I once heard on a podcast that, when you like something, make it a practice to think of the reason(s) why you like it. If I remember it correctly, this was a strategy to keep your sceptical nature in check. Anyway, sceptical or not, I think this is a good practice.
Recently, I finished reading Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. It’s a biography, true travel essay about an adventurer who went off the grid to live like a tramp ending this long trip by living in Alaska. Although, a bit bogged down, at a few places, with too many details about the places mentioned that it was not easy for me to imagine, it was an interesting read.
Jon Krakauer is a writer and mountaineer and there’s even a chapter in the book regarding his life as a mountaineer where he described his extremely dangerous and loneliness filled climb of the Devils Thumb through a never been traveled before route. Probably, the author related to the main character, Chris McCandless, of the book at a personal level, inspiring him to write an entire book about him. The level of inspiration (or possession?) is kind of apparent from the fact that Krakauer first wrote an article reporting the unfortunate death of McCandless but later expanded it to this book. He researched the entire life of McCandless- talked to his family, friends and all the people McCandless made friends with on his way to Alaska, trying his best to understand the reasons, the ideals, the motives which guided this guy to life a life of a vagabond. Indeed, everyone, who will hear about McCandless’ story will think about that. Krakauer, although, took it a step further, maybe because he is a bit like McCandless.
What does the word, “wild” mean? By dictionary, it means an inhospitable, uncultivated or uninhabited place. One can also call wild, a pure or untouched place. A place which is yet to be destroyed by humanity. It can be someplace unknown to us.
“I want movement, not a calm course of existence. I want excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love. I feel in myself a superabundance of energy which finds no outlet in our quiet life.” - Leo Tolstoy
Into the Wild. The title, to me, was perfect to gather the whole essence of the book. The absolute meaning can be to go into the wild, inhospitable place. It can be interpreted, though, in many ways. It can mean, getting out of the comfort zone to just go into the unknown. It can also mean, to be free and not being shackled by the constructs of the society. It can also mean a life in motion. And, this is what you’ll feel if you read the book - a compilation of the stories of the wild.
The book describes the journey of a young man who started out on a life changing journey without informing anyone from the family and finally ending the trip in Alaska. It is written in a biography from sprinkled with quotes and stories related to the theme. The author has given an inside to his thoughts on the various situations and has derived many parallels from the lives of many, including his. The book was mostly in the sequence of actual events and at points where it wasn’t, I didn’t feel the existence of any gaps. It was even sort of engaging, thinking about when will that part be picked up again.
The author, in the book, points out that from the mails he got to the original magazine piece he wrote, many didn’t like the glorification of the death of someone who didn’t care about his life. That he was suicidal. But, throughout the book, Krakauer has tried to find the answers of the questions which might have put some light on the psyche of the McCandless. He also didn’t hold back from writing about the mistakes McCandless did.
I think, the author’s aim was different by writing this book. Yes, he wanted everyone to know about the life of Chris McCandless. How he lived, how he connected with everyone, how charming he was, how what he did was brave and something exotic. But, more importantly, he wanted everyone to learn from his life. I think, he wanted every reader to understand the importance of engaging with the nature (obviously, not to the extent of McCandless’ or his journey to Alaska). I think, he wanted us to see how our connections with others are very important to enjoy the life. And, how everyone close to us suffer if our decisions turn out to be deadly (figuratively or literally).
The Main Character
Chris McCandless, the character whose life we read about, seems like an intelligent young man who never liked to work according to rules. He despised his parents but was very close to his sister. Throughout the book, Chris, is shown to have good relationships with anyone who helped him during his journey, but every time it started getting more serious he’d resume his journey leaving those friends behind. This passage indeed puts it clearly.
McCandless was thrilled to be on his way north, and he was relieved as well - relieved that he had again evaded the impending threat of human intimacy, of friendship, and all the messy emotional baggage that comes with it. He had fled the claustrophobic confines of his family. He’d successfully kept Jan Burres and Wayne Westerberg at arm’s length, flitting out of their lives before anything was expected of him. And now he’d slipped painlessly out of Ron Franz’s life as well.
McCandless although, understood, but despised money and the role it played in the society. It comes as no surprise when we got to know that before starting his odyssey he donated all the money he had in his bank account and burned all the money he had in his pockets. He only took the essentials and just started his journey. For most part of the journey, Chris was of a mindset that he was really happy and enjoying his life by living on his terms. By the end, although, in Alaska, he seemed to have realized the importance of human connections in one’s life. The set of events that happened to McCandless were unfortunate but if he would have been able to get out of wilderness safely, this whole trip would have really been an Odyssey. An epic journey.
There’s part of the book where Chris’ love for running is depicted. He’d get sad if he thought he didn’t perform well during any race he has run and would not talk to anyone for hours. From the accounts of his friends, it seemed like, running was almost a religion to Chris McCandless. As if, he was mental, in a positive way, about that sport.
McCandless viewed running as an intensely spiritual exercise, verging on religion. “Chris would use the spiritual aspect to try to motivate us,” recalls Eric, another friend on the team. “He’d tell us to think about all the evil in the world, all the hatred, and imagine ourselves running against the forces of darkness, the evil wall that was tying to keep us from running our best. He believed doing well all mental, a simple matter of harnessing whatever energy was available. As impressionable high school kids, we were blown by that kind of talk.”
The book ends with the description of the Chris’ parents coming to peace with their son’s death in Alaska. They visited the site where their son died on the Magic Bus, as Chris described it the day he found the bus in the wilderness. His parents saw the same beauty and tranquility that Chris might have enjoyed, in the place where Chris spent his last days.
I recommend anyone who has ever thought about going out and travel out of their backpacks to read this book. The book depicts the life of a guy who started living life on his own terms in the wilderness. This book is the tale of all the things that guy did, learned and even taught. This book highlights the most important lesson for humans - HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.