A Fugitive in Walden Woods

Written by Norman Lock
Review by Bryan Dumas

Samuel Long escapes slavery in 1844 and travels the Underground Railroad until he reaches Concord, Massachusetts, and eventually Walden Pond. There, he is quickly befriended by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who adopt Samuel into their Transcendentalist group. Samuel builds his own cabin across Walden Pond and is hired by Emerson to watch out for his tenant and friend.

Ostensibly written by Long in 1862 as a eulogy for Thoreau, A Fugitive in Walden Woods is partly a story of the Transcendentalists from an outsider’s perspective, watching the luminaries debate the mundane (weather, water, nature) and the significant—most importantly the issue of slavery in the late 1840s. It’s also partly introspective rhetoric on the meaning of manhood and the idea of self, where Long questions freedom and a sense of home, self-reliance and ultimately civil disobedience.

As in many of Lock’s works (this is the 4th in the American Novel Series), the plot takes a long time to finally come to a head. Much of the book is spent with Long and Thoreau sparing verbally and Long wrestling with his own past and “finding the man” inside him and being more than a “well-spoken Negro” for the abolitionist cause.

Despite the often slow, introspective dialogue A Fugitive in Walden Woods shines in Lock’s ability to capture the essence of Thoreau and Emerson. Their mannerisms, speech and thought are rendered such that you wouldn’t know that they hadn’t actually spoken those words. A deeply insightful book that will force the reader to question race, social standing, and what it means to be truly free.