It should not be denied… that being footloose has always exhilarated us. It is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations, with absolute freedom, and the road has always led west.
~ Wallace Stegner in The American West As Living Space (quoted in Into The Wild)
Into The Wild is the story of Chris McCandless, a young lad who loved the wild, wide world and wanted to explore its depths to his heart’s content. Almost everyone has wanderlust in their souls, at least a little bit, but it was extremely pronounced in the case of Chris McCandless. Breaking free from the shackles of routine life and taking in the beauty of nature were all he seemed to think of. His dream was to go away from his parents, who he felt meddled too much in his life, and hitchhike alone to Alaska, the destination he craved to reach. He intended to live off the land as much as possible, hunting game and eating the edible plants that he could find in the forest. He donated his trust funds, burnt all the money in his wallet and abandoned his car and well-to-do life before venturing out on foot, as soon as he had completed his graduation. His family was shocked when they came to know of this decision of his, a couple of months after he had already set off.
From the diary that McCandless maintained, as well as the photographs that he took en route, we know that he enjoyed the journey. Being in the midst of nature filled his heart with great joy. McCandless formed friendships with the people who offered him lifts on the way, but was always careful not to get too close to them. The letters that McCandless wrote to these people show us the route that he took on his unusual journey.
McCandless did succeed in reaching Alaska, after a lot of difficulties, and was proud of his achievement. Unfortunately, he didn’t emerge out of the forest victorious, meeting a tragic death. Jon Krakauer, a journalist with Outside magazine, wrote a piece on this incident, called Death Of An Innocent. Apparently, Krakauer was so intrigued by the case of McCandless that he investigated it in great detail and recorded his observations and findings, and that’s how the book Into The Wild came about.
Into The Wild is sincere and touching, and evokes many feelings in the reader – from wonder to pity, from sadness to fear. At the end of it all, you can’t help feeling sad at the loss of a young life, one that was so much hopeful, so full of dreams, so full of love for nature. In the book, Krakauer adds excerpts from the letters McCandless wrote to the various friends he made in the course of his journey into the wild, as well the passages that McCandless highlighted in the books that he carried with him – including his favourite ones – Tolstoy, Thoreau and Jack London. These, along with his journal, give an insight into the McCandless’s frame of mind; they tell us what was running in McCandless’s mind as he wandered from one place to another.
The language of Into The Wild is simple, and the tale of McCandless is told effectively, so much so that you feel you are with the adventurous lad on his fateful expedition. Krakauer also draws parallels between McCandless and various others who went on similar expeditions into the wild. Krakauer is a mountaineer himself and, not unlike McCandless, used to see moutain climbing as a form of escape from his problems. In Into The Wild, Krakauer also writes about the similarities between himself – as a young, confused and troubled boy – and McCandless. Into The Wild also talks about the response that the McCandless incident received from his family, as well as the criticism of the same from the public.
I don’t read much of non-fiction, but this is one of those real-life books that I thouroughly enjoyed reading, to the extent that I couldn’t put it down. To some extent, I’ve been footloose too, and the wanderlust is very much alive in me. I have always been in love with nature, and have loved to travel to and learn about different places, but have never considered going all out and heading alone to the other side of the world. Into The Wild opened up a whole new world to me. It showed me what the wild is actually like, and what the differences are between ‘travelling to a place’ and ‘exploring a place the McCandless way’.
A movie has also been made, based on the book, and now, I can’t wait to see it. I’ve heard there’s a huge difference in the way McCandless has been depicted in the book and in the movie. I can’t wait to check it out for myself, and to see how the movie matches to the pictures the book has created in my mind.
Would I recommend Into The Wild? Definitely yes. It is a wonderful read, for travellers and non-travellers alike.
Thanks, Anupama, for lending me a copy of this book!