Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Travelling and Reading ‘Into the Wild’

I’ve spent the last 7 months of my life travelling. Studying abroad in Puerto Rico, before exploring Colombia solo for a month, and then landing in Spain to start my second semester of university. During all these trips I read whatever English or Spanish books I could get my hands on at hostel book swaps or from friends of friends. Yet now that my life has calmed, and my daily routine is less adventurous and more focused on turning in homework, I’ve been searching for a book through which I can travel vicariously.

A basic search of Google lists revealed Into the Wild as one of the top travel books to read and, with over 4 stars on Goodreads and Amazon, I quickly downloaded it to my Kindle ready to experience someone else’s adventure.

Jon Krakauer envelops the reader in the breaktaking landscapes that McCandless explored 

The story is centred around the true story of Christopher McCandless, a wealthy student who gave up his life and savings to become a hiker and vagabond, and who eventually died alone in the Alaskan wilderness chasing dreams of freedom amidst untamed nature. The author, Jon Krakauer, developed the book from an article he wrote previously, and filled it with a more in-depth account of what lead McCandless to such an extreme end. He included stories of similar young men that have tried to roam in the wild but ultimately disappeared or died.

The story is strongest in its descriptions of McCandless’ journey. Jon Krakauer envelops the reader in the breathtaking landscapes that McCandless explored, recreating the richness of nature in an immersive and intoxicating manner. It enamours the reader with the wild, but also allows us to understand the euphoria that McCandless felt in nature, an elation so intoxicating that caused such radical wanderings.

Krakauer idolises McCandless, who whilst interesting was not as heroic or revolutionary as the author attempts to convince

Yet, whilst Krakauer is undoubtedly talented, the narrative falters and fails to maintain momentum as the stories of other adventurers cut what is compelling and are laborious to trawl through until you once more reach the details on McCandless. The development of article to novel has serious flaws, feeling padded with inconsequential tangents almost as if just to up the word count.

Additionally, Krakauer idolises McCandless, who whilst interesting was not as heroic or revolutionary as the author attempts to convince. Many descriptions of McCandless’ journey are validated and explained away by Krakauer, rather than allowing the reader to form their own opinions. The mistakes, missteps and negative attributes that McCandless undoubtedly had, and which led to his demise, are not explored thoroughly. His behaviour is consistently glorified in a way in which, if he had not met such a shocking end, undoubtedly wouldn’t happen.

This is all accentuated with the multiple quotations from writers such as Tolstoy and Thoreau at the start of every chapter, that seemingly attempt to drill into the reader that McCandless was living what these great authors exalted and achieving a deeper purpose in his exploring. The over intellectualisation of McCandless’ actions is unconvincing; Krakauer’s elevation of McCandless to a form of folk hero is not effective and the reader’s own internal common sense is not suspended by the proclaimed romantic ideals.

Into the Wild is an interesting exploration of the true account of an outrageous life and death

Overall, Into the Wild is an interesting exploration of the true account of an outrageous life and death, which for those interested in memoirs or true crime could bear a read. The book offers accounts of actual tangible adventures and has served as inspiration for many who seek an impetus to embark on their own exploits. Yet the narrative is muddled, at times dull, and ultimately the aims of Krakauer are misguided in seeking to glorify McCandless, who is ultimately famous for his mistakes and not his accomplishments.

Nevertheless, the tale of Christopher McCandless is a fascinating one, but I would recommend that if you are interested, a thorough read of his Wikipedia page is more than enough.

Star Rating: ★★☆☆☆


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