309. Two Hands and a Knife

There has been an interesting rhubarb in the back stacks of Amazon, where that company acts as a conduit to a battalion of independent used bookstores. The controversy concerns a book/two books which is/are Two Hands and a Knife.

How’s that for convolution? Do I have your attention yet?

In 2003, Terry Gibson wrote a book called Two Hands and a Knife, a young adult survival story set in the Canadian wilderness. It garnered mixed and confusing reviews. It was almost as if the readers were reviewing two different books.

It turned out, they were.

In 1956, Warren Hastings Miller had also written a book called Two Hands and a Knife. I remember it well. I was in fifth grade at the time, in a tiny school, with no access to bookstores. Our school held a TAB book fair, and I bought Miller’s book. It was superb. I remember it better today, than I remember the books I read last week.

To be fair, it was also probably the first book I ever bought.

When Two Hands and a Knife came back onto my radar about a year ago, and seemed to be claimed by some modern author, my suspicions were aroused. Had some schmuck found an old copy and resold it as his own work?

No, it turns out, he hadn’t.

I made my way to the Amazon page which has a Look inside function and read the first chapters of the 2003 version. It was an entirely different book with the same title and similar plot. Of course, young-man-survives-the-wilderness is a sub-genre of its own, so plot similarities would be inevitable. Remember Hatchet?

Some of the reviewers of the 2003 book were clearly remembering their own distant childhood as well. Some reviewed Gibson’s book in glowing terms that showed clearly they had not read it, but were remembering the Miller book. Some noticed the difference, with disappointment. One hated Gibson’s book enough to give it one star and a “don’t buy”. A few reviewers had clearly read only Gibson’s book, and loved it.

If you’re curious, go to the page and go clear to the bottom. There are supposed to be eight reviews, but every time I go to this page, I only find five or six, and not always the same ones.

By now I’ve read enough of Terry Gibson’s book to know that it is reasonably well written, but not completely to my taste. Fair enough; I’m no longer the target audience. I have tried to find out who the author is, with little success. I did finally get a look at the back of the paperback cover in Google books and picked up this minimal biography.

Terry is a retired self-employed businessman. His love of the outdoors has taken him from North America and Europe to deep within the Amazon rain forest. It’s this ‘call of the wild’ that inspired Two Hands And A Knife, his first novel.  He currently resides in central Illinois with his wife Patricia.

This puts him pretty much in my generation. Did he read the Miller book as a child? Or not? Was it floating around in his sub-conscious? Or was Gibson’s book a conscious homage to Miller’s?

Don’t misunderstand. The 2003 book is not a rip-off, despite the crack you’ll find in Goodreads. It is an independent work. But we all have influences, ideas come from somewhere, and I find the entire process fascinating. In point of fact, Miller’s original Two Hands and a Knife was floating around in the back and front of my mind when I wrote my first novel Spirit Deer.

So Terry Gibson, if you someday google your own book title on a lazy afternoon, and stumble across this post, drop me a response. I’d love to talk.

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