Into the Wild (book)
Cover of paperback, depicting the bus in which McCandless stayed.
|LC Class||CT9971.M38 K73 1997|
Into the Wild is a 1996 non-fiction book written by Jon Krakauer. It is an expansion of Krakauer's 9,000-word article on Christopher McCandless titled "Death of an Innocent", which appeared in the January 1993 issue of Outside. The book was adapted to film in 2007, directed by Sean Penn with Emile Hirsch starring as McCandless.
Christopher Johnson McCandless grew up in suburban Annandale, Virginia. After graduating in May 1990 with high grades from Emory University, McCandless ceased communicating with his family, gave away his college fund of $24,000 to Oxfam, and began traveling across Western United States, later abandoning his 1982 Datsun after a flash flood.
On April 28, 1992, McCandless hitchhiked to the Stampede Trail in Alaska. There he headed down the snow-covered trail to begin an odyssey with only 10 pounds of rice, a .22 caliber rifle, several boxes of rifle rounds, a camera, and a small selection of reading material—including a field guide to the region's edible plants, Tana'ina Plantlore. His backpack was later found to contain his wallet, holding multiple forms of identification, his social security card, $300, and library cards. A map of the area was also found in his backpack. He declined an acquaintance's offer to buy him sturdier clothing and better supplies. McCandless died of starvation sometime around the week of August 18, 1992, after surviving more than 100 days.
On September 6, 1992, Christopher McCandless's body was found inside an abandoned bus in Alaska (Coordinates: ). One year later, author Jon Krakauer retraced McCandless' steps during the two years between college graduation and his demise in Alaska. McCandless shed his legal name early in his journey, adopting the moniker "Alexander Supertramp", after W.H. Davies. He spent time in Carthage, South Dakota, laboring for months in a grain elevator owned by Wayne Westerberg before hitchhiking to Alaska. Krakauer interprets McCandless's intensely ascetic personality as possibly influenced by the writings of Henry David Thoreau, and McCandless's favorite writer, Jack London. He explores the similarities between McCandless's experiences and motivations and his own as a young man, recounting in detail Krakauer's own attempt to climb Devils Thumb in Alaska. Krakauer also relates the stories of some other young men who vanished into the wilderness, such as Everett Ruess, an artist and wanderer who went missing in the Utah desert during 1934 at age 20. In addition, he describes at some length the grief and puzzlement of McCandless's parents, sister, and friends.
Cause of death
McCandless survived for approximately 119 days in the Alaskan wilderness, foraging for edible roots and berries, shooting an assortment of game—including a moose—and keeping a journal. Although he planned to hike to the coast, the boggy terrain of summer proved too difficult and he decided instead to camp in a derelict bus. In July, he tried to leave, only to find the route blocked by a snow-melt swollen river, which was tragically unfortunate as there was a hand-powered tram just upstream. On July 30, McCandless wrote a journal entry which reads, EXTREMLY WEAK. FAULT OF POT. SEED... Based on this entry, Krakauer hypothesized that McCandless had been eating the roots of Hedysarum alpinum, an edible plant commonly known as wild Eskimo potato, which are sweet and nourishing in the spring but later become too tough to eat. When this happened, McCandless may have attempted to eat the seeds instead. Krakauer first speculates that the seeds were actually from Hedysarum mackenzii, or wild sweet pea, which contained a poisonous alkaloid, possibly swainsonine (the toxic chemical in locoweed) or something similar. In addition to neurological symptoms such as weakness and loss of coordination, the poison causes starvation by blocking nutrient metabolism in the body. However, Krakauer suggests that McCandless had not confused the two plants and instead a more likely scenario is that he was poisoned by mold growing on the local flora he had gathered. Upon further analysis Krakauer's hypotheses were proved to be incorrect. Rather McCandless starved to death due to lack of nutrition.[clarification needed] The 2007 film adaptation by Sean Penn shows Chris confusing two different plants, mistakenly choosing the wild sweet pea rather than the wild potato.
According to Krakauer, a well-nourished person might consume the seeds and survive because the body can use its stores of glucose and amino acids to rid itself of the poison. Since McCandless lived on a diet of rice, lean meat, and wild plants and had less than 10% body fat when he died, Krakauer hypothesized that McCandless was likely unable to fend off the toxins. However, when the Eskimo potatoes from the area around the bus were later tested in a laboratory of the University of Alaska Fairbanks by Dr. Thomas Clausen, toxins were not found. Krakauer later modified his hypothesis, suggesting that mold of the variety Rhizoctonia leguminicola may have caused McCandless's death. Rhizoctonia leguminicola is known to cause digestion problems in livestock, and may have aided McCandless's impending starvation. Krakauer now hypothesizes that the bag in which Chris kept the potato seeds was damp and the seeds thus became moldy. If McCandless had eaten seeds that contained this mold, he could have become sick, and Krakauer suggests that he thus became unable to get out of bed and so starved. His basis for the mold hypothesis is a photograph that shows seeds in a bag. This theory was also proved false as no mold was found.
However, in 1997, Dr. Thomas Clausen—the biochemist at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, who examined the wild potato plant (Hedysarum alpinum) for Jon Krakauer—concluded after exhaustive testing that no part of H. alpinum is toxic. Neither the roots nor the seeds. Accordingly, McCandless could not have poisoned himself in the way suggested by Krakauer in his 1996 book Into the Wild, and in every subsequent reprinting of the book over the next decade. Likewise, Dr. Clausen’s analysis of the wild sweet pea (Hedysarum mackenzii)—given as the cause of McCandless’ death in the 2007 Sean Penn film—has also turned up no toxic compounds, and there is not a single account in modern medical literature of anyone ever being poisoned by this species of plant. Moreover, Penn’s on-screen excerpt from the ethno-botany guide McCandless was using, indicating otherwise, is a complete fiction, for all that this plant lore text actually states is that the wild sweet pea "is reported to be poisonous" (Tana'ina Plantlore, Priscilla Russell Kari, p. 128). The rest of it is simply made up. Thus, even if McCandless made a mistake of botany, something that even Krakauer claims is unlikely, he would not have been poisoned as portrayed in the Penn film.
In December 2012, Ronald Hamilton, a published author and retired bookbinder at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania proposed a different theory. His belief was that McCandless died from lathyrism due to the presence of a neurotoxin known as ODAP within the seeds. The onset of lathyrism causes weakness and inability to walk, ultimately resulting in paralysis of the legs and death. Hamilton states that the symptoms are consistent with McCandless' reports of being too weak to walk. Laboratory tests, performed at the request of Krakauer, confirmed that seeds from H. alpinum do contain the toxic protein. However, the American Chemical Society has stated that attempts to confirm the presence of ODAP in H. alpinum through the use of high-performance liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry methods have been inconclusive.
Another possible cause of McCandless' death is rabbit starvation, which is a form of malnutrition caused by excess consumption of protein, typically in the form of lean meat. Possible dangers of a diet in which protein makes up more than 35% of a person's total energy intake include hyperammonemia (an excess of ammonia in the blood), hyperinsulinemia (an excess of insulin in the blood), diarrhea, fatigue, and in extreme or prolonged cases, death. Early trappers and explorers sometimes suffered from this when eating a diet that consisted solely or primarily of lean meats. The most plentiful and accessible food source for him over the winter months likely would have been game, which would have provided almost no fats or carbohydrates which his body would have needed as an energy source.
- Christopher McCandless/Alexander Supertramp: A small, yet strong young man with deep eyes who is portrayed as likeable despite his stubborn disposition.
- Wayne Westerburg: A man with thick shoulders and a black goatee who is described as being successful at whatever he does, good and bad (renaissance man).
- Jan Burres: A woman who was traveling around the West selling items at flea markets with her boyfriend when she met Alex.
- Ronald Franz: (Pseudonym for Russell Fritz) A strong, 80 year-old marine with a barrel chest, strong arms, and a kind heart. He is also a devout Christian and serves as a father figure for “Alex Supertramp,” offering to adopt him.
Into the Wild addresses the issues of how to be accepted into society, and how finding oneself sometimes conflicts with being an active member in society. Most critics agree that Chris McCandless left to find some sort of enlightenment. He also tries to find his way in the wild with as little material possessions because "it made the journey more enjoyable." His extreme risk-taking was the hubris which eventually led to his downfall.
A film adaptation directed by Sean Penn was released in September 2007 starring Emile Hirsch as McCandless. The film emphasizes, and in some cases exaggerates, certain aspects of personal relationships that McCandless experienced, including his parents' domestic conflicts and his own interaction with teenager Tracy Tatro, played by Kristen Stewart. Other interactions portrayed in the film, however, seem very accurate based on Krakauer's research, including the characters of Jan Burres, played by Catherine Keener, and "Ronald Franz" (pseudonym for Russel Fritz), played by Hal Holbrook. The film's depiction of McCandless's death differs from the theory put forth by Krakauer in the later edition of the book.
McCandless's story is also the subject of the 2007 documentary by Ron Lamothe named The Call of the Wild. In his study of McCandless's death, Lamothe concludes that McCandless ran out of supplies and game and starved to death and was not poisoned by eating the seeds of the wild potato.
The Christopher Johnson McCandless Memorial Foundation, headed by McCandless' parents Bille and Walt, with the editorial and writing input of family and friends, released the 2010 book and DVD Back to the Wild. The Photographs & Writings of Christopher McCandless. The material includes hundreds of McCandless' previously unseen pictures and journal entries. Jon Krakauer has written a piece in the book's introduction, while Hal Holbrook - who appeared in the Penn film - narrates the DVD.
- Krakauer, Jon. Death of an Innocent: Outside Magazine, January, 1997. Retrieved September 1, 2007.
- "YouTube Video, Hiking to the Into The Wild Bus; Arriving At The Bus!". shanesworld. Retrieved December 2, 2007.
- (The bus can be seen clearly on Google Earth, and at higher magnifications on Google Maps, but is obscured by clouds in Google Maps and most other mapping programs.)
- Into the Wild, page 191
- "McCandless' fatal trek: Schizophrenia or pilgrimage?". Anchorage Daily News. April 17, 1996. Retrieved May 30, 2008.
- Krakauer, Jon. Into The Wild. New York: Anchor Books, 1996. 195. eBook.
- "The Call of the Wild: Into the Wild Debunked". Terra Incognita Films. Retrieved June 18, 2011.
- "The Silent Fire: ODAP and the death of Christopher McCandless". Ronald Hamilton. Retrieved June 2, 2014.
- Krakauer, Jon (September 12, 2013). "How Chris McCandless Died". New Yorker. Retrieved June 2, 2014.
- "The Silent Fire: ODAP and the death of Christopher McCandless". Ronald Hamilton. Retrieved August 27, 2013.
- Krakauer, Jon (September 12, 2013). "How Chris McCandless Died". New Yorker. Retrieved September 14, 2013.
- Bilsborough, S.; Mann, N. (April 2006). "A review of issues of dietary protein intake in humans". International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 16 (2): 129–152. PMID 16779921.
- Bilsborough, Shane; Mann, Niel (April 2006). "A review of issues of dietary protein intake in humans". International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 16 (2). PMID 16779921. Retrieved 8 August 2013.
- Krakauer, p.16
- Krakauer, p.30
- Krakauer, p.50
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- The Call of the Wild film
- "Back to the Wild. The Photographs & Writings of Christopher McCandless". Christopher Johnson McCandless Memorial Foundation. Retrieved April 25, 2012.
- Back To The Wild, following up from the original book.
- Finding Into the Wild's Magic Bus, A book inspired trip to the magic bus and a complete guide to finding it.
- Hiking The Stampede Trail, a guide to hiking to Bus 142 on the Stampede Trail.