Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is a book that I have wanted to read for a really, really long time. It comes up on pretty much every list of best examples of creative nonfiction, and it’s a great example of the type of writing I think I would most love to do in the future. Luckily, I wasn’t disappointed with the book, which turned out to be much more nuanced than I expected after having watched the movie.
Into the Wild is the story of Christopher McCandless, a young man who abandons his family and all of his material possessions without explanation right after he graduates from college. Eventually, McCandless decides to explore the Alaskan wilderness, a choice that proves fatal — four months after entering the Alaskan tundra alone, his body was found by two separate groups of hikers. Journalist Jon Krakauer covered the story in an article for Outside Magazine, which was then turned into the book. Into the Wild chronicles the exploration Krakauer goes through in trying to understand why Chris would make the choices he did.
I really enjoyed how the book didn’t follow a straight narrative format. You know from the front cover than Chris is found dead, but the book doesn’t go in a straight line getting you to that point. It constantly switches time and place, introducing characters that Chris met and then shifting time backwards to see how Chris came to meet them in the first place. It’s complicated to follow, but interesting nonetheless. One thing I’m still not sure about though is Krakauer’s use of his own experience; during a couple of chapters, he digresses from Chris and discusses some of his more impetuous young adult experiences as an anecdote for what Chris may have been thinking. I sometimes felt these digressions took away from the already choppy narrative and made it difficult to shift back to Chris’s story.
Boyfriend and I also watched the recently-released movie version of the book directed by Sean Penn. I watched the movie first, and while I really enjoyed it I think it took away from some of the mystery of the book. The movie is also much more obvious about what the “moral” of the story is. Krakauer speculates what Chris went through at the end of his life, and even suggests the lesson Chris might have taken to his grave, but Penn’s movie version of the story gets rid of a lot of that questioning and speculation. I understand why — the movie is made incredibly powerful by the assertion of one of the conclusions Krakauer speculates, but I did enjoy the nuance of the book a little more.
Bottom line — both movie and book are good if you like this sort of story, but read the book first. Reading the book won’t take away from the movie, but watching the movie certainly diminishes some of the exploration and curiosity of the book.
Links to Enjoy:
- “Death of an Innocent” — the original article from Outside Magazine, January 1993 that the book is based on
- “Book Vs. Film: Into the Wild “— a comparison of the book and movie by Tasha Robinson at A.V. Club (I really like this article, read it!)
If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!