Beautiful Blueberries Christopher McCandless’ last journal entry before dying of starvation in the Alaska bush was simply the words Beautiful Blueberries. Over the previous two years he bought a secondhand canoe on impulse and paddled to Mexico. Then he lived on the streets of Los Angeles with vagrants, camped in the Arizona dessert with hippies, tramped through almost every western state, occasionally holding odd jobs. He also lived completely off the land in the Alaskan backcountry. McCandless’ epic journey separated him from his parents and peers, a world of security and material excess, and a world in which he felt grievously cut off from the raw throb of existence.
It was a journey that would have been a complete waste if it weren’t for Jon Krakauer’s book entitled Into the Wild. A lot of people believe that McCandless was an idiot. He was simply one more dreamy half-caulked greenhorn who went into the country expecting to find answers to all his problems and instead found only mosquitoes and a lonely death. Some people blamed Krakauer, in the magazine article that preceded the book, for glorifying a foolish, pointless death. But the beauty of Krakauer’s writing is that he doesn’t glorify Chris McCandless’ life or even try to hide his personal weaknesses.
Instead, that which becomes evident is a vivid portrait of McCandless’ journeys and an examination of why people are attracted to high-risk activities. Krakauer begins the book with Chris McCandless hiking into the Alaskan wilderness to his ensuing death. He does not return to this scene until the next to last chapter, effectively forcing the reader to see McCandless as more than an unprepared misfit who deserved to die because of the risks he took. We learn of his adventures tramping around the continent, discern how McCandless differs from people whom he had been favorably compared to in the outdoors community, learn of his family and upbringing, and we are told of a similar adventure in Alaska which almost claimed the authors life. Only then are we returned to the morbid Alaskan scene and the controversies surrounding McCandless’ death. Krakauer succeeds in writing a powerful book because we become attached to McCandless’ dream and sympathize to a greater degree with his desire to undertake what he labeled as the ultimate challenge.
There are some unconventional aspects of the book, which turn it into something greater than a story of Chris McCandless. These are the way in which Krakauer goes about examining Chris McCandless through his own life, through others who have a similar desire for adventure, and through an examination of the novels he read. Into the Wild is not a fluff story about a misdirected youth; it has themes to which anyone who has ever dreamed of undertaking their own adventure, however large or small, can relate and gain insight. Overall Krakauer believes Chris McCandless wasn’t that different from anyone else who liked adventure. Throughout the book there is an underlying battle against McCandless’ critics by trying to justify the journey.
Krakauer confesses that after writing a magazine article on McCandless he remained haunted by the particulars of the boy’s starvation and by vague, unsettling parallels between events in his life and those in my own. Unwilling to let McCandless go, Krakauer spent more than a year retracing the convoluted path that led to his death in the Alaska bush, chasing down the details with an interest that bordered on obsession until he finished writing the book. In this fierce passion, Krakauer is not only telling of McCandless’ life but his own, and in the process trying to make a world of critics understand why he, McCandless, and countless others are drawn to a life of potentially suicidal adventure. This passion draws the reader in, spins them around and spits them back out into the world with a different perception of life. This passion makes Into the Wild an amazing book.