Some books resonate in the soul more than others. While I was out and about on spring break, I found some old copies of the childhood favorites, My Side of the Mountain and On the Far Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. To this day, I want to live in these books.
There are certain tropes in children’s stories that are endlessly appealing, among which is running away from the world. I’ve never outgrown this desire to get out of Dodge; I’m not much of a rock music listener, but Matchbook Twenty’s I wish the real world would just stop hassling me is endearing and relatable. It makes one consider what the real world is, and if how we live is actually it.
As a child, I gravitated to either running-away or kids-stranded-on-their-own books. The worst of these was Lord of the Flies, as it took a very jaundiced look at human nature. There is a real life story of boys who got stranded together, and I urge you to read about it because it turned out quite a bit differently than William Golding’s novel. But perhaps the truth is I have a utopic vision in my head, and I want to maintain it through my fiction, not destroy it. Or perhaps I’m simply tired of the badness being considered reality, while goodness is an unrealistic ideal that only foolish Christian women buy into with their prairie romances.
To be fair to Christian women everywhere, I’m pretty sure they’re longing for the same thing I am: a trip right out of the annoyances of the modern world. That’s exactly what My Side of the Mountain does. It takes me to my peak fantasy world.
The story is about a twelve-year-old boy, Sam, who runs away from home to his grandpa’s abandoned farm in the Catskills. He doesn’t have the skills to survive on his own, but thankfully, he learns along the way through trial and error, as well as frequent trips to the library in the small village a couple miles from his wilderness home.
The entire plot is Sam learning to survive. This is why I love it. It’s rich in details; it verges on being a how-to manual! Through it all is the harsh combination of beauty and terror living that close to nature brings. Best of all, he lives in a hollowed-out tree. I want his house, his loneliness, his life of books and experimental engineering. When I was growing up, I did a fair amount of survival training and learned to build makeshift shelters and fires, etc. I was equipped with the skills that Sam wasn’t, yet sadly, they haven’t been put much to the test.
For literary quality, On the Far Side of the Mountain is probably a better book. And it is good; make no mistake. On the other hand, Sam is no longer as isolated, as he partners up with a friend to find his sister, who has moved to the wilderness with him (and decides to have an adventure by herself). And he has largely learned to live in nature by this second book, though there is still some engineering that occurs. Some of the magic is lost when the plot isn’t solely Sam against nature (and a few nosy journalists). I recommend all three — yes, there’s a third book that was not available at the thrift store where I found the first two. I’d read all three of them again right now because I want to exist in Sam’s world forever.
Yes, I know I have a family. I love my family. But my two youngest children will grow up and move out soon, and they can visit their parents in my fantasy curmudgeonly mountain treehouse; I’ve thought this through, you see. My husband and I can share a tree. It can start in the hollow trunk and branch out to a treehouse. My husband would love this life. I think. I have yet to have the discussion with him.