Of all the conflicts in literature, Man vs. Nature remains one of the most interesting and exciting. Brian hunting with a handmade bow and arrows; Robinson Crusoe finding God in a savage tropical landscape; Humphrey shelling his softness for strength on Wolf Larsen's ship; even the Swiss Family Robinson turning a jungle into a home—all of these stories not only quench our thirst for adventure, they reveal both the wild and the cultural impulses in the human heart.
Human beings, after all, can become very wild very rapidly. Adam was made in a Garden, after all, and his limbs were shaped out of dirt, and the breath God gave him was snorted right out of the divine nostrils. But God didn't leave man beast-like in the wilds to just eat, mate, and die like the rest of the animals. God created man in his image, to imitate him in culturing what was wild, bringing out of chaos order and beauty.
This is essentially the plot of every Man vs. Nature story. Man, thrown into battle with implacable landscapes, naturally turns his will and ability to subduing them. He cannot simply remain a wild thing; of course he must adapt, but he must also force nature to adapt to him, to accept the innate lordship of man and to serve him even as it fights him.
The miracle is that, finding Nature resistant to his culturalizing impulse, man also discovers Creation to be loving, almost mother-like in its protective impulses. While there's an element of pagan mysticism in the scene, who can forget Brian's realization in Hatchet that his fate and existence is overwhelmingly bound up with the lake from which he drinks? Nature kills, but Nature also preserves, retaining without consciousness an element of the original life-giving purpose for which God made it.
But the warmth of Nature mustn't be turned into more than it is—it mustn't be worshipped. It is merely a mirror of God's power of life and death, a picture of his unfathomable greatness and his particular care and love. And again, Nature is not God, and God is not Nature. Nature depends on God, the Creator of all things, and as such it reveals his glory even as it brings men in for a closer look, a look which will invariably change the onlooker.
There are plenty of great wilderness survival stories that aren't explicitly or even implicitly Christian. But the good ones all explore man's relationship to the elements in a way that doesn't overstate Nature's power or man's ability to overcome it, and do so in a way that is exciting and fascinating rather than ploddingly philosophical (like this brief essay). Those listed below are among the best we've found, and many of them are included in our lists of favorite books.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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