Nothing makes a story more believable than the life it self. Writing a critique of a book based on a real life story is not an easy task, taking in consideration that some of the judgments willingly or not might consider not the style of the narration but the events and the person described.
The main points of consideration have to be based on whether the author succeeded in delivering the idea in telling these events. This essay might follow the previous idea, while certainly the effects of the actual events can distract from merely analyzing the authors work.
The basis of this essay is the book by Jon Krakauer called “Into the Wild”. Being based on true events, This fact is the reason for the short introduction for the following critique.
This essay will analyze the efforts presented by Krakauer, trying to prove the idea that the reality of some events or in other words the drama behind a real life story can be a sufficient factor to make a book inspiring and catching.
Jon Krakauer is an American author who was first recognized for writing to the “Outside” journal covering stories of mountain climbing. As he was a mountaineer himself, he’s article found success, which later inspired him to write books.
The book “Into the Wild” was written as an extension to his earlier article “Death of an Innocent”, as a response to the feedback that he has got from readers of the article. The article itself was written in a story telling manner following the life and death of Christopher McCandless.
The fact that this book is an expansion of his article will be covered later in this essay since as a personal opinion it plays a role in the way the author has chosen to narrate his work.
The book is a somewhat mixed genre, starting as a report, and then transferring to a biography style, alternating his narration between bare facts and a “naturalist’s diary” rhythm of story telling. The book sometimes switches to autobiography; as a result it is hard to identify the genre of this book with one word.
The main plot of the book is about the life of Christopher McCandless starting from his death in Stampede Trail in Alaska where he decided to live in the wilderness and then traces his previous adventures, his background and the reasons for his travels.
It cannot be said that the book has an intrigue in it, because the author’s main plot has been written in the introduction and on the back cover of the book. However, the author did not intend in making the death of Christopher as the main twist, but rather the fact why he and people like him decide to abandon everything they have and leave it behind in search for the unknown.
The period mentioned in the book although is not in chronological order covers the timeline between 1990 and 1992, adding some years from the childhood of Christopher merely to set the mood of the reader on understanding the motives that pushed Christopher away from home.
In general we can say that the author did a thorough research of the life of Chris, and that he is really inspired by him, this feeling is sensed throughout the whole book, and it gives an impression that he wants the reader to share his admiration for Christopher’s personality.
The first thing that comes to mind when mentioning the issues that were disliked in the book is the style of narration.
Definitely to like a style or not is a personal issue, but there obvious attributes of the style that author apply to his work that cannot be missed. As was mentioned earlier the book “In the Wild” is an expansion of the article that the author has written earlier.
The style of the article was transferred almost unchanged to the book. If the semi-news like report style can be considered acceptable for a journal whose main theme is adventure and travel, should be changed or at least adapted for a book it.
For a comparison reason I read the original article, and found that some chapters in the book are completely identical.
Of course the author has written both of them, but for comparison matter the article is 9000 words and the book is about 60000, so was not it more suitable to write the book from scratch rather than adding chapters to make it more fluid in style.
Another remark is the similarity of some chapters, which are indeed different in content but copies in style.
As an example, chapters two and three start with a description of locations before the main event, which if omitting the names of places gives an impression of reading the same chapter again. There are other similarities which a makes the chapter an essay like in terms that they are not fully connected with each other.
Well, it would be not so noticeable if the same style was kept through the whole book, but as was mentioned before, the style switches, even in the perspective which is third person narration at the beginning, then first person and sometimes for emphasizing the connection to the reader in conclusion moments he refers to the narrator in “we” form “We know all of this because McCandless documented the burning of his money”.
The author does not depend only on the facts in his narration, since some of the chapters are interpretations and personal conclusions, which he does not deny in the introduction.
In general the author put large efforts in the book to idealize the character of Christopher, and make the reader do the same. Excerpts from the books in the beginning of each chapter that was known to inspire Christopher, his achievements in school, and emphasizing on the version that Christopher was no ordinary risk hunter are some of the examples that are shown in the book.
The excerpts from the book require separate attention, as it seems that specific parts can set the mood in the beginning of each chapter, and the love for the Russian literature is sensed through the books mentioned and known to be read by Christopher, e.g. Tolstoy and Gogol.
In general the book is interested to read, partly because the life of Christopher McCandless was interesting and unordinary and partly because the author provided the reader with some facts and explanation that enlighten the events and distinguish him from other adventurers.
Another factor that could be paralleled and sensed through the book is the author’s background in mountaineering. Aside from the author’s experience that was mentioned in the book, it is sensed that the author emphasizes that if some person experienced similar events he would be able to understand the rationale behind Christopher’s motifs more.
In recommending the book, it first should be distinguished what does the reader intends to find. If the reader is searching for facts about the death of Christopher and all the events that surrounds his two years journey, the reader can read the article.
All of the major facts are mentioned in the article, and the reader can have a complete view of all the background and statistics. If the reader wants to take an in depth look in the life of Christopher and other adventurers including the author, or have a description of the wild America in terms of geography and travel this book is a good guide.
The book is provided with maps and coordinates of mostly every location that Christopher visited, which emphasizes the reality of the events.
For some reason when mentioning the realism in the book, a novel by Stephen king is coming to mind which is called “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon”.
This novel tells a story of a girl who was lost in the woods and her experience before she was found. Although the books are totally different taking into account that Stephen King is incomparable in describing events in a terrifying frightening manner.
Yet this book was mentioned to bring the idea that if someone is informed that the book is based on real events, it needs little efforts to dramatize the plot because it is tragic by itself. Additionally, not trying to underestimate the author’s works, it should be noted that it is easier to bring sympathy for a real person than for a fictional character.
Since the book was read before the article, I can say that the book was enjoyable to read. The feel of empathy for the main protagonist, the beauties of the wild land and the feel of risk, adventure and freedom is sensed throughout the book.
As a result of this risk sensed in the book the author mentions several times the safety issues and the necessity to be fully equipped, possibly to inform the readers who might feel inspired to repeat the journey of Christopher. In that sense the author tries to be very cautious and keep neutrality, “Unlike McCandless, however, I have in my backpack a 1:63,360-scale topographic map (that is, a map on which one inch represents one mile). Exquisitely detailed…”
No matter what style the author implemented, he achieved his purpose, and if not him, possibly the life of Christopher McCandless and his journey, could have been mentioned only in a news block or in special travel magazine. The author’s efforts gave his life a wide recognition and all this because his life touched him so deeply that he wanted to share his thoughts and ideas. It is unlikely that bare facts of Christopher’s life could have inspired making a film about him.
Thanks to him the world has known about Christopher from a perspective that even his parents might have been unaware of. I would suggest to anyone who thinks that his life lacks adventure and risk to read this book, and independently on the outcome or the conclusion resulted of this reading they will discover that it takes so little in life to enjoy it, because Christopher McCandless indeed did.
“Jon Krakauer: Biography.” Book Browse. 2003. Web.
Krakauer , Jon. Into the Wild. Anchor, 1997.
Krakauer, Jon. “Death of an Innocent.” Outside Online. 1993. Web.