Book Review: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

The bus in Fairbanks, Alaska that served as his base camp.

The story of the life and death of young Chris McCandless, his renunciation of wealth and human contact, and his fatal naivete is quite reflective if we don’t dismiss it.

It’s easy to dismiss him as an idealistic idiotic who got his just deserts for not playing by the rules. And that is partially true.

But his story, his death in the Alaskan bush, I think tell us about ourselves and about human nature.

McCandless was driven by a desire not to be hypocritical, to live life truly and freely–and most importantly, to find meaning.

These ideals, I believe, claw at all of us, and usually young people are most conscious of it. For a large segment of people who feel this, it is expressed as a desire to live freely in nature and to test our existence against that of the earth.

And I think these are the same desires that C.S. Lewis was talking about when he said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

We have an innate desire for another world. Ultimately, this quest for transcendence and the sublime can be fulfilled only in God.

I myself once sought to try hiking and the wilderness as a salve for this desire. Many pilgrims indeed seek “fierce landscapes” to minimize the distance between themselves and God, to put them in contact with doom and death and life and reality.

Nature can be helpful, but it doesn’t get all the way to the sublime. Nor is it perfectly transcendent. I think Chris McCandless would have found more solace and a healthier expression of his urges for truth if he had realized that God alone is the answer.

The lives of monks who have renounced the world are quite extreme. McCandless, I think, might have found more of what he was looking for in such eremitic forms of religious life. I feel for McCandless and his quest–I identify with a lot of it.

Though he was reckless and hurt too many people in the process (especially his parents), he isn’t so different from any of us. He just tried to live honestly. I wish he hadn’t died. I hope that he did find God out there.

The descriptions of nature and his tramping lifestyle are a pleasure to read. Krakauer’s portrait of Chris McCandless tells us as much about ourselves as it does the young man himself.

May we read it and be sympathetic to the deepest yearnings of idealistic people, the yearnings which represent the deepest yearnings of the human heart. And though the book itself doesn’t explore this much, may we remember that God alone can fulfill these yearnings, for he alone is beyond nature and truly transcendent and real.

Do you think all people desire the sublime or transcendence? What are we to make of these desires? If you’ve heard of Chris McCandless, what do you think of him?


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