I recently finished reading The Revenant. We learn the meaning of this word just by looking at the book cover (N. one who has returned, as if from the dead). Author Michael Punke hints at the theme of the story with an early reference to Romans 12.9 “Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”
The Revenant is the story of Hugh Glass; more specifically the story of Hugh Glass from August 21, 1823 to May 7, 1824. The fact is, we do not know many details about Hugh Glass, but what we do know is worthy of a book. Since information is limited, Punke adds fictional details that help hold the story together.
I find myself liking Hugh Glass from the start. He is a member of a trapping party and serves as scout, hunter, and performs related duties. One day, while fulfilling these duties, he is attacked by a sow grizzly bear. The bear attack only lasts two pages, but it is intense. His wounds are severe. His death appears imminent. Soon afterward, two other characters emerge as more prominent.
John Fitzgerald and Jim Bridger volunteer to stay with Glass until he dies and then respectfully bury him. We do not know much about the historical John Fitzgerald but Punke does a convincing job of making him the villain in the story. We know more about Jim Bridger, perhaps because he lived until 1878. Perhaps because he is known to have served as a guide for explorers, settlers, and even the U. S. Army. Perhaps because mountains, streams, and towns bear his name. But, a young Jim Bridger serves an infamous role in the Hugh Glass story.
Bridger is portayed as caring for Glass, even nursing wounds. In contrast, Fitzgerald is looking for some way to make death occur sooner. Eventually, they abandon him, robbing him of any tools for survival. From this time on, “as if from the dead” Hugh Glass is set on revenge.
Hugh Glass crawls until he is able to walk with a crutch. But it is neither crawling nor crutch that moves him forward. Fighting infection, bad dreams, hunger, natives, and wolves along the way, it is revenge that carries him forward. Although Punke refers to Romans 12.9 early in the book, it does not appear to be a text Hugh Glass is interested in. The Revenant may prompt the reader to ask some questions about determination or adversity. It may cause us to explore how far we might be willing to go for revenge. The story of Hugh Glass is a miracle. It is a story of who a person is when stripped down to bare essentials. It is a story about revenge.
This book may inspire you to plan your own adventure. At the very least, you can settle for enjoying this one from a safe distance. This story reminds us that not all adventures are equal. Adventure is more enjoyable when you get to choose your own. This is an adventure Hugh Glass would not have chosen, it is forced upon him. Adventure is always more enjoyable when you are equipped with proper gear. Yet, that is exactly what makes this one so memorable. His gear is stolen from him. No base layer wicking away moisture. No lightweight fleece to help him stay warm and dry. No tools or weapons for hunting. No map to help with direction. None of the gear we might have hoped for if we were on this adventure. But, Hugh Glass is equipped with a need for revenge. And that is all he needs to reach his destination.