Wow. It's been some time since a book has absorbed me so quickly and affected me so deeply as Into the Wild. I devoured this book in two days. Something about the person Chris McCandless was spoke to me, and even though I knew how his story ultimately would end, I was so intrigued to learn more about this curious young thinker.
Truly, I don't know how I never picked up this book. Years ago I remember hearing about his story so I'm not sure how this never made it onto my reading list. I've never seen the movie either, which is a plus, as I generally like to read books before seeing their interpretations on film.
After finishing the book, I did some Googling to find out more and discovered there is/was a great bit of controversy surrounding both the author and protagonist of the book. Critics of the deceased McCandless claim he was an arrogant, foolish rich kid who had no business hiking into the Alaskan wilderness, and some even claim he was suicidal for doing so. Critics of Jon Krakauer, the author of the book, dislike his glamorizing of McCandless's odyssey and also think Krakauer is incorrect when it comes to his theory on how McCandless died. I don't think anyone will know the whole truth, and it's of course impossible to know what was going on inside Chris's head, but although I may not agree with everything he did, I admire him for chasing after and leading his life as authentically as he did. Not many people have the audacity and courage to abandon the chains of security in their life and chase after their biggest dreams, and I've always admired those that do (perhaps because I've been afraid to chase some of my biggest dreams?). It is the risk-takers, the dreamers, those that dare step out of the box, that make history and lay claim to accomplishments others of us only dream about. Isn't this why people run marathons? To do something that only a small portion of people will ever do?
McCandless has also been accused of being selfish, but I would argue who shouldn't be selfish when it comes to designing their own life? Building one's personal philosophy, setting goals and deciding how to live one's life is a wholly selfish endeavor. After graduating from Emory, Chris donated his $24,000 trust fund to charity, a decidedly unselfish act if you ask me. However, in the two years he spent on the road, he never touched base with his parents, and that's a little unfathomable. I can't imagine what his parents must have been going through during that time (or how they could never have attempted to find him??). His disagreement with the way they chose to live their lives led him to cut ties with them, and perhaps he knew they'd prevent him from doing what he was doing.
One of the things about Chris's personal philosophy that really struck home with me was his distaste for American consumerism and materialism. The book stated that his room in college consisted of not much more than a bed on the floor and some milk crates. When he set out on the road following graduation, he didn't take many possessions and eventually burned all his money! His desire to disconnect from the 'more, more, more' mindset of our modern society is admirable. After leaving an industry whose sole focus was indeed money, I've had the same sort of feelings. It seems the more we have, the more we want, and the more we think we need. It's a vicious cycle. I always felt somewhat out of place in my prior career because my ideals about the world didn't really jive with the moneymakers I worked with. I often long to live more simply. Do you ever notice how many messages we are sent daily from all forms of media telling us we need this or that to make us happier, skinnier, prettier, etc? All short-term fixes. I don't know about you, but I tend to be happiest when I am communing with nature, spending time with people I love, or following my heart - all of which cost nothing.
What I take away from this book is a powerful message to live your life fully, according to your own design. Who are we to judge the way someone else chooses to live (or die)? I don't think Chris McCandless was mentally ill. By all reports found in his journal notes throughout his two year adventure, he seemed like he was living his dream. It's sad that his parents had to suffer and that he didn't make it through his ordeal, but whether you believe him to be a fool or a hero, probably would be of no concern to him anyway.
I'll leave you with a poignant quote from Chris which I think sums up his message tidily:
"It is the experiences, the memories, the great triumphant joy of living to the fullest extent in which real meaning is found."
Have you read Into The Wild? What were your thoughts?
Do you have any big, wild, maybe crazy, dreams of your own?