Into the Wild

>> Sunday, October 24, 2010

“Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances & yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, & conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, & hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new & different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security & adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning & its incredible beauty.”

—Alexander Supertramp / Christopher McCandless, Into the Wild.

The quote above, unlike the first time I ever posted it here in this blog, is not a mere complimentary quote of what I had been aching to say the past few weeks. During a send off dinner with my former boss and colleagues, we had asked each other what our top of mind favorite book was. I had thought then, that maybe it was the minute milliliters of alcohol in my system that forbid me to jog my memory farther than I could, as I could only come up with Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, a suspense, non-fiction book I've picked up ordered online after stumbling upon the quote above, two genres I've never quite ventured into before as much as I do with anything non-suspense and fiction. The quote appears to have been uttered by someone crazy --- but then, I had no idea how crazy, Christopher McCandless, until I finished the book.



In the early pages of the book, McCandless' letter of help was quoted, and from then, a cold tingle race up my spine every single time I pick this book up:

SOS. I need your help. I am injured, near death and too weak to hike out of here. I am all alone, this is no joke. In the name of God, please remain to save me. I am out collecting berries close by and shall return this evening. Thank you.

Chris McCandless, August?


Into the Wild is Jon Krakauer's account of how young Emory University graduate Chris McCandless' packed his bags, gave away his savings to a charity, abandoned his car and his possessions in search of the wild --- and then turning up dead inside a trailer bus, found by moose hunters in Alaska. For those paragraphs alone, I have spent weeknights with my heart beating against my ribcage. It's amazing why even though I knew the protagonist ends up dead by the end of the book and yet, you wait and read with bated breath because every single revelation serves as a hint to many things: why Chris ventured into a great Alaskan odyssey, what / where / how he died, why he chose to put up a wall between him and his family, the logic behind changing his name to Alexander Supertramp and the people who have influenced him a great deal, one of which I'd like to express sadness over is Jack London, author of the novel The Call of the Wild, whose famous words, below, were among the biggest inspirations of Chris in setting out to venture into the wild that is Alaska.

"The dominant primordial beast was strong in Buck, and under the fierce conditions of trail life it grew and grew. Yet it was a secret growth. His newborn cunning gave him poise and control."

- Call of the Wild, Jack London

The author further laments, "London's fervent condemnation of capitalist society, his glorification of the primordial world, his championing of the great unwashed --- all of it mirrored McCandless' passions. Mesmerized by London's turgid portrayal of life in Alaska, and the Yukon, McCandless read and reread The Call of the Wild, White Fang, To Build a Fire, An Odyssey of the North and The Wit of Porportuk. He was so enthralled by these tales however, that he seemed to forget that they were works of fiction, constructions of the imagination that had more to do with London's romantic sensibilities than with the actualities of life in the subarctic wilderness. McCandless conveniently overlooked the fact that London himself had spent just a single winter in the North and that he'd died by his own hand on his California estate at the age of forty, a fatuous drunk, obese and pathetic, maintaining a sedentary existence that bore scant resemblance to the ideals he espoused in print." In the span of ten seconds, everything that I had hoped, envisioned if Chris McCandless lived to tell tale flashed in my mind, if only he has not imbibed the intricately-woven fiction of Jack London, and they all came crashing to me because it's hard not to ingest the wisdom you glean from a piece of literature, not when the authors, as one reader would always presume, mirrors themselves into their work. And for Chris, who mirrored a supposedly mirror of Jack London's life, had cost him his life.

McCandless as a character is an awful lot of fascination inducement. Krakauer reveals his character, as someone who was a smartypants in school, albeit anti social at times, but highly idealistic and acting upon them. However positive, McCandless has shown immense affected-ness for what his family has turned out to be, an aversion to how at some years of his life, his family history seemed to have been made up of lies, and inadvertent deception but that doesn't color my opinion of his. In the course of reading, I have gleaned that Chris was indeed a man of principles and his kindness amongst the characters he had encountered {Ronald Franz, amongst others, wanted to adopt him as his own} have illuminated a person who lived by good morals and sociable skills, had he chosen to show it.

If this adventure proves fatal and you don't ever hear from me again I want you to know that you're a great man. I now walk into the wild.

- Chris McCandless to Wayne Westerberg, his final postcard sent


The real Christopher McCandless aka Alexander Supertramp



He's got game {referring to animals caught for dinner}!

The photo on the book's second page of a happy Chris still
haunts me to this day.

During the time that Krakauer had released the original article about Chris on Outsider Magazine, letters have poured in, saying what a fool McCandless have been, ignoring Boy Scouts' rule #1 of being prepared. It was then at that time that Krakauer was propelled to retract the history of Chris and his great Alaskan odyssey. It is in this part that I fall in and over myself. I am always in awe at how fiction writers tend to have the inimitable skill to put their experiences and thoughts into words; into paper. Surely, Krakauer saw himself in McCandless, once and maybe countless times, having climbed the Stikine Ice Cap alone, and Mt. Everest {a book I need to find ASAP, too} but that is where the similarities end. Through this expeditions, explorations of the uninhabited, Krakauer lives to tell his tale -- and some others, too. His book is a living testament of his ability to piece together a piece of history of which he did not partake in, dedicating a year of his life building evidences: postcards from people whose lives were touched by Chris, Chris' journal entries, his photos, his highlighted passages in the books found on the bus, the McCandless family, who may have to deal with the tragedy much worse in recount of every detail that was their loved one. Krakauer showed deep research in describing painstakingly in detail all of the trails that Chris had taken, where he left his car, or what was left of and in it. How he had taken a brief stint as a McDonalds' crew, living in his car, or in the streets and shaving at the fastfood bathroom. He had a picturesque chapter of Chris' and Carine's {the subject's sister} relationship and how crazy Chris was over their dog, Buckley {in true Jack London fashion}. These were the one of the many attributes that contributed to the epic tragedy in the span of four months that McCandless had been tramping from Fairbanks, AK. Even if Krakauer has shown deep fascination with McCandless' character, he did not fail to show the other side of the coin, to help the reader discern whether his foray into the Alaskan wild was an act of folly or novelty. If Chris was looking down from heaven, he would be smiling at Jon Krakauer.

Two years he walks the earth. No phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes. Ultimate freedom. An extremist. An aesthetic voyager whose home is the road. Escaped from Atlanta. Thou shalt not return, 'cause "the West is the best." And now after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual pilgrimage. Ten days and nights of freight trains and hitchhiking bring him to the Great White North. No longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild.
- Alexander Supertramp May 1992

One doesn't need to have an appreciation for the great outdoors {if there was, this post would not exist}but the book strikes so many chords --- exploring, injecting change into one's life, getting out of comfort zones, getting out of parents' dimes, touching people's lives and letting oneself be touched, inhaling the sweet scent of nature. It poses so many threatening circumstances --- being trapped in a place where grizzlies could come eat you alive, come charging at you and eat your head, where no food can be gathered for months, where it's cold and every appendage could come off your body. The book was a rollercoaster of lofty dreams, and subsequently a slam in the wall we call reality but more importantly, it was a testament of how sometimes, dreams and acting on them could mean your end, but it's inevitable to dream and to go where the bold never dared to go. Krakauer explains and couldn't have said it better:

It is hardly unusual for a young man to be drawn to a pursuit considered reckless by his elders; engaging in risky behavior is a rite of passage in our culture no less in most others. Danger has always held a certain allure. That, in a large part, is why so many teenagers drink too much and take too many drugs, why it has always been so easy for nations to recruit young men to go to war.
The ending crept up to me like a sucker punch unwarranted, for when I thought I already thought I knew what was to happen, I was in for a surprise. The poignant ending that involved a helicopter and the McCandless family was yet another what we call an emotional blackmail, that while it was hard to stomach, became apt and fitting. The best, at the same time, worst part of it was that it happened in real life.

It's been two weeks since I have uttered this book / author as my favorite and till now it still remains up there. It's true when they say that you find people, places, roles in movies that are the anti-thesis of you and yet you find yourself consumed and in rapture. This is my anti-thesis and I have fallen madly in love.

The book has been published in 1995 and I doubt if there are any copies lying around Book Sale or even my favorite bookstore, but a movie came out in 2007, directed by Sean Penn. Friends who have caught this said it's an amazing movie. I've yet to see Emile Hirsch's Chris McCandless.



Still, the last sad memory hovers round, and sometimes drifts across like floating mist, cutting off sunshine and chilling the remembrance of happier times. There have been joys too great to be described in words, and there have been griefs upon which I have not dared to dwell; and with these in mind I say: Climb if you will but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning, think what may be the end.
Edward Whymper, Scrambles Amongst the Alps


*All images, except the first one, are not owned by me. No copyright infringement intended.


What about you? What's your anti thesis?

2 butterfly kisses:

Chelle October 24, 2010 at 10:13 PM  

saw the movie almost a year ago on HBO, haven't read the book. an abridged version of the first quote you wrote is still imprinted on my mind. the movie was beautiful, tragic and all things in between. bought a copy in when I saw one trinoma for P75!

... October 25, 2010 at 9:07 PM  

Love both the book & the movie. Anyway, it is this photo of Chris McCandles that still haunts me to this day:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/chriso2000/2100030576/

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