Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

A parishioner gave me the book “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer as a retirement present.  She said that our plans to travel in retirement reminded her of this book.  So now that we are beginning our travels, I decided it would be a good book to read.

“Into the Wild” is an older book, published in 1996.  It tells the story of Chris McCandless who, influenced by the writings of Tolstoy and Thoreau, abandoned his family, got rid of most of his possessions and traveled all over the western United States for two years before starving to death in Alaska.  I guess the plans to travel and getting rid of most of our possessions would remind the parishioner of us.  I certainly hope the rest of the story does not.

I did not like Chris McCandless.  Even though the author identified with him, I could not.  McCandless was selfish and arrogant.  People tried to befriend him and help him, but McCandless went his own way without any thought of what he was doing to the people who cared about him.  He did not communicate with his parents from the time he graduated from college.  He thought that getting back to nature meant traveling without a map or compass.  At the time he died, he was only a few miles from help, but had no way of knowing it was so close.

One of the last pictures of Chris McCandless
One of the last pictures of Chris McCandless

I had a hard time continuing to read the book.  The reviews of the book call it “compelling,” “riveting,” “tragic,” and “sensational”. I did not find it to be any of these things.  Krakauer’s prose was overblown and he spent too much time philosophizing about McCandless’s motives.  I did not find McCandless haunting or tragic.  I think he was stupid.

My favorite chapters of “Into the Wild” were the two where Krakauer discussed some of the other people who went “into the wild” and ended up dying.  Chapter 8, “Alaska,” looked at others who were attracted to the wildness of Alaska only to die because of hubris. Chapter 9, “Davis Gulch,” examined the life of Everett Ruess, a young man very similar to McCandless who wandered into the Utah canyon lands and was never seen again.  I think I would have liked the book better if Krakauer had only spent a chapter or two on McCandless.  Sixteen chapters were too many.

Tom and I have left a lot of things behind as we head out on the road, but we are committed to staying in touch with those we love and who love us.  We are also seeking to be led by God in the directions and actions we take.  “Into the Wild” reminded me that a life lived in connection with others is a life of purpose and meaning.