The text on the dust jacket of Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild makes it clear that the thread of suspense running through this compelling book isn't necessarily tied to the fate of its subject. "In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley," the jacket reads. "His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter."
With the demise of McCandless already revealed, Krakauer concentrates on ...view middle of the document...
"In 1992, however, there were no more blank spots on the map--not in Alaska, not anywhere. But Chris, with his idiosyncratic logic, came up with an elegant solution to this dilemma: He simply got rid of the map. In his own mind, if nowhere else, the terra would thereby remain incognita."
While McCandless viewed nature and solitude as the keys to fulfillment, he profoundly touched those he encountered on the road prior to his fatal journey to Alaska. While prone to introspective musings on the meaning of life, the well-read McCandless could just as easily knock back a few shots of Jack Daniel's and entertain his new-found friends with his piano playing. He comes across as engaging yet ultimately unapproachable in his brash pursuit of raw, austere experience.
Krakauer succeeds in capturing McCandless' unique personality even as he establishes links between his subject and a loose fraternity of adventurers who also took to the wild in search of meaning and identity.
Over the years, Alaska has been a magnet for intrepid characters who trek into the bush, never to reappear. For example, Gene Rosellini, the son of a wealthy Seattle restaurateur, hoped to return to a natural state by scavenging and hunting game with spears and snares. He endured Alaska's bitter winters clad only in rags and fashioned a windowless hut without benefit of saw or ax.
After declaring this experiment a failure, Rosellini made plans to walk around the world, but he never got the chance. He was found lying face down on the floor of his shack in 1991, dead of a self-inflicted knife wound to the heart.
This and other fascinating parallel case studies offer only a glimpse of what prompted McCandless to commune with the harshest side of nature. Arguing that McCandless is more of a "pilgrim" than a "bush-casualty stereotype," Krakauer searches for others who mirror him more accurately.
Everett Ruess, a young adventurer described by Wallace Stegner in Mormon Country as "a callow romantic, an adolescent esthete, an atavistic wanderer of the wastelands," comes closest. In the early '30s, Ruess embarked on a wilderness adventure in Utah and was never seen again. Writing to his brother in 1934, Ruess foreshadowed McCandless' feelings: "I prefer the saddle to the streetcar and star-sprinkled sky...