Stranger than fiction

 Stranger In The WoodsReview by Nick Mattiske

Book | The Stranger in the Woods | Michael Finkel

One day in the 1980s a young man fed up with the modern world abandons his car by the side of the road and disappears into the woods of the northeast United States, where he remains for the next 30 years, living in isolation.

Christopher Knight, described as the last true hermit (a problematic term as becomes evident), sustains himself by breaking into nearby holiday cabins and thieving food, clothing, fuel and camping gear, sparking a decades-long investigation. Upon his eventual arrest he becomes something of a reluctant celebrity, the subject of marriage proposals and songs.

Besides the intriguing story, the book raises interesting moral questions. After his arrest, Knight tells police that virtually everything he ‘owns’ is stolen. Rainwater was the only provision he didn’t steal. He didn’t grow or hunt any of his food. Author Michael Finkel suggests Knight’s ‘back was fully turned to the world’, but Knight did not live in the wilderness. His camouflaged campsite was within three minutes’ walk of a form of civilisation, and he could only survive with the modern conveniences he stole. He took from the community while turning his back on contributing to it.

Hermits typically have a religious purpose, and give back by dispensing wisdom. Knight offers no manifesto for his ways, except for an affinity for Greek stoicism, dismisses the ‘hermit’ label, and is ashamed of his thieving.

Finkel is full of admiration at Knight’s tenacity in surviving and determination to shun the falseness of much of modern society. Locals are less forgiving, while the online hermit community (yes, there is such a thing) decides Knight is not a true hermit, but simply a thief who gives hermits a bad name.

Available at www.simonandschuster.com.au  RRP: $29.99

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