Into the Wild

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Cover of paperback, depicting the bus in which McCandless stayed before his death.
Author Jon Krakauer
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Biography
Publisher Anchor
Publication date 1996
Pages 224
ISBN 0385486804

Into the Wild (1996) by Jon Krakauer is a bestselling non-fiction book about the adventures of Christopher McCandless. It is an expansion of Krakauer's 9,000-word article, "Death of an Innocent", which appeared in the January 1993 issue of Outside.[1] Krakauer intersperses McCandless's story with a discussion of the wilderness experiences of people such as Everett Ruess, John Muir, and John Menlove Edwards, as well as some of his own adventures. Krakauer first went to Alaska in 1974 and has returned there 20 times since. He spent three years carrying out the background research work for this biography. The book was adapted into a 2007 movie of the same name directed by Sean Penn with Emile Hirsch starring as McCandless.

McCandless died at age 24 in a wilderness area in the state of Alaska. Though the evidence is inconclusive, it has been suggested that McCandless died of eating a wild potato root which had a poisonous fungus on it, leading to his starvation;[2] after specimens around the bus did not test positive for the toxin, Krakauer modified his theory to suggest that a mold that hinders digestion could be responsible.


[edit] Background

Chris McCandless grew up in Annandale, Virginia. After graduating in 1990 from Emory University, McCandless ceased communicating with his family, gave away his savings of $24,000 to Oxfam and began traveling, later abandoning his car and burning all the money in his wallet.

In April 1992, Jim Gallien gave McCandless a ride to the Stampede Trail in Alaska. There, McCandless headed down the snow-covered trail to begin an odyssey with only 10 pounds of rice, a .22 caliber rifle, a camera, several boxes of rifle rounds, and a small selection of reading material — including a field guide to the region's edible plants, Tana'ina Plantlore. He had no road map or compass, having left his tattered map with Gallien. He died sometime in August, and his body was found in early September by a group of moose hunters.

[edit] Summary

The book begins with the discovery of McCandless's body inside an abandoned bus in Alaska (63°52′06.23″N 149°46′09.49″W / 63.8683972°N 149.7693028°W / 63.8683972; -149.7693028Coordinates: 63°52′06.23″N 149°46′09.49″W / 63.8683972°N 149.7693028°W / 63.8683972; -149.7693028)[3] and retraces his travels during the two years he was missing.[4] McCandless shed his real name early in his journey, adopting the moniker "Alexander Supertramp". He spent time in Carthage, South Dakota with a man named Wayne Westerberg. Krakauer interprets McCandless's intensely ascetic personality as possibly influenced by the writings of Leo Tolstoy, Henry David Thoreau, and McCandless's favorite writer, Jack London. He explores the similarities between McCandless's experiences and motivations and his own as a young man, recounting in detail his own attempt to climb Devils Thumb in Alaska. He also relates the stories of some other young men who vanished into the wilderness, such as Everett Ruess, an artist and wanderer who went missing in the Utah desert during 1934 at age 20. In addition, he describes at some length the grief and puzzlement of McCandless's family and friends.

McCandless survived for approximately 112 days in the Alaskan wilderness, foraging for edible roots and berries, shooting an assortment of game—including a moose—and keeping a journal. Although he planned to hike to the coast, the boggy terrain of summer proved too difficult and he decided instead to camp in a derelict bus. In July, he tried to leave, only to find the route blocked by a melted river. Toward the end of July, McCandless wrote a journal entry reporting extreme weakness and blaming it on "pot. seeds". As Krakauer hypothesized, McCandless had been eating the roots of Hedysarum alpinum, a historically edible plant commonly known as wild potato (also "Eskimo potato"), which are sweet and nourishing in the spring but later become too tough to eat. When this happened, McCandless may have attempted to eat the seeds instead. Krakauer suggests that the seeds contained a poisonous alkaloid, possibly swainsonine (the toxic chemical in locoweed) or something similar. In addition to neurological symptoms such as weakness and loss of coordination, the poison causes starvation by blocking nutrient metabolism in the body.

According to Krakauer, a well-nourished person might consume the seeds and survive because the body can use its stores of glucose and amino acids to rid itself of the poison. Since McCandless lived on a diet of rice, lean meat, and wild plants and had less than 10% body fat when he died, Krakauer theorized he was likely unable to fend off the toxins. However, when the Eskimo potatoes from the area around the bus were later tested in a laboratory of the University of Alaska Fairbanks by Dr. Thomas Clausen, toxins were not found. Krakauer later modified his hypothesis, suggesting that mold of the variety Rhizoctonia leguminicola may have caused McCandless's death. Rhizoctonia leguminicola is known to cause digestion problems in livestock, and may have aided McCandless's impending starvation. The exact cause of the young man's death remains open to question. McCandless may simply have starved to death, a theory backed by the fact that McCandless's body weighed an estimated 72 pounds (33 kg) at the time it was found.

[edit] Film adaptations

The film emphasizes, and in some cases exaggerates, certain aspects of personal relationships that McCandless experienced, including his parents' domestic conflicts and his own interaction with a 16-year-old girl he encountered in his travels. Other interactions portrayed in the film, however, seem very accurate based on Krakauer's research, including the characters of Jan Burres, played by Catherine Keener, and "Ronald Franz" (pseudonym), played by Hal Holbrook. The movie's depiction of McCandless's death differs from the situation presented in Krakauer's book. Penn shows McCandless confusing the seeds of H. Alpinum with those of the toxic H. Mackenzii, a theory Krakauer disputes in his book.

McCandless's story is also the subject of a 2007 documentary by Ron Lamothe named The Call of the Wild. In his study of McCandless's death, Lamothe concludes that McCandless starved to death and was not poisoned by eating the seeds of the wild potato.[5]

[edit] References

  1. ^ Krakauer, Jon. Death of an Innocent: How Christopher McCandless Lost His Way in the Wilds. Outside Magazine, January, 1997. Retrieved September 1, 2007.
  2. ^ Bryson, George. Theories differ on the cause of McCandless' death. Anchorage Daily News, October 7, 2007. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  3. ^ "YouTube Video, the Bus in August 2007". mtcaving. Retrieved on 2007-12-02. 
  4. ^ (The bus can be seen clearly on Google Earth, and at higher magnifications on Google Maps, but is obscured by clouds in Google Maps and most other mapping programs.)
  5. ^ The Call of the Wild film

[edit] External links

  • Youtube - Magic Bus in Winter, March of 2007.
  • Youtube - Magic Bus in Summer, August of 2007.
  • Google Earth Community - Aerial photo of the Magic Bus, Google Earth Overlay of the region and downloadable KMZ file.
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