83 pages • 2 hours readGary Paulsen
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The Transall Saga is a 1998 fantasy/sci-fi novel by author Gary Paulsen, who is best known for his wilderness survival books, such as Hatchet. The plot revolves around young protagonist Mark Harrison, who goes on a weeklong hiking trip and is transported to what appears to be another world—Transall. He must learn to survive among strange vegetation, animals, and people—all in the midst of war—as he tries to find a way home.
Content Warning: The Transall Saga includes enslavement, including enslavement of the protagonist. The protagonist briefly mentions race and bigotry as reasons for the conflict between groups.
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Thirteen-year-old Mark Harrison goes on his first solo, multi-day hiking trip in the Magruder Missile Range. He has a strict deadline to return by the end of the week, or his parents will come looking for him. The trip is successful until one night, when he sets up camp in a canyon and sees a mysterious blue light in the distance. Mark starts to take pictures of the phenomenon when a snake bites him, causing him to fall into the beam of light. When he wakes up, he is in a clearing of thick, red grass in the middle of a jungle.
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Thinking he might be experiencing hallucinations, Mark stands up and looks around. Out of nowhere, a buffalo-like creature charges him, catching him off guard. He climbs into a tree to avoid it, managing to escape. Mark decides to navigate the thick brush of the jungle, and it starts to rain. He notices the rain tastes unusual. Searching for better-tasting water, he is attacked and bitten by insects. Panicking, Mark takes off his clothes to get the insects off. Just when he thinks the attack is over, he sees the buffalo creature again. He shimmies into a tree to avoid it. From the tree, he observes the creature eating his clothes. Realizing it doesn’t have good vision, he manages to steal some of his clothes back.
Hungry and homesick, Mark takes inventory of his remaining items. Not knowing what else to do, he treks further into the jungle. He encounters a group of monkey-bears who teach him how to extract a sort of marrow from rocks. After his meal, Mark grows tired. A friendly monkey-bear guides him to a tree as a resting spot. In his dreams, Mark realizes it was the floating light that brought him to this strange world. He decides the only way to get out of the jungle is to find the light again. Determined, he enlists the help of his monkey-bear friend.
As Mark searches, he thinks of pizza and his parents. He uses his survival skills to forage food and create a temporary home. He wanders through the jungle until he finds an arrow in a tree. Anxious, Mark realizes this must mean there are other humans in the jungle with him. He discovers one such human in Leeta, a girl he saves from a terrifying creature known as the Howling Thing.
Mark goes to Leeta’s village and meets her fellow tribe members, whom he refers to as the arrow people. They allow him to walk around and eat their food. However, he is soon captured and enslaved by another tribe called the Tsook.
The Tsook lock Mark in an animal pen and prove more advanced than the arrow people, preventing him from being able to escape. At one point, he manages to free his binds and dig his way out of the animal pen. However, he is caught, this time with a heavy iron bar attached to his ankle. Despite this, Mark manages to escape again. He notices another tribe coming to attack the Tsook, and runs back to the town to warn them. To honor him for his help, they initiate him as a member of their tribe in a grand ceremony.
Mark is told that the leader of the Tsook tribes—the Merkon—will be attending his ceremony. Leeta and Megaan—the daughter of Dagon, the Chief of the Tsook—make him clothes for the ceremony with the help of Megaan’s grandmother. Mark begins to develop a crush on Megaan. When the masked Merkon arrives, he compliments Mark and brings him gifts; still, the Merkon makes him feel uneasy. The Merkon offers to take Mark to a shaman to help him rediscover the light that brought him to Transall. On the way to the shaman, they are attacked by a group of soldiers. Mark and his friend Sarbo escape. They later work out that this group was sent by the Merkon, who put a reward on Mark’s head—dead or alive. Mark and Sarbo find the shaman, who talks about a blood sickness that killed millions.
During their journey, Mark and Sarbo are joined by an enslaved person called Yonk who is escaping. The three are captured by a group of desert people called the Samatin but manage to escape. Despite the danger, Mark travels to see the Merkon; he wants answers about the nature of Transall. The Merkon explains that Transall is actually a future Earth, and that he was also transported to Transall by the beam of light in the 1980s. In this reality, an Ebola virus wiped out most humans years ago. The Merkon feels threatened by Mark and tries to kill him. Mark produces his own sword and brutally wounds the Merkon in a tense battle.
Mark returns to the Tsook town and proposes to Megaan; she and her father happily consent to the marriage. He soon learns that he’s being pursued by the Merkon’s son, Mordo, who wants revenge on Mark for injuring his father. Not wanting to risk the lives of Megaan and his friends, Mark leads the soldiers away from the Tsook town.
After leading the soldiers to the jungle he was first transported to, Mark hides behind a boulder. A violent storm strikes the boulder. The blue light reappears, and Mark is transported back to his own time. In the Epilogue, Mark is 20 years older. He is a scientist obsessed with curing Ebola, as he wants to save the world from Transall’s fate.
By Gary Paulsen