Brian’s Winter Summary

Gary Paulsen

Brian’s Winter

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Brian’s Winter Summary

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Brian’s Winter is the third book in Brian’s Saga, a young adult adventure series by Gary Paulsen. First published in 1996, this book provides an alternative ending to earlier books in the series, telling the story of what might have happened if Brian hadn’t been rescued from the Canadian wilderness and, instead, had to fight to stay alive. Paulsen ran away from home at fourteen, and he’s been writing about adventures ever since.

Paulsen received a lot of fan mail from readers who wanted to know what would have happened if no one had found Brian in the wilderness. They wanted to know if he could have survived much longer on his own. In response, Paulsen wrote this book. The hero, thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson, has been lost in the woods for fifty-four days. With winter set to arrive any day, Brian must traverse the wilderness, armed with only a hatchet.

Brian’s main problem at the outset is, ironically, the number of setbacks he’s overcome to survive so long in the first place. Because he’s spent so many days focused entirely on hunting, finding shelter, and protecting himself, his worldview has narrowed to the point where he doesn’t see the big picture. He hasn’t noticed the earliest signs of the changing weather, and he’s not prepared for winter when it arrives.

One of the first challenges Brian faces is from other hungry animals. Prey gets scarce in the colder months. Hibernating animals, such as bears, are on the prowl for as much food as they can get to see them through to the spring. This means they encroach upon Brian’s camp, trying to steal the rabbits he’s hunted. He manages to scare off a bear, but he must repair the damage to his tent before it’ll be secure again. He must also forge stronger weapons.

Brian knows he doesn’t just need to repair the tent—he needs to weatherproof it. To give him ideas, he watches the beavers build their dams, and how they make them watertight. In the meantime, wolves mark their territory on a fallen log near his camp. Brian knows this is a challenge to his safety, and he covers their scent with his own. He can only hope this will be enough to deter them until he’s got stronger arrows to defend himself with.

Meanwhile, another problem crops up. Brian is running low on food. He has struggled to catch fish because the bear damaged his tools, and he’s surviving on as little food as possible. He doesn’t have the energy to work as hard on his tent as he’d like. With the days turning colder, he must build himself a proper shelter before he dies from exposure.

Brian hasn’t come to terms yet with hunting to survive, either. Although his dry food is gone, and he knows it’s a necessity, he still finds it difficult to make a fatal shot. This dilemma gets easier when the wolves return—this time, to hunt a deer. They carry their prey away to eat it, but Brian follows them. He takes what the wolves leave behind, and the meat is enough to sustain him for another few weeks at least. He learns how to properly clean fresh meat to reduce his chances of getting sick. Also, having a steady food supply means he can get back to weatherproofing his tent.

Brian receives an unexpected visitor—a skunk. It’s attracted to his camp because of the doe. He doesn’t kill the skunk, but he lets it hang around for a while, so long as it doesn’t steal his food. It’s a good thing he let the skunk stay because the bear comes back, and the skunk sends it running with its spray. Brian, who’s lonely and desperate for companionship, names the skunk “Betty,” keeping her around as a pet. He gives her some of the meat.

The days turn colder, and Brian learns how to fashion clothes from animal fur. Secure and warm in these clothes, he decides to go out hunting. He wants to get as much meat as possible before winter sets in because he might not have any other food source for months when animals disappear. Brian tracks a moose, shooting it with an arrow. However, this doesn’t kill the moose, which attacks Brian. Thanks to quick thinking, Brian impales the moose on his spear, and he drags it back to camp.

He leaves the meat in the snow, where it’s preserved and frozen. With enough food to last him, he goes exploring to see if he can find anything else to make his tent warmer. Instead, he encounters a local family, who hunt during the winter. They take him in, and he arranges a flight home.

Although Brian shows ingenuity throughout the novel, many readers still think he had it too easy compared to the first novel, Hatchet. A common criticism of Brian’s Winter is that readers found it too difficult to suspend their belief.