Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer

Into the Wild chronicles the story of Christopher Johnson McCandless, a young man from a well-to-do family who after graduation leaves everything behind him - his friends, his family, his money, society - to embark on an adventure of a lifetime. Chris travels through the West and Southwest, eventually abandoning his car and most of his possessions and taking on a new identity, Alexander Supertramp. His ultimate goal is to make it to the Alaskan wilderness, where he planned to live a life reminiscent of his literary heroes of Jack London, Henry David Thoreau, and John Muir.

In April, 1992, Chris treks into the Alaskan wilderness. Four months later, his decomposed body is found by a party of moose hunters. His death became national news and the unanswered questions surround Chris and his journey intrigued people. Jon Krakauer, well known for his own adventures in Alaska (Into Thin Air), became fascinated by the story and set out to shed light on Chris's life, what he hoped to find in the wild, and the unanswered questions surrounding his death.

I have really mixed feelings on this book and Chris McCandless. I think it is easy to dismiss him as a privileged youth with dreams of grandeur, who traipsed out into the harsh wilderness of Alaska full of ignorant stupidity and completely ill prepared. On the other hand, I believe that it's a bit more complicated than that.

It is easy, when you are young, to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something badly enough, it is your God-given right to have it. When I decided to go to Alaska that April, like Chris McCandless, I was a raw youth who mistook passion for insight and acted according to an obscure, gap-ridden logic. I thought climbing the Devils Thumb would fix all that was wrong with my life. In the end, of course, it changed almost nothing. But I came to appreciate that mountains make poor receptacles for dreams. And I lived to tell my tale. 

I think that Chris suffered from many of the things that plague us all when we are in our early 20's. First, he came to the realization that his parents are not perfect. As children, I think we often see our parents as these larger than life figures and it is jarring to realize that they are human beings, who make mistakes and don't always behave how we expect them too. This realization obviously had a tremendous impact on Chris and his relationship with his parents, especially his father. Little boys are brought up to look to their fathers for how to act in various situations, and when a father disappoints a son in the way that Walt McCandless disappoints his son, it is only natural that Chris would have a pressing need to reject anything and everything related to his father. Rejecting everything his father stood for was also a rejection of everything he had ever known, so natural Chris sought our something to replace it with. 

I've never had a sense of wanderlust. Don't get me wrong, I love to travel as much as the next person, but home is never far from my mind and heart. And I don't mean "home" in just the sense of a physical space and possessions, but also the people that I share my life with. I think ultimately this is what Chris was looking for. A way to connect to the world, the people in his family, and carve out an identity for himself. The biggest tragedy of Chris's death is that he was beginning to realize that for happiness to be real, it must be shared with others. This can be seen in some of the highlighted passages in books that were found with his body and included in Into the Wild. Chris had every intention of returning to society and his family. Although it appeared that Chris had abandoned everything and given up all of his possessions, three hundred dollars and several forms of ID were found with his body. He expressed the hope of marriage and children in the future. Unfortunately he was laid low by some seeds he consumed and he never made it out of the wilderness. 

While I still view Chris McCandless as somewhat foolhardy, I can see why people react so strongly to this book. People either seem to love it or hate it. I think that Chris set out on this journey to discover truths, truths that we all seek and generally learn through experience. I think he was a victim of youthful hubris and unfortunate circumstances. There are lessons to be learned from his story and I admire his courage. Not many would have the courage to leave everything behind them, to step out into the unknown and chart your own path, but Chris did and there is something to be said for that. There were parts of the book and Chris's story that spoke to me and parts that didn't. I would recommend giving this book a chance at least once. It certainly will not make any of my favorites lists and I doubt that I will ever read it again, but having said that, I am glad that I did read it at least once.

Into the Wild was turned into a movie in 2007. It was directed by Sean Penn and Jon Krakauer was instrumental in the screenplay. It is a very well done movie and a pretty faithful visual representation of the story Krakauer tells in his book. The soundtrack is great too. Just in case your curious.... :)

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