Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"A man who's passions leads him into the wild"
Doesn't it seem such a simple context to write about a event that has happened. It's something that can been seen through many documented civilizations, back to the Egyptians. Without delving into a whole historiography essay, we know through some, what is considered primary sources, is sadly inaccurate or (perhaps more so) difficult for a mind influenced through a modern intellect to understand or grasp the eras we are reading about. Have I bored you yet? Stick with me Trooper!
Jan Krakauer, who himself has adventured throughout the wilds of American, decided to write a book upon Chris McCandless own Odyssey. Chris was a native New Yorker, from a wealthy background, a over achiever and some would say, a idealist. I feel (and having experienced this myself) words can have a hold over you, especially when you're searching for something to believe in (or to escape from). Chris McCandless was influenced from works by Leo Tolstoy, who was a master of fiction through portrayed extreme moral views. Rene Descartes, well how long do you have? One of the first to come up with the philosophical view of 'natural science.' Descartes theories such as 'Dualism' (Passions of the Soul) would have had a influence upon McCandless no doubt. Jack London, a atheist who wrote a fictional account of 'his' own adventures through Alaska. The book was called The Call of the Wild written from the comfort of his own home, having never ventured out too Alaska. Some say London was a recluse and a drunkard, couple that with apparent sexual appetite that would leave most 'vanilla' individuals in shock. Such a poignant tale would have had (and arguably did) a profound impact on the 23 year old.
Why have I bothered to wrote all that out? I'm trying to give the reader a idea just how words have power, strong meanings, underlying tones, powerful imagery and cryptic metaphors. As a idealistic 23 year old, it could only have helped 'guide or hinder' Chris.
It's easy to build up the picture of Chris as a university jock throughout the narrative. A spoiled boy, indulged by his parents but pushed into higher education. What happened was the New Yorker and graduate from Emory began to rebel. With his relationship already deteriorating with his father, it really came across throughout the narrative how Chris, A) Blamed his parents for the way he was, B) Lead by words from Descartes, Thoreau and London decided to disenfranchise himself from society that he felt was interfering with his own beliefs. I believe Descartes said something along the lines that a good government should not be seen. Can't say I've heard of a modern government not to have interfered in people's lives in some way!
I'm waffling. Eventually after Chris's graduation from Emory (and very nice university by the way!) he jumped into his banged up (but reliable) old Datsun and motors on towards his big adventure, where he is soon self-styled as Alex The Supertramp which we discover he names himself throughout his diary entries. He is never to be seen again by his family, Walt and Billie, only his sister receives a post card from him. McCandless's travels take him from Mexico City all the way up to Alaska. By a mixture of hiking, hitching rides, rail road jumping and taking the odd job, where he eventually hits Yukton.
Chris really comes across in the narrative as a considerate, generous and loving guy (when he chooses to be) this is (perhaps) embellished by Jan Krakauer, but during moments when he stops and takes work, he builds lasting relationships with those folks. Even the guy giving him a lift to the Stampede Trail really took to McCandless. It kind of hit home this guy isn't just on a adventure, it's a personal quest for him. Yes, of self discovery, but one of escape as well. What's he running from? Perhaps the pressure from expectation from his family, the everyday grind of society, his father or has he just reached that breaking point of giving up on himself? A question you may ask yourself as a reader when coming to the facts of Chris's demise.
OK, so last couple of points. Jan Krakauer, the author of Into The Wild is very biased towards defending Chris. There's no other way to see it. I'm not just saying that, you can see Jan's staunch defence of the New Yorker by just reading the narrative. Especially towards the end where he attempts to explain McCandless mindset by bringing in his own experiences. Which for me is wrong when attempting to write a piece of non-fiction/factual piece (perhaps I've fallen into the same trap with this review hah). When Krakauer introduces the book in his authors note, he clearly states -
"I won't claim to be a impartial biographer.'
A few lines down the same paragraph, Jan makes it clear that his authorial presence does interrupt the narrative which draws from his own youthful experiences. My main problem with this, where does the actual facts end and Krakauer's experiences take the lead? It's bemusing that this is presented as a non-fiction title, when the author has allowed the facts to become diluted with his own passion and experiences. It's a concern that I felt I needed to mention. The majority of primary sources are gathered from postcards Chris sends to those he has met on his travels. Etchings that were been made by Chris in his final place of rest. Also the real essence of Chris's character is shown to the reader through highlighted passages in certain literacy works.
To many Chris McCandless was a unprepared idealistic youth, living with tales from London, Tolstory and Descartes. Recklness goes hand in hand with being young! Did he prepare for the harsh realities of the Alaskan snow desert, no! Was he prepared to live off the land for the summer of '92, to some extent. Was he idealistic, yes. Was he a fool for doing so, no. He was a brave intelligent young man, fed up with society and the 'isms' that underline our current social-structure. He died, possibly by error of judgement, or possibly by just giving up. I don't know. Even with the medical jargon Jan Krakauer evidences', I prefer to think Chris McCandless as a type of modern day explorer. You should follow your passions in life, as what else is there! Live the life you choose to live, not what other's expect or decide of/for you. Surely there is purpose to such a ethos? Idealistic, but then that is me.
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