The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon Themes
by Stephen King

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The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon begins by transporting Trisha McFarland from her familiar urban surroundings to the Maine wilderness, and the dangers of that shift are clear from the first sentence. In fact, King, who is thoroughly grounded in the American literary tradition, quickly immerses both Trisha and his readers into a typically American landscape, where he confronts his human protagonist with a seemingly endless and hostile wilderness.

Like many characters in classic American literature, Trisha discovers that Nature is much more complex than she first imagined. Worried initially about her situation, she tries "not to let herself think. This is serious, this is very serious. Trying not to think that sometimes when people got lost in the woods they got seriously hurt. Sometimes they died." Certainly King does not minimize the dangers of untamed nature, for Trisha experiences a violent thunderstorm her first night in the woods; she is bitten by mosquitoes and stung by wasps; she experiences severe hunger and thirst once she has consumed the contents of her sack lunch; she is tracked by what is either a fully grown North American black bear or a horrible monster; and she finally contracts pneumonia, which leaves her wracked with fever, chills, and what may well be hallucinations. Even without possible supernatural explanations for what happens to her, Nature is presented here as unfriendly to individuals who are unfamiliar with it.

On the other hand, with life reduced to its essential elements, Trisha discovers that she can survive in Nature by feeding herself on checkerberries, fiddlehead ferns, beechnuts, and even a raw trout she catches using the remains of her poncho. She also discovers that the natural world is full of wonders as well as things of which she is profoundly afraid. For example, while lost in the woods, Trisha encounters a family of beavers as well as a mother deer and her two fawns. Her delight at the beavers is palpable: "She stood on tiptoes, holding the trunk of the tree for balance. . . . He appeared to have whiskers, and his fur was a luxuriant dark brown. . . . Looking at him made her think of the illustrations in The Wind in the Willows."

Although alone in the wilderness, Trisha never entirely loses her connection to other human beings. She is able to fend off starvation because she remembers her mother's teachings about checkerberries and fiddleheads and because she had learned about beechnuts "from science class at school." As long as its batteries hold out, her Walkman serves to keep her connected to civilization as well as to her hero, Tom Gordon; and, even when the batteries go dead, she hangs on to it as her last connection to civilization and humanity. As a result, Tricia has a missile to hurl at the bear creature. It is a desperate move, and it may well have saved her life: "She looked into the bear-thing's empty eyes and understood it meant to kill her no matter what. Courage was not enough. But so what? If a little courage was all you had, so what? It was time to close." And even before that final confrontation with the unknown, when she spends the night in the cab of a long abandoned truck, she discovers that the human connection retains some power over the forces of the unknown: "It came for you, it meant to take you. Then you climbed into the truck and it decided not to, after all. I don't know why, but that's what happened."

While it is possible to read The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon as a simple adventure story about a young girl lost in the wilderness, King also uses his protagonist's plight as a metaphor for being spiritually alone. Like Dante Alighieri, whose character began his famous Comedy having "strayed into a dark forest, / And the right path appeared not anywhere," Trisha is both physically and spiritually lost. In fact, King even uses the same metaphor, having Trisha observe that "she had learned to stay on the path. . . . On the path you were safe." When she tries to pray, she finds that...

(The entire section is 1,374 words.)