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"Into The Wild" - Exploring What it Means to Truly Live

Sunday, May 03, 2015

New review of the 1996 book "Into the Wild", still a best-seller.

As of 05.03.2015, there are 2,249 reviews [on Amazon> of "Into The Wild", with 489, or 22%, being negative, leaving 1,760 as positive. With so many reviews, another one either gushing with praise or heaping contempt would be at most a redundancy, and at worst a waste of my time as well as the reader of this review.

To fully appreciate this book as Krakauer wrote it (and as Christopher would have as well), the reader should ideally be pre-possessed with a sense of spirituality of some form, and an intellect that is open to perspectives other than their own. The mind that is closed to concepts unfamiliar to them, or so pragmatic in their life-view that deviations from common sense cannot be reconciled with the world beyond our five senses will be ill-suited to this recounting of an incredible journey of a soul; the awakening, the flowering of, and (where McCandless leaves 99.99% of us behind) the implementation of exploring the world through the eyes of a curious and life-loving ascetic.

This book is about the journey and evolution of a human soul. Christopher McCandless was a modern day John Muir, Jack London, George Mallory, Henry David Thoreau. Just as these men were misunderstood in their day, so to is Alex in ours. (I shall call him Alex in favor of his given name- I do so in tribute to his spirit.). It is an unfortunate component of human beings to fear, mock, disparage and/or otherwise criticize that which they don't understand. Lesser minds revert to childish mannerisms when confronted with the amazing searcher born Christopher Johnson McCandless. In opting to call himself Alexander Supertramp, Christopher baptized himself as the owner of his own soul, setting free the constrictions placed upon and expected of the young man born Christopher Johnson McCandless. As Alex, his experience was his own. He had the wisdom to realize this amazing gift of life. That realization is not unique; many of us feel this way. And this is where Into The Wild becomes more than a recitation of a young man's journey.

Where Alex, along with Muir, London, et al. transcend the common man is in the action of embracing life and squeezing every moment of this lovely existence, whereas most of us stop at the point of simply acknowledging the gift of life and, bowing our heads, return to the self-imposed drudgery we accept as a yoke. This acceptance is bred into us from birth, and the mechanisms for seeing beyond the veil of this world are closed to all but the most inquisitive, intrepid and soulful beings. Alex went into the wild, but not just the Alaskan wild, but the 'wild' journey of learning what it means to be truly alive.

Let us pretend every person born is presented a new bicycle on a certain day of a certain age. This bike is promised to transport them to strange unknown lands and present them with a vividness of experience not found in the world of the unsat upon bike. But the caveat presented is that with the promise of such wondrous experience comes the potential of danger and loss of life. When presented with this bike, and the conditions explained, the vast majority of human beings will opt out of the ride for fear of that potential danger and possible death. Alex was not afraid of the bike, and like his forebears of renown, pedaled hard and fast, and as a result lived a richer life in his twenty odd years than millions, nay, billions, of those that passed on the offer. I myself sat upon the bike, but like so many, and to my sorrow, hopped off shortly thereafter and slipped on the yoke of the common ox.

I dismiss en masse' the ignorance of those claiming Alex was an unprepared fool and got what he deserved. There is a surprisingly large compendium cataloging his errors. He didn't bring a map. He had no compass. He didn't bring enough food. The list goes on and on. And in one sense, these people are correct. But then, these are people so afraid of death they are unwilling to live. They define life as a good job, a nice car and vacation memories. Krakauer deftly and brilliantly defines how Alex did not accept a life with vacation memories; he wanted life itself to be the vacation. As Hunter S. Thompson said, “You bought the ticket, now take the ride”. Alex did just that, and though his ride ended in an early death, who are we to define and restrict his search for a rich and vast experience? Who are we, safe in our homes and chained to a job, to criticize a man for having the stones to lay it all on the line?

Was it foolish of John Muir to climb 100 feet up to the swaying branches of a Douglas Fir and ride out a wild mountain storm? By the parameters of the yoked, it was. But to those rare individuals like Muir, (and Alex) to revel in the action of life and, oh so importantly, to put his own life on the line for the experience and nothing more; well, there you will find the world of Alexander Supertramp.

Into The Wild is more than a book. More than a story. It is a treatise on how to truly live, and if one can shed the programming of this construct for even the few short hours of this read, then that bike might be waiting, eager for you to hop on board.

By Michael Goudreau

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