Thursday, June 26, 2008

Was Chris McCandless crazy or simply seeking spiritual fulfillment?

Jon Krakauer's book "Into the Wild" stirred up a great discussion at the Titles & Tea Book Club this week.

This non-fiction account of the 24-year-old college graduate who donated his last $24,000 to charity and was found dead two years later in Alaska was recently made into a movie by director Sean Penn. As you can imagine, the 1996 book has been in demand again.

Krakauer's book developed out of a magazine article he wrote for "Outside" magazine. (read the article at The book reads like an investigative account into the mindset of a charismatic young man who set off on an adventure and attracted friends wherever he went.

After setting off to see the country by foot, he made his way to Alaska to live off the land. For 112 days, he killed small game and survived on the local fauna. Then, in September of 1992, his emaciated body was found in a bus by moose hunters.

Alaskans vilify him for being stupid and unprepared. Worse, they say that he has caused many more stupid and unprepared people to come to Alaska to fulfill a similar wanderlust.

Many say that he was just young. Some say he was suicidal. Others think that he just wanted to do what Henry David Thoreau did almost 150 years before him. Thoreau abandoned society to live alone in the woods by Walden Pond for two years. During this time, he wrote the book, "Walden, or Life in the Woods." A book loved by many and praised by all.

But what if Thoreau never walked out of the woods? Would people think of him as crazy or suicidal? If Chris McCandless had survived or written a beautiful account of his adventure, would he be hailed a hero today?

Chris McCandless could have survived if he had taken a map with him. He purposefully went "Into the Wild" with a meager amount of possessions. Yet he died fulfilled.

To offer a quote from Walden, "To be awake is to be alive." In my opinion, that is what McCandless was after. The movie "Into the Wild" reflects this attitude more than Krakauer's book. In the movie, we get to know Chris McCandless more intimately. In the movie, we get to see what McCandless meant by his last message that he wrote on a piece of cardboard and held up in a picture he took of himself before he died. "I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Good-bye and may God bless all!"

So what's your opinion? Read the book or watch the movie. You can find both at the Ligonier Valley Library.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thought the opposite about the book vs. the movie. I felt like you got a much better feel for what McCandless was like through the book than what was portrayed in the movie. I just felt the movie was too "Hollywood", especially the interpretation of his parents.

I don't think McCandless was suicidal or psychotic. He was simply searching for a higher meaning to life than day to day activity. Many of us find that purpose in religion. Others turn to the pursuit of pleasure/entertainment. Chris' journey drew him away from society and toward nature. Unfortunately, it also drew him to his death.

I'd have to agree that if he'd survived he wouldn't have been glamorized into some sort of idealistic hero. While stepping outside of the norm and mundane can be healthy, as with anything in life there needs to be balance and moderation.

That's my $.25 (that's what $.02 costs these days).