Review: Into the Wild, the story of Chris McCandless

I’m ashamed to say that Into The Wild passed under my radar. I don’t know how this classic “road story” went unnoticed by me all this time, but it did. I was at a friend’s house in London when I picked up a copy of the book. “It’s a true story” he told me. “It’s about this guy who gets rid of everything he owns and gives away his trust fund to go travelling in search of true happiness and beauty. They find him dead in Alaska in an abandoned bus and try to figure out why he did what he did.”

That was the gist of the story put bluntly and not so eloquently by my friend. The story intrigued me, and coincidentally the following day I saw that the movie of the same name, directed by Sean Penn, was on TV, so I watched intently.  The body of Chris McCandless was found in an old bus in the Alaskan wilderness in 1992 and the most haunting thing about this was the journal, notes and photos he left behind, which act as a voice beyond the grave. The self portrait photo of an emaciated Chris McCandless sitting on a chair in front of that run down bus will stay etched in everyone’s minds I’m sure.

The discovery of Chris’s body prompted Jon Krakauer to write a book examining what brought him to abandon his possessions, cease communication with his parents and give his $24,000 savings account to charity to go on his Great Alaskan Adventure. Found in the wilderness, Chris had starved to death as he tried to survive on wild plants and minimal provisions.  He wrote a journal recording his spiritual and physical state has he experienced solitude living off the land in Alaska.

The questions asked by many- is this a romantic story of a backpacker on a quest for a world without obligation and material possessions? Or is it the story of a foolish American who went unprepared into the wilderness? Since his death hundreds of people have hiked to the site of that abandoned bus, and he has interestingly been cast by some as a heroic figure.

But what led him to starvation in the wild? Some people have questioned whether Chris suffered from Schizophrenia, especially as he went back and forth between his real name and his alter ego name “Alexander Supertramp”. Jon Krakauer examines in the book whether Chris died because of poisonous toxins found in the seeds of the potato plant but lab results now show that this wasn’t the case. His official cause of death was starvation, something brought about because of his lack of supplies. Chris tried to leave but his path was blocked by an impassable river- ironically, however, there was a manual tram about 1/4 of a mile from where he had previously crossed.

I think, sadly, Christopher McCandless went Into The Wild to discover what is summed up in his famous quote “happiness is only real when shared”… something he found out far too late. He went all that way to discover that something is only really worth experiencing if you can share it with someone else.

Although, like most backpackers, I can relate to the story, having left home with my entire world fitting into a backpack, I don’t find him a romantic figure. Many backpackers are on a search for meaning to their lives, wanting to discover more about themselves and what it means to truly live. Many backpackers have things that they wanted to forget and leave behind. But Chris’s story is just a tragic one.

Chris McCandless wanted to know what it was like to live off the land in the wilderness, choosing to go with only ten pounds of rice, a rifle and a book on wild plants. He found out what it was like to live in the wilderness…lonely and hard.  If I was to hazard a guess I think Chris McCandless had an arrogant vision of himself as someone who could survive with barely anything but the clothes on his back. He wanted to explore the unexplored and discover a life without responsibility, possessions, people, money but in doing so, he went to his death. He insisted on going hardcore, but in the end it was pure stupidity.

When things didn’t go to plan and he was dying of starvation he left an SOS note asking for help, but it was too late. Unfortunately, Chris went into the wild looking for answers, but ended up dying because of lack of preparation, lack of supplies and lack of common sense. The answer he got was a simple one; nature will kill you if you’re ill-prepared.

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11 Responses to Review: Into the Wild, the story of Chris McCandless

  1. Andreas Moser March 26, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    Chris McCandless may have had a short life, but he certainly had a fulfilled one: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/into-the-wild/

  2. Leo September 18, 2011 at 7:05 pm #

    He went through a spiritual death, fulfilling his calling of what is is like to live like our ancestors. The guy is just shunned by “society” and that’s what he was trying to escape in the first place. He did what a lot of people wouldn’t have the balls to do, even if the outcome wasn’t death.

  3. Kelly October 8, 2011 at 11:40 pm #

    First and foremost his parents and family were the reason for his downfall. He couldn’t seem to be able to escape their selfishness, lies, and need to control him. He wanted love but was being stubborn and instead turned all of his pain and anguish onto himself.

    He decided to “rough it” because he wanted to see where his life would lead him if he had absolutely nothing (except bare essentials-which he probably didn’t even like having). If a life of privilege left him hopeless, in pain, and emotionally as well as mentally destatute-then he wanted to live on the outside how he felt on the inside.

    Apparently the abuse was pretty bad and the fact that he didn’t seek therapy meant his life was only going to get worse and more self-destructive. He died because he didn’t have the physical needs to survive but his outward way of living caught up to how he was on the inside. His body was found starved as his emotional needs (and possibly physical needs) were starved as well while growing up and even throughout college. He couldn’t heal on his own-but what was he to do? He didn’t trust anyone anymore.

    Hopefully young people will take away from this that you shouldn’t run from counseling because this is what will happen to you if you don’t get it. He was self medicating on nature whereas others will use drugs, food, sex, gambling, or whatever to destroy themselves. Chris’s drug of choice was nature and unchartered territories-”getting lost in the wild”. It is like the last, ultimate hit to the junkie.

  4. Con November 27, 2011 at 6:52 am #

    I recently went to his parent’s new book/DVD tour “Back to the Wild”. I didn’t know what to expect but I was disgusted at what I saw and heard. I could only sit through 30 minutes of his father’s slide show. I realized there was a clueless man on stage trying to convince the audience that he understood his dead son through pictures and letters that they had found. The whole production was the exact opposite of what Chris would have wanted, especially put together by the people that didn’t understand him that he ran from.

  5. Nemo June 26, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

    C. Mccandless wasn’t running away from anything, he was just answering the same call as the dog in his favourite book. He might have realized at his deathbed that happiness is only real when shared, but I’m sure he didn’t regret any of his decisions. One of his favourite Jack London quotes was “For life achieves its summit when it does to th uttermost that which it was equipped to do”, and I think he remembered that to the very end. Only when you’re not bound to any kind of modern day invention you feel the joy of the body you were given and the surroundings you were placed in the middle of.

  6. just saying July 27, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

    you’re wrong if you think that chirs was stupid to have little supplies! obviously you’re missing the point! he didn’t go ill prepared, what makes you think he wanted to live off land forever?! the people he met on his journey especially wayne said that he very much wanted to start a family and write a book on his travels. and he didn’t suffer from any disease he just did something we don’t have the balls to do! i’m not saying he is a hero..just different.

  7. Pete November 14, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    Love ur description 20 something British girl from Manchester, got a good laugh off that!

    Chris seemed to be a troubled lad who bit off more than he could chew, not a bad chap in anyway but his luck deserted him when he needed it most…..that bus, those mushrooms, weird times in the semi wilds of Alaska I’d say

  8. James January 3, 2013 at 6:22 pm #

    I just Googled Fairbanks and it was smack dabbed in the middle of Alaska. Talk about isolation. There are plenty of places in Alaska to live and still be within reach of civilization. I plan on living on the road someday when my kids are grown and out of the house. I won’t cut off communication, but I will toss my phone away. Postcards will be sufficient. What ever job I have I will quit and sell all that I own to fund my travels. No phone, no responsibilities, no facebook. Just me and the road.

  9. Eli February 2, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

    The way most people reacted to Chritopher Mccandless Story clearly justifies his aversion to Society. Period.

  10. Tim Shepard May 30, 2013 at 11:31 pm #

    I dont know how you people cannot see, this is a man who was having a gradual psychotic break with reality. He got himself in a bad situation when he lost lucidity and starved to death. This story is really nothing more than that.

  11. Well actually... August 17, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

    After reading the book I dont think he was ill prepared to live off the land. The main error was that he that he didnt have a proper map with him. Honestly if he had had a decent map he would have survived. Most botanists didnt even know that those potato seeds were poisonous, t was a tragoc mistake they were. Id take a good look at the final chapters of the book before you say he was super unprepared and stupid. Hes not exactly a hero, but hes not a joke either.

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