Theory on Chris McCandless' Death - Wayne Sheldrake          

Into The Wild Essay

Copyright©2004 Wayne K. Sheldrake



I recently became aware of when a friend e-mailed me a copy of Jon Krakauer’s 2013 New Yorker article, which was, in part, a response to Ron Hamilton’s paper The Silent Fire ODAP and the death of Christopher McCandless posted at the site. I was intrigued to read that Hamilton’s thesis forwarded the theory of Chris’s death as a starvation event, specifically with regard to the updated investigation regarding the wild potato seeds Chris had presumably eaten preceding his death.

My paper, The Elegant Solution, written long before Hamilton’s—2004, as a requirement toward an M.F.A. (Antioch University/Los Angeles), to my knowledge the first academic literary analysis of Into the Wild—concluded that Chris displayed all of the classic symptoms of advanced starvation regardless of the consumption of the seeds. Interestingly, both Ron and I had background in studies on hunger and starvation, though our sources differed. My research was also aided by an early interview of Chemist Ted Clausen, supervisor of the initial analysis of the infamous wild potato seeds.

This paper notes classic suicidal tendencies antedating Chris’s demise in Alaska—allowing for some ambivalence as to whether suicide matters for readers “of a certain mind.” The paper also examines the story-telling technique of Into the Wild, masterfully handled by Krakauer, an accomplished alpinist climber. That mastery, I speculated, included crucial omissions, particularly regarding Chris’s psychological history and specifically likely edits of potentially damning details shedding light on his relationship to his father. This claim is based partly on Krakauer’s admission that he’d become close and loyal to the McCandless family.

I sent an early draft of The Elegant Solution to Krakauer via his agent in 2004, hoping for responses to the questions of an academic reader. The package was returned unopened.

Now, given Hamilton’s insightful leap and hard evidence, it’s tempting to rewrite my thesis—and add to the fictionalized version, The Source of Your Own Daylight: Two Friends of a Certain Mind (Kindle 2014). I’m content, however, to let both stand, as compliments to Hamilton’s paper and his thinking. I hope the elaborations on the effects of starvation and the review of Chris’s symptoms will further strengthen Hamilton’s thesis. I hope Krakauer fans find a worthy contribution to the conversation here.

Due to its expansive length (80+pages), the condensed version here presents the introductory paragraphs of each section and provides a link to a free version of the paper for those interested in a deeper reading. Here is a link to the page where it is located


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