Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer is the 205 page non-fiction account of Christopher McCandless’ life and adventures throughout American, specifically focusing on his time in Alaska.
I watched Sean Penn’s adaptation of Into The Wild a number of years ago now, and it quickly became one of my favorite films of all time. The breath taking scenery and heart wrenching story sucked early 20’s me straight in, dragging me in by my naive wanderlust. Do I wish I had left it there, not having read the book behind the film? Do I wish I hadn’t delved deeper into this story I loved so much for years? I haven’t decided yet, but…probably.
**the remainder of this review will contain spoilers**
Christopher McCandless was a young man fresh out of college in America when he decided to just ditch his entire, more than a little privileged life and hitchhike his way up to a remote area of Alaska. He donated all the money in his bank account to OXFAM, a charity who focuses on famine and hunger, which is ironic really in hindsight, left for Alaska without telling a soul he was going, and never looked back.
Now here is where my problems begin with this book, I mean a beautiful film is a beautiful film, I also love Titanic, but if I stopped to think about the hundreds of lives lost in that real life situation I’d be completely shook, which is pretty much the situation I am in now that I’ve read this book. The movie, as do parts of Krakauer’s writing to be fair, deeply romanticise the fact that a young man, younger than me, decided to walk out of the lives of every single person he knew, and live in a wilderness he knew little, but not enough about, to satisfy his intense craving for adventure. We all have needs, we all desire to travel the world, and I guess the idea of waiting and saving for months to escape to a new part of the world for a 14 day holiday doesn’t appeal to all when one thinks of travelling, but McCandless took it to the extreme.
I fully understand why this book divides people into those who love it, and those who think Chris was a selfish, egotistical example of white privilege. Chris travels in and out of various communities on his way to Alaska, some times sticking around long enough to gain a job and get to know people. Some of these people are featured in the book, interviewed by Krakauer, and give their thoughts and opinions on him. The general feeling from those who met him on his journey seems to be similar in all instances, they are older people, some with children Chris’ age themselves, who cared about what happened to him, tried to help him, and ultimately cared for him even though he was basically a drifter.
I would love to travel America, I would adore to visit Alaska, maybe trek into the woods, camp out for a couple of nights maybe, but I don’t think I’d ever just vanish into the void of adventure. And after all Chris experienced, after all the wilderness he trekked through and survived, he died in what he assumed was the middle of nowhere, just six miles away from civilization. He wasn’t as into the wild as he thought, and that is another reason why this book shattered the illusion that the movie produced. This story takes place in the early 1990s, we aren’t talking about an adventure in the 1800’s in which a man sets out to discover and map out the new world, the world was already mapped, but I don’t think Chris quite saw it that way, I think he wanted to experience the simplest life possible, in the most natural way possible, and discover a land untouched by man.
I gave this book three stars on GoodReads, this isn’t really down to the story and the fact I’m pissed the book shattered the movie magic for me, but because I feel like the author really stretched to flesh out the book. Krakauer originally wrote about McCandless in a magazine article, and that kind of shows up clearly in the way the book is structured. You start off with the origins of the story, getting to Alaska, the build up to it, and then Chris is abandoned and we move on to other explorers whose stories have some parallels to Chris’…not too annoying, because its interesting to hear that this isn’t an isolated incident, but then we get entire chapters about Krakauer’s own near-death climbing experiences and it basically turns into the writer thinking, ‘okay I’ve run out of his life story, lets chuck a bit of mine in there for dramatic effect, really show the reader I knew what McCandless was feeling/thinking’. Once you know the book was spun from an article, it is quite easy to see the author in the writing, fleshing out bits of other stories to try and produce a full book.
All in all, I did enjoy this book, I found it interesting, factual, and it gave me a new, albeit conflicted insight into the life and times of Christopher McCandless. I still love the film, I think I’ll always love the film, but now after reading the book, I no longer feel the romanticized pull towards the actions of a man who left everyone he knew and that loved him, to die of starvation (maybe) a three hour walk away from civilisation.