The Revenant is a fictional account of a (probably) true story about Hugh Glass. Hugh Glass was a real person who joined a trapping expedition with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company in the 1800s. Glass was mauled by a bear and his injuries were so severe that he was expected to die. The captain of the expedition, Andrew Henry, asks for two volunteers to stay behind to wait until Glass dies to give him a decent burial. He offers $75 to volunteers. In the book, the volunteers are a character with questionable morals named John Fitzgerald and a younger man named Jim Bridger. Fitzgerald is painted as a villain, being motivated by greed and self-serving interests, as indicated by how he treats Glass (Fitzgerald tells Bridger not to give him any broth and not to give him a poultice in the hopes that he will die more quickly). Bridger is shown as a youngster looking for acceptance and not quite sure of himself. Morally, he is a better person that Fitzgerald because he tries to help Glass after seeing him in pain, but because of his insecurity, is afraid to stand up to Fitzgerald. After staying with Glass for a few days, Fitzgerald is worried about being attacked by a nearby hostile Arikara tribe. Fitzgerald convinces Bridger that they must leave immediately and that Glass is about to die soon anyway. Fitzgerald takes Glass’ prized gun and gives Glass’ knife to Bridger. Bridger hesitates, knowing that Glass is trying to say that he wants his gun, but Fitzgerald wins in the end and they leave Glass with very little.
Of course, Glass survives and chases after Fitzgerald and Bridger to survive. Reading this book reminded me of reading Hatchet when I was younger. My favorite parts of the book were where the author was describing the methods Glass used to hunt, to build a fire, and to survive, despite having very little resources. I have heard the movie described as being a movie about revenge. I haven’t seen the book so I can’t comment about that, but the book, to me, is a book about survival (even if he is motivated by revenge).
**Spoiler alert, don’t read anymore if you haven’t read the book ….
This book is not about forgiveness. Yes, Glass ends up forgiving Bridger (after he beats him to a pulp), but only because Bridger felt guilty about what he had done and offered no resistance. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, never shows any remorse and the only thing stopping Glass from killing him was the fear of being arrested for murder. (Fitzgerald was forced to join the U.S. armed forces after getting into some trouble and was therefore under the protection of the U.S. government.) The book’s name, the “revenant,” refers to a dead spirit that comes back to life to terrorize the living. This was Glass’ goal – to terrorize the two people who abandoned him.
The author did a wonderful job of capturing the raw wilderness – not only in the descriptions of what Glass had to endure to survive, but in the personalities of the characters involved. These were tough, capable men, used to a hard life.
After finishing the book, I was curious about what was truth and what was fiction so I did some research online. Hugh Glass was a real fur trader. There were many stories about Glass surviving a bear attack, but Glass himself never documented the incident, and most likely, his story was embellished as it was retold. It has not been confirmed that Fitzgerald and Bridger were really the two who stayed behind, but this is what is generally believed. Fitzgerald joined the U.S. army. Little else is known about Fitzgerald so his character is mostly made up. The movie introduces a wife and son for Glass, but there are no such characters in the book. Historically, there is also no documentation of a marriage for Glass. Bridger became a famous mountain man and has several namesakes, including Bridger Range (Montana), Bridger Peak (southern Wyoming), Bridger Pass (southern Wyoming), and the Bridger National Forest (western Wyoming). Glass was killed in a hunting expedition by an attack by the Arikara.