Like many people, I first heard of Christopher McCandless after stumbling across the book, Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer. I remember finding it in the travel narrative section of the bookstore when I was searching specifically for “road” novels – which happen to be an addiction of mine.
Into the Wild was unlike any such narrative I’d read before — no wacky hijinks of Tim Cahill or Bill Bryson or the glib storytelling of Kerouac or Steinbeck. Into the Wild is about a life lost.
Even now I have mixed feelings about Christopher McCandless, the book, my reaction to the book. It feels very weird to disagree with virtually every decision that a person chooses to make and yet admire his adventurous spirit. Â Sometimes I wonder how much my reaction is to Christopher himself and his story, his death and how much of it is my reaction to Krakauer’s empathetic treatment of his subject. Â He is certainly a great writer.
Christopher McCandless Bio Information:
Christopher Johnson McCandless (12 February 1968 â€“ 18 August 1992) was an American wanderer who hiked into the Alaskan wilderness with little food and little equipment, hoping to live a period of solitude. Less than five months later, he died of starvation near Denali National Park. In 1996, Jon Krakauer wrote a book about his life, Into the Wild, which inspired a 2007 film of the same name (directed by Sean Penn and starring Emile Hirsch as McCandless, soundtrack featuring Eddie Vedder).
McCandless was born in El Segundo, California, the first of two children to Walt McCandless and Wilhelmina “Billie” Johnson. He had one younger sister named Carine. In 1976, the family settled in Annandale, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C., after his father was employed as an antenna specialist for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. His mother worked as a secretary at Hughes Aircraft, and later assisted her husband with his successful home-based consulting company in Annandale. Despite the McCandless family’s financial success, Walt and Billie were often fighting and sometimes would contemplate divorce. Chris also had six half-siblings living in California from Walt’s first marriage. Walt was not yet divorced from his first wife when Chris and Carine were born, however Chris did not discover his father’s affair until a summer trip to Southern California.
At school, teachers noticed McCandless was unusually strong-willed. In adolescence he coupled this with intense idealism and physical endurance. In high school, he served as captain of the cross-country team, urging teammates to treat running as a spiritual exercise in which they were “running against the forces of darknessÂ … all the evil in the world, all the hatred.”
On June 2, 1986, McCandless graduated at Wilbert Tucker Woodson High School in Annandale. On June 10, McCandless embarked on one of his first major adventures in which he traveled throughout the country in his Datsun car, only to arrive at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia two days prior to the beginning of fall classes. In April 1990, he graduated at Emory with a Bachelor’s degree in history and anthropology. His upper-middle-class background and academic success was the impetus for his contempt of what he saw as the empty materialism of society. In his junior year, he declined membership in the Phi Beta Kappa Society, on the basis that honors and titles were irrelevant. McCandless was strongly influenced by Jack London, Leo Tolstoy, W. H. Davies and Henry David Thoreau, and he envisioned separating from organized society for a Thoreauvian period of solitary contemplation.