Themes and Characters

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Paulsen's wife, young son, friends, and acquaintances are mentioned in this autobiography. However, other than Paulsen, there are no human characters; the major characters in Woodsong are animals. Some are the sled dogs and the other domesticated animals that live around Paulsen's home. Others are the wild creatures that Paulsen sees when they appear at his home or when he meets them in the woods.

Paulsen provides a personality for each of the domestic animals by describing its actions. There is Hawk, the banty hen, who adopts the ruffed grouse eggs that Paulsen finds in a nest after the grouse hen is killed. Fred, the yard dog, expresses his dislike of diets by biting the author on the leg. Among the sled dogs, there are Cookie, who teaches a lesson about trust; Columbia, who plays a trick on Olaf; Storm, who is an "honest" dog; and Wilson, who sucks an orange soda from his bootie while running as lead dog in the Iditarod. One of the wild visitors to the Paulsen yard is Scarhead who, one day, could have killed the author but instead teaches him a lesson about life.

In novels such as Dogsong and Hatchet, Paulsen has written the stories of young boys who must learn to survive the harsh lessons of the wilderness. Also, in works such as The Island, he has written stories that focus on a young boy's feelings and his reflections on his world and the meaning of life. Woodsong is Paulsen's autobiographical account of his own survival in the woods and his own spiritual quest for understanding.

Publishers Weekly (July 27, 1990) called Paulsen the "best author of managainst-nature adventure writing today." In November 1990, Christian Science Monitor indicated that Paulsen is "one of the reigning kings of the outdoor adventure tale." But Woodsong is really the story of a man learning from natureā€”a man learning to accept nature, to adjust to its demands, and to work within its limitations. As Paulsen says when he writes about his dogs, "they had great, old knowledge; they had something we had lost. And the dogs could teach me."

In Woodsong, Paulsen seems to be arguing that it makes no sense for man to pit himself against nature and to fight it. What makes sense is for a person to learn from nature, to understand it, and to work within the constraints that it provides. At times Paulsen's writing seems almost mystical, as when he describes the relationship of the hunter and the hunted and the harmony of a man and his dogs. Paulsen wants to learn from nature without destroying it. Woodsong is his searching for awareness.

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Chapter Summaries