Sunday, May 23, 2010

Into the Wild

Into the Wild is a book written by Jon Krakauer and first published in 1996. That means that this review isn't exactly what you would call "timely".

I picked up the book because my daughter had been assigned it by her high school English teacher. The next book she was assigned was Catcher in the Rye which makes me wonder if the teacher is aiming at cultivating a subversive streak in his students.

Into the Wild is a story of Chris McCandless who changed his name to Alexander Supertramp and went into the wilds of Alaska in an attempt to live off the land for a few months. This experiment cost McCandless his life. The book tries to explain who McCandless was and why he would attempt such a feat.

What has struck a chord with people and what allowed this book to become first a best-seller and then a "major motion picture" was the story of a young man trying to find himself and bring meaning to his existence. What made McCandless worth writing about was that he died trying to gain that enlightenment. To paraphrase Rick from Casablanca, "Yesterday Chris McCandless was just another kid enjoying the freedom of the road. Today he's the honored dead."

Should he really be honored though? McCandless in many ways brought his demise upon himself. He did not have the proper maps or equipment which could have easily allowed him to survive his trek into the wilderness. His hubris cost him his life. Is that commendable or worthy of emulation? McCandless wanted to be a rock, an island upon himself but a well read kid like McCandless should have known that no man is an island. This is a lesson McCandless seems to have learned. Very near his death he noted that true happiness is something that can only exist if it can be shared.

Overall the book was a good read. Not too taxing (as befits a book that is assigned to high school readers). The book gave me a greater appreciation of our abundance of food and the freedom it allows us. Instead of gathering or tracking food for most of the day - people are free to accomplish higher things like reading, writing, inventing or watching sports on TV. The book reminded me of Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge but whereas Larry Darrell's search for meaning was sparked by his war experiences and had him reach enlightenment on a mountain in Tibet - Chris McCandless' spark seems to have been daddy issues and his result was death by starvation.

No comments:

Post a Comment