them than jealousy and the desire to be rich.

We didn’t have much time to speak of Sophie in Howl’s Moving Castle, except as part of a larger discussion of Keeling and Sprague’s article, “Dragon-Slayer vs. Dragon-Sayer: Reimagining the Female Fantasy Heroine” (2009). To clarify this dichotomy for ourselves, we started listing characters from novels, and then from movies and TV series, whom we thought were one or the other. Lara Croft and Buffy are definitely dragon-slayers (and I’ll now add Mrs. Emma Peel, from the 1960s series The Avengers). Ella and Sophie are somewhere in between the two (as with any dichotomy, these categories are useful only as opposite ends of a spectrum; few characters are purely one or the other). Lizzie Bennet’s name came up as a candidate for the dragon-sayer side (although her face-off with Darcy’s aunt is more slayer than sayer).

Next up: two novels from non-Anglo cultural perspectives: … And now Miguel, about a family of Mexican immigrant sheep farmers in New Mexico, and I, Juan de Pareja, about Diego Velazquez’s slave. Both are Newbery Medal winners.

¹Will someone please explain to me why English teachers, so quick to stamp out redundancy in students’ writing, can’t see it in the tiresome name of this rhetorical mode, the “compare and contrast” essay.

²Andrew Lang’s excellent analysis of Perrault’s version of this European folktale can be found here, and Bruno Bettelheim provides a fascinating Freudian interpretation in The Uses of Enchantment.

Posted by BR