Lost Among Europeans

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Into the Wild, remembered

I recently came across a 2013 article by Jon Krakauer on the death of Chris McCandless, which was the topic of his famous book Into the Wild.

In the article, Krakauer tried to throw new light on how McCandless had died. He seemed to want to defend his honor against criticism that he was unworthy of attention.

But I’ve also received plenty of mail from people who think he was an idiot who came to grief because he was arrogant, woefully unprepared, mentally unbalanced, and possibly suicidal. Most of these detractors believe my book glorifies a senseless death.

I read Into the Wild in my twenties, at about the time I was finishing my undergraduate degree, and Jon Krakauer’s books (this one and Into Thin Air) talked of characters that I wanted to be like, in a way. Outdoorsy, unconventional, out of the rat race.

Chris McCandless was not exactly an inspiration, but rather someone I felt sympathy for. I remember discussions then about whether he had been too strict, too unable to forgive his parents, too malcontent. Of course there were always the remarks about his survival skills. Such thoughts didn’t interest me much.

Reading the article, I noticed that the criticisms reminded me a bit of situations I see described by people with depression, or by homosexuals, or by people who have difficulty in having a stable career: the endless stream of well-meaning comments of the sort “Have you tried not being depressed?”, “Have you tried to be straight?”, “Why do you make things difficult for yourself?”

I read once that great art was more about asking questions than giving answers. I’m not saying that Into the Wild is great art, but it’s certainly more about asking than answering.
I was always willing to accept that Chris McCandless had to cut ties with his family and with the rat race in general, and that this made sense for him; that it was not just a petulant whim or a call for attention.

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