67 Into the Wild

intothewildby Jon Krakauer, 1996

Privileged kid gives up all possessions, does no research, is done in by his own hubris. There, now you don’t have to read this.

(Seems like we’ve found a theme in Jon Krakauer’s writings, huh?)

Okay, the book wasn’t quite that bad, but that really does sum up Christopher McCandless’s story. In fact, the book isn’t terrible at all (much more palatable than the movie, I might add), but this is largely owing to Krakauer’s efforts to explore man’s fascination with the wild and less to do with Chris’s specific story.

Both this book and Into Thin Air arrived on my hold shelf at the library at the same time, so I read them back to back. After the harrowing journey up Everest, I was expecting a similarly heart-pounding foray into the Alaskan wilderness through the eyes of an idealist. We get the idealism, all right, but we also get a hefty dose of arrogance and just plain stupidity.

Disillusioned with society and having just graduated college, Chris McCandless gives away all of his money, cuts ties with his family, and travels west to live the life of a vagrant. Inspired by his literary heroes Henry David Thoreau and Jack London, McCandless’s ambition is to make it to Alaska where he will live off the land in solitude. That’s all fine, and though I’d be loathe live further than 15 minutes away from a Target, I respect the wilderness aesthetic. What’s difficult to endure is the fact that McCandless’s asceticism resulted in a quick and easily avoidable death. Although the exact cause of McCandless’s death remains under debate, Krakauer shows that he was not all that far “into the wild” as he believed himself to be and a map would have quickly brought him salvation. You cannot tell me my way of life is wrong if you can’t even survive in yours.

Chris McCandless’s story was originally the subject of a magazine article and, as such, the book is padded with tales of other adventurers/explorers. Krakauer even includes his own experiences with Alaskan mountain climbing and the effect it had on the development of his character as a young man. I found these asides served to soften McCandless’s harsh demeanor, allowing us to understand how the pull of exploration affects us all. It’s easy to dismiss McCandless’s dichotomous approach to life, but everyone can identify with the need to be away from everyone and everything, even for just a little while.

Into the Wild sorely lacked the excitement of Into Thin Air and left me wishing there were more to McCandless’s story. I’m simply not inspired by someone who thinks they’re above modern society and falls flat on their face in trying to prove it. The moral of the story here? Buy a freakin’ map.

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