The cabins around North Pond, Maine, have been burgled numerous times over the last quarter of a decade. While items of value are ignored, the cabins all find themselves perplexed at the loss of batteries, food or gas bottles. What starts off as a possible memory slip on the part of the owners becomes a community-wide outrage at decades of midnight home invasions, leaving people unnerved and paranoid. Despite cameras, locks and smarts, The Hermit (as the thief becomes known) has never been seen and has never been caught. Part urban legend and part menace, The Hermit only reveals himself as all too real when he is apprehended, mid-thievery, 27 years later.
Christopher Knight was a smart, witty introvert as a child from a close-knit and intellectual family. Nobody knew why he disappeared, or later, why he became a hermit, relying on thievery and his own wits to survive, isolated and removed from this society. Michael Finkel’s book is his attempt at answers, having met and questioned Knight.
Initially, I believed that The Stranger in the Woods was fiction, the story seemed to strange and too catchy to be true (I attribute this confusion also to Finkel’s easy style of writing). A Google search proved its veracity, and attested to Finkel’s excellent writing. Win-win.
Throughout his documentation of Knight’s actions and past, the story seems somewhat inconclusive – why the heck did Knight willingly fall off the radar and divorce himself from human contact for a quarter of a century? However, I feel that this is the exact point both Finkel and (possibly) Knight are trying to make – that no human can be explained or defined accurately; thoughts and actions are not inert objects capable of dissection.
Christopher Knight may have broken the mould and defied what it means to be ‘innately human’, but Michael Finkel nevertheless shares a glimpse into the mind of this man; a person who simply sought his own company, and did not wish to be among his own kind. Self-discovery is perhaps inadequate an explanation, it seems to me that Christopher Knight sought self-validation; meaning and undiluted individuality. Finkel helped him do this on a larger scale, through an addictive read that rattles and confounds almost as much as its subject does.
The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel is published by Simon & Schuster and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers