“In April 1992, a young man from a well-to-do East Coast family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a party of moose hunters.”
–from author’s note, Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
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“If this adventure proves fatal and you don’t ever hear from me again, I want you to know you’re a great man. I now walk into the wild.”
–one of Christopher McCandless’ last postcards, sent from Fairbanks, AK, to his friend Wayne in South Dakota, April 1992
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I first heard of this book several years ago, and the story has intrigued me immensely. I finally got my hands on a copy of the book a few months ago, and on a whim this morning, I grabbed it to take with me to the writing center, knowing that I had five hours of work and would not want to be bothered with Gertrude Stein for the whole of those hours. Little did I know I wouldn’t be able to put it down. I made it through half the book before leaving work and finished it just half an hour ago. Since then, I’ve been researching the story online, and I decided it was time for yet another book review (after all, it’s only been a day since the last one).
Jon Krakauer first got involved with the story when he wrote an article for the January 1993 issue of Outside magazine. After the response to his article, he decided to develop the story and history of Christopher McCandless into a book. The result is an astonishing story that reveals so much of the life of McCandless that I almost feel as though Krakauer must have somehow channeled the young man’s spirit, resulting in a posthumously written memoir. Krakauer conducted in-depth research with everyone who knew McCandless during the last two years of his life–from the moment he graduated from Emory University in 1990 to the moment his body was found in September 1992.
a self-portrait from a roll of film found with McCandless’ body; this bus is where he lived most of the four months in the Alaska wilderness and where his body was found
Inspired by such epic writers as Jack London, Leo Tolstoy, and Henry David Thoreau, Chris McCandless is an other that I can’t pretend to fully understand. He was anti-government (inspired by Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”); adept at making money, but loathsome of the concept at the same time; and far braver and more courageous than I could ever attempt to be. I, in no way, romanticize his life and death, as some have accused Krakauer of doing; instead, I see that he made utterly stupid decisions at times (those decisions and his ignorance of the Alaska terrain ultimately lead to his demise), but he also embraced life fully and did exactly what he thought was right. I have to admire that kind of mindset, although I could never live that way.
In short, Christopher McCandless is a man that I wish I could have met just once and had coffee and a steak with somewhere out west. Instead, I find myself inspired and enlightened by the story of his life and death. I’m not setting off for the Alaska wilderness with a copy of Walden and a ten-pound bag of rice. But now I understand, at least a little more, what it must be like to have that desire and to try immensely to fulfill it.
Also, I’m terribly interested in seeing the film, starring Emile Hirsch and (sadly) Kristen Stewart. I leave you with the trailer for the film, which seems to, in some way, at least, embody the character of Chris McCandless: