A Walk in the Woods: Archetypal Literary Theory Involved


The art cover of the film version of A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods is by the American author, Bill Bryson, who is known for his popular non-fiction books (including this one). The book is written in first person, and seen through the eyes of the author himself, Bill. Bill and together with his good old friend, Stephen Katz, hope to hike the harsh, 2100+ mile long, Appalachian Trail. The story is jam-packed with statistics and facts, to keep the reader on their heels, and to educate them with information ranging from tree species, to the history of the Appalachian Trail.

I like the general idea of the book; how two friends reunite and go on a long, tough journey. I just do not like how there are so many facts that Bill Bryson includes. Like talking about how long the Appalachian Trail really is, for a whole page (really, really boring).


A mysterious forest, full with organisms

The biggest archetypal element that stands out to me in the book, are the amount of forests and trees there are. In the Appalachian Trail, there are many kinds of forests that our “hero” Bill and his “child-like” friend, Stephen, encounter. Forests can represent a symbol of the unconscious mind, or even a place of danger. Both definitions make clear connections to the story, as neither one of our main characters have that much experience with hiking, and thus, they are “unconscious” with their surroundings. Therefore, they are in danger, as they do not have the experience needed, to hike the Appalachian Trail. “The hero enters the forest and discovers something about himself … Often the hero is tested. Sometimes he doesn’t survive the confrontation with the unknown” (Engelmann, “The Forest Dark As Archetype”). This quotation accurately explains the situation regarding Stephen’s ability to continue hiking. Stephen constantly complains and whines all throughout the hike, because of the physical condition he is in. Thus, he is tested, but he pulls through (for now at least…) and continues to hike despite the pain. The fact that he may not “survive the confrontation” (aka quit/give up) is yet to be proved, and only time will be able to tell.

Bill Bryson, the main character, the mentor of his child-like friend (Stephen), and the hero of the book, A Walk in the Woods. When reading through the factual book, it was hard not to notice the many amount of times when Bill has helped Stephen either physically, “I’ll take your pack. I lifted it onto my back” (Bryson 53), and mentally when Stephen said, “We’ll freeze out there … Yeah probably, we’ve still gotta do it” (Bryson 47). There even more examples than these, like the countless amount of times when Bill has to wait for Stephen to catch up while hiking. When I look at Bill, I see not only a great friend, but a good mentor. I’d love to be his friend because for the simple fact that he is a caring man. Stephen would probably – for sure, die out there by himself, as he does not have the determination like Bill has. Regardless of Bill’s experience, his desire to conquer the Appalachian Trail, proves to be a greater priority; but above all, is keeping Stephen alive.

Stephen Katz on the other hand, or at least to me, is like an innocent child. He almost always requires help, no matter the problem size, big or small. This quotation accurately describes Stephen, “The mature personality of the Child archetype nurtures that part of us that yearns to be lighthearted and innocent, expecting the wonders of tomorrow, regardless of age” (Myss, “The Four Archetypes of Survival”). Stephen has a somewhat mature personality, and is a prime example of how “age” does not matter in his world. He is 44 years old, yet he acts like he is much, much younger than that. I noticed this whole “Stephen is so child-like” dilemma, when Bill said:

Katz had gone back to Des Moines and had become, in effect, Iowa’s drug culture. He had partied for years, until there was no one left to party with, then he had partied with himself, alone in small apartments, in T-shirt and boxer shorts, with a bottle and a Baggie of pot and a TV with rabbit eyes (Bryson 35).

This specific piece of text clearly represents how Stephen, in spite of his age, still acts as a much younger person.


An old man (Looks like Stephen), despite his age, proving to everyone that he still retains his youthful “moves”

A Walk in the Woods, may be full of facts but, is also full with many archetypal elements – some of which, I discussed above. I would be lying if I said I loved the book, but rather just “enjoy” reading it, especially through a pair of archetypal lens. In terms of Bill’s and Stephen’s journey, the fact if they can make it through the trail or not, will be determined as time soon will tell.


Works Cited

Bryson, Bill, and Jackie Aher. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. New York: Anchor , a Division of Random House, 2016. Print.

Engelmann, Peter. “The Forest Dark As Archetype.” The Forest Dark. WordPress, 11 Sept. 2014. Web. 12 July 2017.

Myss, Caroline. “Appendix: The Four Archetypes of Survival.” Caroline Myss. Caroline Myss, n.d. Web. 12 July 2017.