I first heard the story of Chris McCandless and the story told in Into the Wild in Pittsburgh when I first heard the folk duo, Harrod and Funck, and their song, Walk into the Wild. By far the best song on the subject, in my opinion.
Recently, I decided to see the movie, and having seen the movie, thought I should read the book. The book provided some good detail, but I actually thought the movie told the story better, helping us to better understand Chris. I’m going to be commenting on the story from here on out, so be aware there are spoilers ahead. This is my interpretation…
In 1990, after Chris finished college, he dropped out of sight and out of contact with everyone he knew, including his family. He gave his life savings to OXFAM, abandoned his car, burned the rest of his money, and hitchhiked around the country, working as necessary, even changed his name. Ultimately, he ventured to Alaska to live in the wild, and while he did do his research, his lack of actual wilderness experience coupled with a few key mistakes were his undoing. He was disenchanted with facades he unearthed about his parents and with much of the materialistic society, and this coming from an affluent family near DC. He was someone who distrusted what came easily, and found meaning in going beyond what was comfortable.
“Long captivated by the writings of Leo Tolstoy, McCandless particularly admired how the great novelist had forsaken a life of wealth and privilege to wander among the destitute. In college McCandless began emulating Tolstoy’s asceticism and moral rigor to a degree that first astonished, and then alarmed, those who were close to him.” (Krakauer, Author’s Note)
Some admire him, some think him an idiot. I think that cutting himself off entirely from his family and everybody he knew was selfish, running, taking the easy way out. Yet, I relate to him too. I’m idealistic myself, and there is a lot of modern society that can be disenchanting. And let me tell you, it’s a lonely road being an idealistic. Chris was very intelligent, and could likely see through a lot of people’s facades. It’s the kind of thing that can make you more easily cynical.
Chris had a keen sense of adventure, loved a good challenge, and took his fair share of risks. We sometimes let society hold us back when, really, it’s our choice to go with the flow. Chris went so far as to spurn society, though he seemed to enjoy the people he met in his journey. He loved nature, and the idea of surviving in the Alaskan wild had a romance to it. It was also a way to escape the pressures of society for awhlie, perhaps a retreat of sorts.
At one point on his journey, he wrote a man he had connected with a letter that included the following:
“You are wrong if you think Joy emanates only or principally from human relationships. God has placed it all around us. It is in everything and anything we might experience. We just have to have the courage to turn our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living.” (Krakauer, 57)
As a Christian, I can say that Joy emanates from God. As for what can make us happy, the two commandments, intertwined, are love God and neighbor. In that sense, Joy is more the result of giving of our lives to God and others, rather than what we get from life. The Bible is very much about community. Faith is lived out in community, we shape each other, are encouraged by each other. I really like God’s world, it itself speaks, but I am reminded of a statement by Freeman Miller, an Amish man who moved to Philadelphia, who said that when he really started thinking about it, he realized God’s most beautiful creation is people.
Before Chris died, he was reading a passage of one of his books, and wrote, “Happiness only real when shared.”
He seems, to me, to have been a seeker. Perhaps he would have found his way, had he made it out of the wild.
Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. New York: Anchor Books. 1996.