By Gerald Hausman
On The Road, USA
Some readers have recognized the similarity between the novel I wrote with Roger Zelazny, Wilderness, and the film with Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant.
Wilderness was begun in the late 1980s and published by Tor Books in 1994. Roger and I wrote it rapidly but not before doing extensive research on the two men, John Colter and Hugh Glass, who are the main characters of the novel.
I have not read the novel The Revenant but film rights were purchased when that book was merely an unpublished final draft and our novel had been out for a number of years, was widely reviewed and translated into a number of foreign languages. All of which is to say, we were first to present this unusual storyline about two famous mountain men in the wild lands of North America during the 19th century.
Some readers have told me that it seems that Hugh Glass and John Colter were fused into the one character of Hugh Glass in the film. Maybe so, I don't know. What I do know is that there are more than a couple of coincidences in all of this.
In our novel Colter and Glass are fused into one sort of superman-mountain man. Our original title was Colterglass. Our editor at TOR changed it to Wilderness.
We wrote about John Colter as an old, weary, backwoods traveler turned unsuccessful farmer in Missouri; this was at the end of our novel. I'd researched the possibility of Colter, in his final years, meeting up with Hugh in his young years and though the dates were sketchy, there was some written proof that this meeting took place at one of the mountain men meeting houses.
By then Colter had aged considerably. He may have been in forties but he looked much older as a result of the privations he endured running 150 miles from the Blackfeet warriors who were pledged to run him down and kill him.
So here we are in an alehouse sometime around 1812. Colter was famous. Glass was a kid yearning to make his mark in the wilderness. The alehouse was the yearly meeting place for veteran mountain men. Colter though was weary of "talking tall" as they called it. He settled himself in a corner of the room and listened to the braggarts.
Hugh Glass, the kid, bought Colter, the old guy, a glass of ale. One was about all Colter could handle. Colter told him:
"If you've a head on your shoulders you'll keep it where it belongs. My advice is to stay in St Louis where you belong."
"I've a mind," Hugh Glass answers, "to see what's back of beyond. Head or no head, I got to see it for myself. Take my chances, sir, just like you."
Colter looks the kid up and down and finally says, "I believe you'll outcrawl the likes of me."
A year later Colter was dead of jaundice.
It was Roger Zelazny's contention, while we worked on the novel, that Hugh, having been mauled by a bear, got some of the bear blood in him and became, as I say, a superman-mountain man. Colter, the same: he crawled through beaver dams and up raw rock in what would become Yellowstone.
Colter crawled when he could no longer run; Glass crawled after the bear mauling and then walked with a limp. The running Glass did was mostly in his mind because that evisceration by the bear was no small thing and most mountain men of that time carried their sundry arrow wounds and bear batterings to the grave.
Both men in the end became legends.
Roger wrote on the last page of our book:
Walking then away from it all
down endless caverns,
through citied futures,
one finds, as at the end of every trail,
a skull. Whose is hardly important,
but that into the coming together place
where time crosses the world,
it held the act of continual passion,
granting meaning to the bright moment
of its execution, beneath sun, sky, stars,
where lives and futures fuse ...
It is my contention that the skull, the trail marker, in our book Wilderness, originally called Colterglass, fused two brave American heroes into one.
If that's talking tall, I can live with it.