Been reading Jon Krakauer’s ‘Into The Wild,’ this last week or so. Part biography, part travelogue, part memoir and part analysis of the psychology that leads young men to undertake hazardous endeavours, the main narrative strand of ‘Into The Wild’ pieces together the two year long odyssey of Chris McCandless that led him across the North American continent before heading into the Alaskan wild to embark on the ‘great Alaskan adventure’ that resulted in his death from starvation. The story of how McCandless divulges himself of all his worldly belongings before renaming himself Alexander Supertramp and disappearing into the wilds of the United States is intertwined with accounts of other such figures from the last hundred years or so. What emerges is a compelling tale of adventure that ultimately, and from what I can tell, unluckily, ends in tragedy.
Chris McCandless outside the ‘magic’ bus, Fairbanks 142, his home for the three months of his great Alaskan adventure.
Krakauer’s fragmented structure of the book layers the story, varied subject matter and genre building over the course of the book to create a whole much more powerful than its parts. As the title of this blog might suggest, I primarily read and write fiction, yet this piece of engaging non-fiction is easily one of the most satisfying and emotional books I have read this year. Perhaps it is simply having my own boys and being able to relate to the anguish of McCandless’ parents at the loss of their son that led to this book having such a impact upon me, or maybe the realisation that in 1992 when he died I was a similar age, but whatever the cause, I have found myself reflecting on the events related in Krakauer’s celebrated account since completing it earlier this week.
Last night I watched the Sean Penn adaptation of the book, which manages, in just over two hours, to successfully capture the two years of traveling described in the book.Often films of books can be disappointing but this is a perfect extension of the text as well as a necessary one, in that it provides a helpful visual aid showing the places and people McCandless discovered along his trek. The American and Alaskan landscape are beautifully captured in the film. I realise all this is probably old news as the book was first published in 1996 and the film did the rounds in 2007, garnering critical acclaim before vanishing but for those reading this who aren’t familiar with this story both the book and the film come highly recommended.
Bille and Walt McCandless are in the process of launching a new book about the story based on their son’s hundreds of unseen pictures and journal entries. The book, featuring an introduction from Jon Krakauer, is titled Back To The Wild and is planned for release late this year, along with a DVD, late this year, with the proceeds going to the Christopher John McCandless Memorial Fund. Having read about the photographs and journal in Krakauer’s book, the prospect of reading the actual texts and seeing the images described is an interesting one.
If the above has piqued your interest, you can read an extract from ‘Into the Wild’ here.
And here’s the trailer: