Fire-Hunter– a book review

I love this book because I love watching the way people think and learn.

It’s not the sort of book you read as a writer, to get ideas about form and word-choice, but I’ve enjoyed it every time.

The story is about two young people: Hawk (the spear-maker for his tribe) and Willow (the leader’s daughter whom Hawk is attracted to, but knows taboos about marrying within one’s own tribe prevent their pairing).

For different reasons they are both abandoned by their tribe.

To be left without the protection of numbers has always been a death sentence, but being unwilling to die just yet, they struggle on, finding new ways of providing for their basic needs.

Due largely to Hawk’s curiosity, keen to apply his observations to their survival, their lot improves surprisingly quickly. Kjelgaard, however, manages to make this sudden proliferation seem plausible.

Willow, also, makes a number of significant “discoveries” and (literally) keeps the home fire burning while Hawk is out making his own discoveries. I appreciate that this isn’t a story that implies one person could make it without help.

I don’t think that is very often true.

Modern reviewers (if this story were published today) would complain that the woman’s part is too small and domestic, but I would counter the story isn’t about her. And it seemed clear to me that those “small and domestic” contributions of hers were quite as important (if less dramatic) than Hawk’s weapons-progression.

She thinks both of creating a sort of chimney so they can hide safely in a cave, and she is also the one who thinks of how to provision it with water for an expected siege.

Considering the characters’ commitment to ritual and taboo, it unnatural that they have no powerful being (i.e. god) to either give or enforce these laws.

Jim Kjelgaard is an amazingly humanistic writer.

That is to say, God (or any supreme being, or “larger” plan, or expectation of outside help, or encouragement) is utterly absent from his writing. Man, specifically the main character, is “the center and measure of all things.”

This is true of all his writings. The nice thing, from a mother’s perspective, is that he is, at least, a moralistic humanist. One to whom there is a fairly clear sense of “natural law” and right or wrong.

Something I doubt the 40/50 years since his books has managed to produce or maintain.

Other favorite books by Jim Kjelgaard:

All are a product of their era. That is to say, they can be a bit simplistic in places, and use a lot of -lys and some telling rather than showing (I noticed a bit of this re-reading Fire Hunter), but mainly they hit their target, and that is to provide an adventure and brief escape from a more cluttered and complicated reality.

I’ve never tried formulaic or churned-out fiction that is much maligned by some, but maybe my enjoyment of these hints that I would like those as well.

One thing I liked about these books was that, although they almost all followed a type of formula: natural dog-person and outdoorsman– always male– connects with a dog and with his (the dog’s) company and/or help survives some challenge of Nature; I always imagined the personalities expanding to fit the vastness of whatever setting the men were placed in.

Granted, I read (and re-read) most of these books before I was conscious of such concepts as character development, so who knows what I’d find if I brought them all up from their box under the house…

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