Into The Wild Essay
Wayne K. Sheldrake
South Fork, Colorado
August 14, 2014
In the Author’s Note of Into the Wild Jon Krakauer claims: “I have tried–and largely succeeded, I think—to minimize my authorial presence. But let the reader be warned: I interrupt McClandless’s story with fragments of my own youth. I do so in the hope that my experiences will throw some oblique light on the enigma of Chris McCandless." (ii) But a close reading of Krakauer’s bestseller reveals that the “fragments” he speaks of are actually two full chapters—twenty-four pages, close to 20% of the book. The interruptions are devoted to Krakauer’s early climbing epiphany on a precipice of Alaska’s Stikine Ice Cap, but, rather than the intended comparisons, these early “experiences” suggest key contrasts between the author and his young hero, rather than comparison.
Try as he might for objectivity, Krakauer belays himself to a story that Robert Vare of Harvard University’s Neiman Foundation for Journalism would say “bridges those connections between events that have taken place and imbues them with meaning and emotion.” (Nieman 2) The resulting interpretation of Chris McClandless’s lonely death harkens to what Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola, authors of the creative nonfiction text Tell it Slant, have Salman Rushdie describe as “ ‘the truth of the tale, of the imagination and of the heart.’ ” (3) With the story in Krakauer’s hands, readers care about what happened to Chris McCandless. It is evident Krakauer developed a deep and caring bias, too.
This is primarily true because of the fictive power of Krakauer’s voice. His authorial voice is never in doubt. Thomas McNamee, of the New York Times Book Review, writes, “The more we learn about him, the more mysterious McCandless becomes, and the more intriguing.” (29) The mystery and intrigue are artfully created from Krakauer’s manipulation of reams of information—interviews, letters, journal entries, on-site forensics, deep research, history, maps, and expert testimony. He writes like a guide lead-climbing an increasingly technical Big Wall. He sets the cams and chocks while showing the jugs, smears and hand jams that solve the easy, early problems for readers in a way that prepares them—saves their energy and builds their repertoire—for a complex climax.
McNamee calls the portrait of McCandless, “so vivid at times that it dazzles, at others so mystifying that one wants to scream.” (29) But, interestingly, among the encyclopedic braiding of all the clues included in Into the Wild, what anchors the tale is one of the most effective choices of imaginative writers: Omission. Let the reader beware: in a narrative that builds upon the ironic blunders of a personality at least partly “characterized by monomania, impatience, and unwavering self-absorption,” (Krakauer 120), a deeply wounded (121) soul is discovered to harbor “rage.” This volatile anger is masked in “sullen withdrawal.” (123) But the hero, who had already stumbled close to death at least twice before his final demise, is likeable, and he is forgiven the fault in his own lonely death.