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Paperback – October 6, 2015
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At any rate, the story centers around legendary "mountain man" Hugh Glass. The time period is the early 1820's, when traders and fur companies were searching out domains in the Rocky Mountains, and in the present day states of Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, and the Dakotas. It is also a time only 18 years removed from the return of Lewis and Clark from the Pacific and the triumphs of the Corps of Discovery. Word had spread throughout our young nation of the vast areas of lands where a fortune might be made through the hunting and trapping of animals. The lust for furs, hides, and pelts to propitiate European buyers played a major role in this westward expansion. Thus, endeavors like The Rocky Mountain Fur Company sprang into existence and vied with one another to gain strong footholds in prime furbearer sections of the enormous Missouri Territory.
Often, financial backing was based out of St. Louis, where teams of men were organized to venture up the Missouri River, as well as its tributaries. The book centers around one such team led by a Captain Henry and included such members as John Fitzgerald, Jim Bridger, and Hugh Glass. Along with surviving the harsh elements of the Wild, these men also had to defend themselves against hostile Indian tribes like the Arikara and the Blackfeet. In addition, there was great competition from the Spanish and French that added to the urgency of securing tracts of land rich for trapping.
Much of what we know of these early "mountain men" is centered around both facts and legends. Hugh Glass, Jedediah Smith, and Jim Bridger were three of the first actual white men who ventured into the Rocky Mountains and beyond. In THE REVENANT, we are given an exciting glimpse into a very early and virgin American West. It is no secret that Hugh Glass was a central figure at the time, and he was indeed attacked by a grizzly bear and left for dead by his party. Punke does such a marvelous job of weaving fact and fiction together, and he elaborates on this merger at the novel's end.
What I found most fascinating about this moving saga were the rich backgrounds we are given involving the histories of the major characters. We are treated to accounts not only of Glass, but also of Bridger, Fitzgerald, Henry, and the French voyageurs. The descriptions of the bear ordeal, of Glass's stoic determination, of the Indian attacks, and of survival in the brutal wilderness itself were absolutely compelling. Punke's knowledge and visceral prose make for story telling at its finest. If you enjoy films like JEREMIAH JOHNSON and books like UNDAUNTED COURAGE or CROW KILLER, I believe you will find THE REVENANT to be a splendid read that is well worth your time....
The long and short of it is, I hard a very hard time putting this one down. Because comparisons are inevitable -- yes, at the end of the day, I probably liked the movie better. Look, Iñárritu is a great mind, I'm sure he could make a movie to outshine Romeo and Juliet if he set his mind to it. So, if you saw the movie and you're thinking "Wow, I bet they cut out a lot of action from the book -- I bet it's way grittier and bloodier!" You're not strictly speaking WRONG, but you might be disappointed, and that's not fair to Punke's excellent novel. If you thought "Wow, that was an interesting story, I'd love to hear it again -- maybe more like what actually happened, you know, the real story," then this is for you, and it's GRAND.
The thing that kind of threw me (and maybe this is more my fault for setting wrong expectations) but I was thinking the book was more a historical account of the events, but the book is more historical fiction leaning towards the historical. The author acknowledges this too at least later on. When I say historical fiction too, I mean the author (I think) took all the facts he could find and then filled in the blank spaces with his creative (i.e. the point of view of a guy right before he gets killed and etc., which obviously can't be real).
It's a very interesting story and worth a read. My final rating would be more in the 3.5-4/5 range.