Into The Wild - Jessica Mason McFadden Pt2          

Fairbanks Bus 142

McCandless and the Metamyth:
The Wild Collisions of an Isolation Myth Inverted

The way the myth is exposed through McCandless is perhaps what is more fascinating than the way McCandless is exposed through the myth.
The collective construction of the myth also comes across in Krakauer’s interweaving throughout the book of excerpts from adventure-themed novels and characters that were pivotal in McCandless’ journey. He brings this supplementary dialogue into the narrative in two ways: at the beginnings of chapters and in the narrative itself. It is unclear whether such passages were meaningful to the individual, McCandless, or passages that spoke to Krakauer. Fortunately, being clear on such an issue doesn’t matter, and, in fact, may interfere with a reading of myth itself. In the body of the narrative, Krakauer writes, “‘He was alone’ as James Joyce wrote of Stephan Dedalus, his artist as a young man. ‘He was unheeded, happy, and near the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and willful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the seaharvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight’” (31). The passage itself is cyclical and repetitive, but, in addition, the loop builds a fictional and external “He” into McCandless’ story so that McCandless and Joyce’s Dedalus share the narrative space, or mythical spotlight, if only for a moment. The Dedalus myth is melded together with the McCandless myth by Krakauer in such a way that it isn’t necessary for him to justify or clarify or interpret for his readers its inclusion. The paragraph ends with the quote and the next begins with the start of a day during McCandless’ journey. Seamlessness between characters indicates that their myths are similar and that each can occupy space within the other’s myth. Where there might, with interpretation and explanation, have been invasion and insertion, there is, instead, collectivity: and, ultimately, connection.

Connection in Into the Wild is not simply a matter of McCandless’ personal connections; connection is also present in the connections that Krakauer brings to his telling of the story and the connections that we bring as readers of the story. As far as Krakauer’s lens of connection is concerned, we can assume that his fascination with the McCandless myth did not begin with McCandless. His inclusion of stories of other McCandless-like figures reveals that a personal myth drove his interest in McCandless and that McCandless is not the only incarnation of this myth. It also suggests that Krakauer might have, intentionally or inadvertently, shaped McCandless’ story according to his own underlying myth. Because of this, we cannot assume that the McCandless myth is an individualistic myth; in fact, it is glaringly apparent that, in the most obvious respects, at least two myths are at work— not just in tandem, but also entwined: Krakauer’s McCandless.

Beyond this, there are other sources that serve the construction of the myth, inside of it and outside of it. Krakauer’s pre-McCandless myth of the adventurer, something we cannot pinpoint but can still surmise, is especially evident during the latter half of the book, in which he introduces a slew of McCandless-alikes. In Chapter Eight: Alaska, Krakauer spends a great deal of time narrating comparable stories of figures, like McCandless, who have gone down in the margins of Alaskan state memory as having attempted to achieve whatever it is that was “achieved” by McCandless. Krakauer refers to the lore, and Alaskan wisdom, which holds McCandless a “dreamy half-cocked greenhorn” and others as “countercultural idealists” (72). He refers to a man that he, himself, had run into on the shore of Prince William Sound as “the wayward genius” (73). Gene Rosellini, this wayward genius, ran a decade-long experiment, trying to survive “independent of modern technology…[using] the most primitive tools, which he fashioned from native materials with his own hands” (74). There is a fascination in Krakauer’s prose as he brings to life Rosellini, a passion that is evident even in his fictional characterization of the man as a “genius.” Fascination doesn’t quite tell the entire story, as it is Krakauer’s inclusion of a range of McCandless copies that changes the way that we view his narrative and think about the nature of mythtelling. From Rosellini to Waterman, the “socially awkward man-child,” to, the dream-poisoned amateur photographer, McCunn (76), Krakauer gives each marvel man a fair amount of narrative play.

Oddly, however, he feels the need in the midst of revealing the spirit of McCandless through these other figures to separate McCandless from them, asserting that unlike those labeled nutcases and sociopaths, “McCandless was something else— although, precisely what,” he notes, “is hard to say. A pilgrim, perhaps” (85). In this moment, Krakauer asserts his subjective values above the emergent and divergent open plane of values inherent in the narrative itself. It is important to him to classify McCandless as a pilgrim, to separate him from the others, to exonerate him from suspicion of illness and sociopathy. This is perhaps one of the strangest moments in the book, yet if we are attentive readers concerned as much with mythos as with McCandless, it only serves as a window into the layered and entrenched composition of the myth. Krakauer’s moment of subjectivity, even if a slip-up, reveals the questionable and compiled nature of the myth.

There is no McCandless of Into the Wild if there is no Krakauer with Krakauer’s intimate fears and desires. The desires that Krakauer brings to the narrative shape it— they become part of it. What this does is pokes holes in literalist views of stories. Concurrently, it pokes holes in Krakauer’s reliability as a narrator. Such holes are healthy and necessary if we are to see a more comprehensive picture of what goes into any given story. Krakauer’s compulsion to wipe out any possibility of questionable sanity using the recognizable and romantic metaphor of the pilgrim also reveals his inability to separate himself from McCandlessin the business of mythtelling. If he cannot do so for the sake of the myth’s objectivity, neither can we read without our own biases. Myths are the breeding grounds of bias, there’s no way around it.

Another example of Krakauer coming out of, or on top of, the McCandless Myth is obvious in the proportion and delegation of narrative time. He spends an entire chapter on a McCandless-alike that he deems more worthy, or more alike, than the others: “a peculiar twenty-year-old boy [who] walked into the desert and never came out. His name was Everett Ruess” (85). At the end of this chapter, Krakauer likens McCandless and Ruess to fifth and sixth century Irish monks who were thought to have made “remarkable voyages…undertaken chiefly from the wish to find lonely places, where these anchorites might dwell in peace, undisturbed by the turmoil and temptations of the world” (97). Not only is this significant because of the obvious presence of Krakauer’s own romantic myth of his McCandless, but it is also significant because it adds another layer to our knowledge of myths: groups of people, like individuals, can be embedded in a myth, creating a typological figure that is connected to and separate from itself. The more that he sends forth the message that McCandless is his, the less McCandless seems to belong to him and the more he seems to belong to the collective scrutiny of a continually evolving myth with a vital momentum of its own. A myth is a collectively occupied and constantly exchanged entity, one that unwrites itself as it is written and one whose meaning depends on the given moment, the given interpretive angle, the teller, and the receiver. All processes are shared and all meaning is skewed in the cacophony of mythic collectivity.

Furthermore, seamless collectivity in the meta myth does not necessarily indicate agreement or fluid cooperation. In other words, connection does not equal harmony and, more often than not, connection is full of discord. Krakauer makes this evident by relaying details of McCandless’ family life. Krakauer also brings this to the surface in his ongoing inclusion of narrative voices that question and criticize McCandless for various reasons.

Jessica McFadden Part 1

Jessica McFadden Part 2

Jessica McFadden Part 3

 

 


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