I grew up watching old Westerns on TV with my dad, and I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the stories about the gold rush and the fur trade in the U.S. It fascinates me that there was a period of time in which much of this country was unknown to settlers and danger lurked everywhere. Once in a while I enjoy media that portrays the wild, untamed land and the (often violent and unfair) treatment of the Native Americans realistically. I believe that The Revenant does this quite well, though I am no expert on the accuracies of the novel.
The Revenant is based on the real-life account of Hugh Glass, a trapper in the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, though the author admits to being creative with Glass’s story when the recorded history of his life gets fuzzy. The Rocky Mountain Fur Company was trapping beaver and avoiding hostile Native American tribes when suddenly Glass was attacked by a mother bear. Glass was mauled into unconsciousness. His fellow trappers tried to take care of him and revive him, but it became clear that carrying Glass around was slowing the group down and winter was on their heels. When it was clear that Glass was not recovering, the leader of the group tasked two trappers with staying behind with Glass until he died so that they could bury him with dignity. However, that doesn’t happen, and the two men leave Glass to die in the forest. Glass miraculously survived and began a quest of seeking revenge on the men who betrayed him.
At the end of the day, this is truly a story of revenge. Glass could have survived and went about the rest of his life in peace, but he didn’t. He risked his life to chase down the two men that betrayed him. While that may not be the smartest decision for his continued wellbeing, it makes for a very interesting tale. The book is violent, obviously. The land itself does not have any mercy. Glass and his group fight against wildlife, the elements, and hostile tribes. And of course the white men themselves always find a reason to fight one another. Although not every part of the plot may be the truth, the author weaved together his research of this man and time period to make an engaging story. The novel’s pacing was dynamic. One moment everything would be peaceful and then sudden violence would break out. Other moments would have slowly building tension with a satisfying climax. I liked many of the characters in the novel and thought the author did a great job of brining them to life on the page. However, I wouldn’t get too attached to any one of them… it’s a harsh existence!
One aspect I didn’t like was that a lot of Glass’s past before joining the Rocky Mountain Fur Company was glossed over in a “tell instead of show” way, but I can forgive this because going into too much detail would distract from the main plotline, yet leaving it out completely would leave Glass’s characterization lacking. At the end of the novel the author suggests books for further reading about Hugh Glass, which I appreciated. I also found the ending to be less than satisfying after the long journey that Glass had. Still, this is also something I have to forgive since most of the book is written from historical accounts, and real life doesn’t always end up the way we think it should.
I gave The Revenant four out of five stars. It was a lot of fun and had me on the edge of my seat. I haven’t watched the movie based on the book yet, but I hope to do so soon.