Being taken down a fascinating fantasy path in The Hike

By Cameron McMillan

It all started when author Drew Magary took a hike.

"The beginning of the book is something that happened to me. Not the gross parts," Magary assures the Herald.

By the gross parts he means men with dog heads doing something with a human body. The exact point where the Hike turns from a thriller about a man lost in the woods to a fantasy-folks saga that is very hard to put down.

The inspiration for the book came when Magary checked into a hotel in rural America and asked something most people would think was a simple question: Is there anywhere I can take a walk?

"I was the only person in the hotel and there was one person working in the hotel.

"I asked the clerk if there was a place I could walk and she said 'Nah, not really'. I said 'Really?'. We're an hour from New York City, it wasn't nowhere.

"I looked behind the hotel and decided I was going to walk anyway and found this big marked path. Either the lady didn't know what the f*** is going on five yards behind her hotel or some crueler God has put this path here for me and is about to twist my world and that's where it all came from."

The main protagonist in the Hike, a suburban family man called Ben, is stuck on an Odyssey meets Grimm's Fairytales like path that he can't seem to leave. With the aid of a crab, a giant and an undersized Spanish conquistador he attempts to complete his hike. The journey is uniquely surprising and thrilling throughout.

But we don't want to give away too much. Or do we? In the age of spoilers, Magary says the key to promoting anything might be by giving more than people think they want.

"You have that initial thing where you're like 'I don't want to spoil anything' as ideally I'd want everyone to go into it cold. But no one will read it if you do that. If you don't say anything about it people will say 'F*** you I won't read your book then because I don't know what it's about'. So you give them a little tease like 'it's the Odyssey but with lots of cursing' or 'a guy goes on a hike and gets really really lost and there are lots of monsters and shit like that'.

"I try and pull out stuff that influenced me - the Wizard of Oz is in there obviously, It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Tale. Any sort of big classic that resonated with me and folktales I grew up with as a kid. I try to keep it vague but I've really noticed as much as people don't like spoilers, they crave a certain specificity when they are shopping for something. People say trailers can give too much away but that's what people want."

What culminates is a very dark, and at times humourous, story with tones akin to something children of the 1970s and 80s were brought up on.

Magary says his major influence was British writer Ruth Manning-Sanders who released a compilation of more than 90 folktales where all of the stories were to do with a creature or mythical character with titles such as A Book of Ogres and Trolls and A Book of Sorcerers and Spells. They are no longer in print, Manning-Sanders passed away aged 102 in 1988, but Magary grew up on these mystical stories that featured the likes of magic seeds which also appear in The Hike.

"I read them all. I remember they were cool because yes they were dark but there was also a sense of whimsy. They had a little bit of dark humour to them and they were sort of messed up to.

"They are really dark and I think there's a lot of parents now who think it's too dark to read - but that is exactly what the kids want. My oldest kid, she likes to watch the original Snow White and that's a deeply f**ked up movie. There's something about those stories that just last."

Drew Magary's book The Postmortal was made common assigned reading for all freshmen at California State University, Northridge.

The Postmortal was Magary's brilliant and gripping debut novel which looked at a near future where a cure for aging is found. The Hike is very different with some witty and funny dialogue weaved throughout the thrilling tone but once again Magary does a great job at painting a new world and surroundings which leave a lasting impression well after you've finished the book.

Magary wears many hats as a writer, penning regular blog posts on the NFL or reader's 'poop' stories for sports site Deadspin, features with the likes of Justin Bieberand Chris Pratt for GQ. He also wrote a parenting memoir in 2013 titled Someone Could Get Hurt, a hilarious take on parenthood.

"I'd rather be working on a couple of things at a time. Because if I get stuck on one thing, I move to the other. It's different. If there's a blog post - let's say Trump does something really stupid, which is every second now - it's cool to have a reaction piece because I know I can get it up quick. That sort of quick sugar rush of getting something up straight away and getting a reaction from it.

"The long GQ pieces are sort of like small books - there's research then transcription and you're going through all your notes, going through a heavy editing process and finally it appears in print and then people react to it. That's gratifying. Books are a whole step away from that because they are so long and such a pain in the ass. But then it the end you have this beautiful volume that is yours and it sits on a bookshelf and hopefully in a bookstore and you can say 'I'm the author of x' and that's really deeply gratifying. All of them serve one another."

And what about Trump? For an author who has penned a book about a messed up reality and another about a postmodern dystopia, the thought of a former reality TV host leading his country down the wrong path certainly doesn't excite Magary. He even wrote a column for GQ called If You Vote For Trump, Then Screw You.

"It's a terrible time for democracy, for the general education of our electorate and all that. It's not fun anymore.

"As much as it is entertaining, a lot of people are quick to blame it on America's shallow need to be entertained or that all we want is a reality show which I don't think is actually true.

"I think the people who like him, generally the idea of him blowing up the political establishment no matter who's doing it or how because they are frustrated with whatever is going on. If they're racist then Trump is racist enough to be the little cherry on the sundae for them. I don't want to think about it too farcically anymore, I have to hope he doesn't win or we're all f***ed otherwise.

"There's a lot of good stuff going on in America and it's getting buried by this. It's very unfortunate".

The Hike is available at

- NZ Herald

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