I should not have read this again!
Flashback, circa 1979: a skinny young version of me on the bed reading and re-reading the tale of a kid my age from New York who ran away from his home to live in the Catskill Mountains. New York! Catskill Mountains!! My eleven-year old impression was of a plucky lad who befriended a Peregrine falcon (my favourite bird for life solely because of this book) and lived in a tree subsisting off wild edibles and sheer grit. I didn’t even know who Thoreau was, and didn’t give a racoon’s testicle. It was escapist awesomeness. I fled into the pine forests surrounding my non-3rd Ave home every chance I got after that. To underline it’s significant in my formative years, I probably became a lifelong bushwalker BECAUSE OF THIS BOOK!
So, what does the 52 year old then go and do? Crushes his childhood memories, oh those glorious memories, of this once-favourite book. Because in 2020, Sam is an annoying twerp I just want to smash in the face: “And then Baron Weasel, Jesse Coon James, Frightful and I invited the denizens of the woodland realm to our treehouse for a Halloween feast!” Oh bullshit you did, you cheesy dickhead — maybe to snare and eat them — because Slaughtering Sam Gribley tries to kill every critter he meets. His campsite would have been a butcher’s block of guts and gore, hanging hides, slabs of slowly rotting meat. With all that venison lying around, imagine the bears! And where’s the chapter about Sam’s gastrointestinal issues? With his diet he’d be squatting in the woods a lot of the time. I’m tempted to rewrite MSM from a more realistic perspective. Hunger, horror, bloodshed, and oh so much screaming in the dark. I liked Sam when I was eleven. Forty years later, I want to throttle the smarmy c*nt.
BEAR?? WHAT BEAR? Not a single bear is mentioned, despite the Catskills having the highest density of black bears in New York State. Factual oops! Anyway, so what primary-school classic shall I ruin next? Shall I re-read ‘Bows against the Barons’ and completely buggerise my Robin Hood mythos into a men’s wellness retreat where everyone wears tights? ‘The Hobbit’ just becomes a drawn-out dwarf-tossing contest. Swiss Family Robinson morphs into something grossly incestuous. Watch out Robinson Crusoe, Peter Pan, Wizard of Oz, Treasure Island, and even, god forbid, Mr Popper’s Penguins! Maybe it speaks volumes about me and the career-choices I’ve made that they could all meld into the same bleak tale of betrayal, violence, madness and murder that has crouched in me since… hmmm, since when? At what point did happy endings slant off into the darkness? I wish all questions were that easy: It began in 1981 with a book called ‘Cujo’. I’ve been wary of dogs ever since.
Why a boy engrossed in Sam Gribley’s wholesome adventures then sink into Stephen King’s canon of horror? Whatever it was, it happened between ‘My Side of the Mountain’ and ‘Cujo’; so, between 1979 and 1981. Maybe it’s finally time to dig deep and confront my monsters. Let’s put Nietzsche to the test and see if the abyss stares back. For me, this has been a conscious act of avoidance, not just because monster-hunters become monsters themselves, but because the raggedy thread between me and my family won’t take much to sever. My cowardly-lion heart would prefer it if the severing was done by someone else, because I’ve done enough thanks. But, like Slaughtering Sam Gribley setting off into the woods, I won’t start out unprepared for this scary adventure. Once I find out where it all began, I’ll clear a space in the metaphorical wood with my axe and hollow out a metaphorical tree with fire, and when I’ve trapped my first kill, I’ll (metaphorically) gut it with my knife.