Into The Wild-By Jon Krakauer Book Review
Although author Jon Krakauer admits his fondness for Chris McCandless in the introduction of Into The Wild, he does not succeed, as he takes the liberty to state, in minimizing his authorial presence. While Krakauer truthfully admits in his “Author’s Note,” “I won’t claim to be an impartial biographer,” he makes his presence known throughout the novel.
His self-injection into Chris’s story comes at the reader’s detriment, something Krakauer clearly fails to recognize. Again, in the “Author’s Note,” Krakauer claims that “Through most of the book, I have tried—and largely succeeded, I think—to minimize my authorial presence.” Yet by being the judge of his own success, Krakauer fails to see that in fact his authorial presence is both inescapable and distracting to the reader.
By understanding that the author has made up his mind, the reader can only understand Chris’s story through Krakauer’s framework. He takes creative authority to reenact Chris’s emotions, intentions and actions, of which he presents to the reader as though they are factual. An example of this lies in Krakauer’s description of Chris’s feelings as he paddled his canoe down the Colorado River. Krakauer writes that, “McCandless was stirred by the austerity of this landscape, by its saline beauty. The desert sharpened the sweet ache of his longing, amplified it, gave shape to it in sere geology and clean slant of life (p. 32).” It begs the question not only how Krakauer would know what emotions the landscape conjured up within Chris, but also why Krakauer believes he has the authority to factually state Chris’s private thoughts.
In fact, Chris does make his reflections on the landscape known, in a letter to his dear friend Wayne. He writes, “This is a good state! There is all kinds of fantastic scenery and the climate is wonderful (p.33).” Yet he does not depict a landscape that so romantically captures his emotions, as Krakauer claims. Later, in his journal entries, he writes that, “Alex has merely run into the bed of the now dead and dry Colorado River (p. 34).” If Krakauer had wanted to remain a silent author, he would have let Chris’s words speak for themselves, instead of try to capture the essence of his fleeting thoughts and emotions.
In order to establish his own credibility, Krakauer takes an abrupt halt from telling Chris’s story and inserts two chapters on his own Alaskan adventure into the novel. While he had forewarned the reader in the Author’s Note that he would “interrupt McCandless’s story with fragments of a narrative drawn from my own youth. I do so in the hope that my experiences will throw some oblique light on the enigma of Chris McCandless.” Although some insight is gained from Krakauer’s own experience, two full chapters hardly seem to be “fragments of a narrative.” Overall, the injections are distracting and the little insight they give the reader into the mindset of Chris does not justify the loss of momentum in the story.
Krakauer clearly feels as though he has a special kinship with Chris, which influences him to be able to make statements concerning ambiguous parts of Chris’s life. Krakauer oversteps his boundaries as an author by overemphasizing their similarities in order to draw conclusions. In particular, Krakauer takes huge liberties in describing Chris’s relationship with his father. He takes his views further by relating Chris’s strained relationship to his own paternal bond:
As a young man, I was unlike McCandless in many important regards; most notably, I possessed neither his intellect nor his lofty ideals. But I believe we were similarly affected by the skewed relationships we had with our fathers. And I suspect we had a similar intensity, a similar heedlessness, a similar agitation of the soul (p. 155).
While Krakauer clearly feels that he has enough similar personal experience to Chris, this does not give him full authority to make judgments and assumptions as to why Chris acted the way he did. Although Krakauer’s relationship with his father pushed him to pursue climbing in an often reckless manner, that does not mean that Chris’s relationship with Walt is what pushed him to abandon his family and live on the edge of society.
In fact, there seems to be quite a difference in Chris and Krakauer’s ideals; Chris had the heart of a quester, full of wanderlust, while Krakauer was a determined mountaineer. While they may have shared a love for the objective and harsh aspects of wilderness, it seems their intentions in turning to the wild were quite distinctive of one another. Chris’s ambitions were to achieve some known metaphysical awareness by thriving off the unknown, removed from the constraints from society. Krakauer did not have the lofty, romantic philosophical ideals that Chris possessed, nor did he have the desire to cut himself off from society. Furthermore, Chris lived successfully off the land for 113 days, while Krakauer almost died in a few short days summiting a mountain.
Thus they do not seem to be as similar as Krakauer makes them out to be. This notion leaves the reader with the sense that Krakauer was captivated by Chris’s passion; and that it reminded him of the person he once saw himself as. Chris may have reminded Krakauer of his former self, but the chapters dedicated to his own story take away from the momentum of the book without giving the reader any direct insight into Chris’s life. Many people can feel like they relate to Chris, friends and family can speculate, but in the end no one can claim to know what Chris was really thinking in heading into the Alaskan wilderness.
As if imposing his rational behind Chris’s intentions while he was alive were not enough, Krakauer becomes obsessive about uncovering the mystery behind Chris’s death. Because Chris had discussed with friends that they “may never hear from me again, (134)” there was speculation that he had “been bent on suicide from the beginning, that when he walked into the bush, he had no intention of ever walking out again (p. 134).” Krakauer disagrees, saying that “My suspicion that McCandless’s death was unplanned, that it was a terrible accident, comes from reading those few documents he left behind and from listening to the men and women who spent time with him over the final year of his life…comes, too, from a more personal perspective (p. 134).”
Krakauer had originally reported with great certainty that the wild sweet pea had poisoned the boy when he wrote about Chris for the first time in Outside Magazine. Eventually, however he became fixated on the reasons behind Chris’s death, and eventually “came to believe with increasing conviction, (McCandless) scrupulously steered clear of the reportedly toxic H. mackenzii and never ate its seeds or any other part of the plant (p. 192).” Krakauer was convinced that the seeds of the wild potato contained toxic alkaloids that killed Chris, and proceeded to publish the first edition of his book with this conviction. Upon later analysis of the seeds by a research team, however, it was found that the seeds did not contain any alkaloids, toxic or otherwise.
“Long after the first edition of this book was published in 1996, I continued to puzzle over the absence of alkaloids in the seeds (p. 193),” Krakauer writes. After further research, Krakauer decides that Chris was “probably killed instead by mold that had been growing on those seeds (p. 194).” This notion could very well be correct, but it was only recently, after much critique, that Krakauer edited his mistake and printed a new edition of the book. What one can conclude from Krakauer’s mistake is that despite his passion for Chris’s life, his dedication to collect accurate interviews, and his scrupulous attention to details, Krakauer is not the ultimate authority on Chris’s life.
While Krakauer concludes his “Author’s Note,” by stating, “My convictions should be apparent soon enough, but I will leave it to the reader to form his or her own opinion of Christ McCandless,” he does not allow the reader a lense with which to view Christ that is radically different than his own passionate attachment to the young man. Krakauer writes a powerful, gripping novel of Chris’s story, however it is without question that he oversteps his boundaries as the “silent” author he claims to be. The reader needs to bear in mind that Krakauer’s endless commentary throughout the book is just one man’s opinion. Although Krakauer’s opinion is well informed, it should be remembered that he did not know everything about Chris; in fact, it should be remembered that he never even met Chris. Ultimately, Krakauer’s clear voice throughout the novel distracts both from telling an unbiased account of Chris’s life and allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions.
OVERALL: Chris’s story was worth telling and this is a book worth reading! Check out the feature-film and soundtrack as well, both are great!
Click to listen to: \”Society\” from Into the Wild Soundtrack by Eddie Vedder