A Review of John Krakauer's novel 'Into the Wild'

WriterDave By WriterDave, 29th Nov 2012 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Travel>North America>United States>Alaska

This is a short, three-page review of John Krakauer's novelette, 'Into the Wild', a non-fictional tale about the courage and mystery surrounding Chris McCandless' and his subsequent adventure in Alaska.

A Review of John Krakauer's 'Into the Wild'

Jon Krakauer’s two hundred and three page travel essay, Into the Wild, is a meticulous recreation of Chris McCandless’ adventurous life and subsequent tragic death in August of 1992. Krakauer, a writer, mountain climber, and outdoor enthusiast himself, seems to understand the motivations of would-be wanderlust that inspired McCandless, a college educated young man, to throw away most of his worldly possessions and take off for the metaphorical and literal “road”. What drew me to McCandless’ tale was first the random watching of the Hollywood movie made from the book, and then later, a feeling of empathy for the kind of young man who chooses to take the “path less traveled” as an author once put it. Into the Wild attempts, and in many ways succeeds, in ferreting out the drive, character and to some degree, the soul of McCandless. One doesn’t have to fully understand the young man’s purposes but moreover we come to see some of our own selves in him, and thus feel a kinship for our fellow man. Krakauer uses quotes by numerous authors including Tolstoy, Thoreau and Jack London which give evidence of McCandless’ quick intellect and philosophical raison d’etre.
The story that Krakauer at first outlines and then dips in and out of, adding some of his own history and others as augmentation, is of Christopher McCandless: (who was incidentally born in the same year I was, 1968) a sensitive, idealistic, somewhat imprudent, but deeply moralistic human being. McCandless hits the road Kerouac-style, takes up odd jobs when he can, lives out of his car then later his tent, fording about the United States, encountering friends along the way, all the while with the dream of Alaska in the back of his mind. It’s a book that gives details that the film leaves out, and in some ways is a more antiseptic look at McCandless’ journeys. It is easy to see Krakauer (and by book’s end hopefully the reader) has tremendous respect for his subject, allowing for the boy’s hubris and rugged individualistic spirit to shine through. Krakauer gets us to see how we all were in our twenties, taking more chances certainly than we would in our forties or after accruing families, careers and weight of material possessions. We come to admire McCandless and realize that hindsight is always 20/20 vision, but sitting in an armchair discussing “what Chris did wrong” is far less productive than simply admiring his joie de vivre. McCandless both exhilarates and frightens us, and reminds us of a 19th century hero in a tome we curl up in our warm beds to read about; safe in the knowledge that we can live vicariously through him while never actually risking our own necks.
As someone who has taken his share of risks, however, I feel a sadness that Chris’ adventure didn’t pan out (or maybe it did?) because the world is a little more melancholy, a little less fun, and certainly a bit more monotonous without the Chris’ of the world. Chris McCandless was a “doer” not an idler. He rushed hell’s bells into things, sometimes irrespective of people’s feelings, and to say the least, he was a selfish young man - but selfish in the best sense. He was selfish to the degree that he wanted to know more about the world by knowing himself better. He thought through random challenges and the unknown he could uncover the truths of humanity. Was he so far off? McCandless treasured freedom and individual achievement and yet Krakauer hints that by his journal entries we know that he was finally ready to make peace with society and come back to it. Like Kerouac who climbed down from a misty Pacific Northwest mountain and ambled into a bar ready to tell his tales to any stranger who would listen, Chris also was seemingly weary of his two year exploits and yearned for the friends he had made on the road and perhaps even his estranged family once again. We can all at once admire and shun some of the things Chris McCandless got up to in his brief flicker of a life, but we can not do so without recognizing the hypocrisy within ourselves in doing so.
Long after I viewed, “Into the Wild” the film, and then later read the book, I felt a sort of funny feeling in my gut; a tugging sort of urgency - is this Chris’ legacy, to both inspire and teach us what a life fully lived is about? Yet, I do feel a brotherhood with this man of my generation that I never met, that hopped a freighter into the city I live in, however briefly. I feel a kind of fraternal friendship to a ghost whom I can only know through words and images cleverly crafted by others, and yet his life sort of speaks for itself. It was a life he lived uniquely, and Chris might echo the words of popular hit tune in it’s day sung by an aging Sinatra….”I did it my way….”


Adventure, Alaska, Book Reviews, Chris Mccandless, Danger, Travel

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author avatar WriterDave
Writing can be many things to many people. For me, it is a way of expression and understanding. Reviewing films, hopefully helps myself and others better understand and get more out of the film.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
29th Nov 2012 (#)

We all want to live our dreams but are balked by reality and family commitments. When we step out of our comfort zones we can face criticisms that only few are willing to take on. Thanks David, for a nice review - siva

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author avatar WriterDave
29th Nov 2012 (#)

Ah, so true, Sivaramakrishnan. Thanks for taking the time to read my first published article on Wikinut! Keep coming back :)

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