Into The Wild is another Jon Krakauer’s masterpiece after the famous Into Thin Air (a personal account of the Everest disaster), Eiger Dreams, Iceland, and Under the Banner of Heaven. Sean Penn made it into the movie – it’s released last year and has received 8 wins and 31 nominations including two for the Oscars.
I love this book. I guess because I love the outdoor and always admire the persons who have the courage to immerse themselves in the open wilderness to find the pure sense of the lovely Mother Earth. The book is accompanied by a number of maps throughout the chapters showing us the places where Chris McCandless was searching for answers to his rebellious and stubborn view of his idealism of what the world should be. It’s also full of quotations and real accounts of people who live in the wilderness especially the vast Alaska.
Krakauer is an editor of the Modern Library Exploration Series and below is his note at the beginning of this book:
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.
Shortly after the discovery of the corpse, I was asked by the editor of Outside magazine to report on the puzzling circumstances of the boy’s death. His name turned out to be Christopher Johnson McCandless. He’d grown up, I learned, in an affluent suburb of Washington, D.C., where he’d excelled academically and had been an elite athlete.
Immediately after graduating, with honors, from Emory University in the summer of 1990, McCandless dropped out of sight. He changed his name, gave the entire balance of a $24,000 savings account to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet. And then he invented a new life for himself, taking up residence at the ragged margin of our society, wandering across North America in search of raw, transcendent experience. His family had no idea where he was or what had become of him until his remains turned up in Alaska.
Working on a tight deadline, I wrote a nine-thousand-word article, which ran in the January 1993 issue of the magazine, but my fascination with McCandless remained long after that issue of Outside was replaced on the newsstands by more current journalistic fare. I was haunted by the particular of the boy’s starvation and by vague, unsettling parallels between events in his life and those in my own. Unwilling to let McCandless go, I spent more than a year retracing the convoluted path that led to his death in the Alaska taiga, chasing down details of his peregrinations with an interest that bordered an obsession. In trying to understand McCandless, I inevitably came to reflect on other, larger subjects as well: the grip wilderness has on the American imagination, the allure high-risk activities hold for young men of a certain mind, the complicated, highly charged bond that exists between fathers and sons. The result of this meandering inquiry is the book now before you.
I won’t claim to be an impartial biographer. McCandless’s strange tale struck a personal note that made a dispassionate rendering of the tragedy impossible. Through most of the book, I have tried – and largely succeeded, I think – to minimize my authorial presence. But let the reader be warned: I interrupt McCandless’s story with fragments of a narrative drawn from my own youth. I do so in the hope that my experiences will throw some oblique light on the enigma of Chris McCandless.
He was an extremely intense young man and possessed a streak of stubborn idealism that did not mesh readily with modern existence. Long captivated by the writing of Leo Tolstoy, McCandless particularly admired how the great novelist had forsaken a life of wealth and privilege to wander among the destitute. In college McCandless began emulating Tolstoy’s asceticism and moral rigor to a degree that first astonished, and then alarmed, those who were close to him. When the boy headed off into the Alaska bush, he entertained no illusions that he was trekking into a land of milk and honey; peril, adversity, and Tolstoyan renunciation were precisely what he was seeking. And that is what he found, in abundance.
For most of the sixteen-week ordeal, nevertheless, McCandless more than held his own. Indeed, were it not for one or two seemingly insignificant blunders, he would have walked out of the woods in August 1992 as anonymously as he had walked into them in April. Instead, his innocent mistakes turned out to be pivotal and irreversible, his name became the stuff of tabloid headlines, and his bewildered family was left clutching the shards of a fierce and painful love.
A surprising number of people have been affected by the story of Chris McCandless’s life and death. In the weeks and months following the publication of the article in Outside, it generated more mail than any other article in the magazine’s history. This correspondence, as one might expect, reflected sharply, divergent points of view: Some readers admired the boy immensely for his courage and noble ideas; others fulminated that he was a reckless idiot, a wacko, a narcissist who perished out of arrogance and stupidity – and was undeserving of the considerable media attention he received. My convictions should be apparent soon enough, but I will leave it to the reader to form his or her own opinion of Chris McCandless.
It’s a lovely and touching book… obviously it came from the author’s heart channeling a young man’s spiritual short and yet rich journey.
April 27th, 1992
Greetings from Fairbanks! This is the last you shall hear from me Wayne. Arrived here 2 days ago. It was very difficult to catch rides in the Yukon Territory. But I finally got here.
Please return all mail I receive to the sender. It might be a very long time before I return South. 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. Alex.
(Postcard received by Wayne Westerberg in Carthage, South Dakota.)
(This is Eddie Vedder’s song for Into The Wild and this song got 2008 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song – Motion Picture, 2008 Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media, 2008 Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for The Best Song.)
On bended knee is no way to be free
lifting up an empty cup I ask silently
that all my destinations will accept the one that’s me
so I can breath
Circles they grow and they swallow people whole
half their lives they say goodnight to wive’s they’ll never know
got a mind full of questions and a teacher in my soul
so it goes…
Don’t come closer or I’ll have to go
Holding me like gravity are places that pull
If ever there was someone to keep me at home
It would be you…
Everyone I come across in cages they bought
they think of me and my wandering
but I’m never what they thought
got my indignation but I’m pure in all my thoughts
Wind in my hair, I feel part of everywhere
underneath my being is a road that disappeared
late at night I hear the trees
they’re singing with the dead
Leave it to me as I find a way to be
consider me a satelite for ever orbiting
I knew all the rules but the rules did not know me
August 12, 1
992 – written in meticulous block letters on a page torn from Gogol’s Taras Bulba, it reads:
S.O.S. I NEED YOUR HELP. I AM INJURED, NEAR DEATH, AND TOO WEAK TO HIKE OUT OF HERE. I AM ALL ALONE, THIS IS NO JOKE. IN THE NAME OF GOD PLEASE REMAIN TO SAVE ME. I AM OUT COLLECTING BERRIES CLOSE BY AND SHALL RETURN THIS EVENING. THANK YOU.
(He signed the note “CHRIS MCCANDLESS, AUGUST?” Recognizing the gravity of his predicament, he had abandoned the cocky moniker he’d been using for years, Alexander Supertramp, in favor of the name given to him at birth by his parents.)
…. I HAVE HAD A HAPPY LIFE AND THANK THE LORD. GOODBYE AND MAY GOD BLESS ALL! … written on the final page of Louis L‘Amour’s memoir, Education of A Wandering Man.
Then he crawled into the sleeping bag his mother had sewn for him and slipped into unconsciousness. He probably died on August 18, 1992, 112 days after he’d walked into the wild, 19 days before six Alaskans would happen across the bus and discover his body inside.
One of his last acts was to take a picture of himself, standing near the bus under the high Alaska sky, one hand holding his final note toward the camera lens, the other raised in a brave, beatific farewell. His face is horribly emaciated, almost skeletal. But if he pitied himself in those last difficult hours – because he was so young, because he was alone, because his body had betrayed him and his will had let him down – it’s not apparent from the photograph. He is smiling in the picture, and there is no mistaking the look in his eyes: Chris McCandless was at peace, serene as a monk gone to God… and acknowledged that “Happiness is only real when shared”.