Into the Wild | Study Guide

Jon Krakauer

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Into the Wild | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Jon Krakauer's 1996 book Into the Wild explores the life of Christopher McCandless, a young man who ventured across the United States and ultimately attempted to live alone in the harsh Alaskan wilderness. Krakauer chronicles McCandless's journey and his struggle for survival, while discussing the philosophical motivations for his trek. The fascinating true story of McCandless, who traveled under the pseudonym Alexander Supertramp, inspired writers, naturalists, and filmmakers alike, but Krakauer's biography is the most famous and well-researched record of the McCandless's plight in the wild. Since its publication, Into the Wild has become an international best-selling title and has been translated into more than a dozen different languages.

1. Before he wrote Into the Wild, Krakauer published an article about McCandless entitled "Death of an Innocent."

The article "Death of an Innocent" appeared in the January 1993 edition of Outside magazine and chronicled McCandless's journey and philosophical influences. The article generated a huge response, both positive and negative, from readers. Some reviews accused the story of encouraging others to put their lives in danger by attempting to recreate his expedition.

2. Krakauer's research for Into the Wild took three years.

Beginning in 1974, Krakauer traveled to the Alaskan frontier numerous times to study the location where McCandless died. After the publication of Into the Wild, Krakauer continued to study McCandless's cause of death, as if a definitive answer would at long last reveal the reason behind McCandless's story.

3. McCandless's journey in Into the Wild was inspired by transcendentalist philosophy.

Transcendentalism is a branch of philosophy dedicated to oneness with nature, avoidance of materialism, and withdrawal from society. Famous Americans thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were the pioneers of this school of thought that inspired McCandless's trek. In Into the Wild, McCandless can be seen embodying transcendentalist ideology, particularly by shielding himself from any material possessions and most relationships with others. In the text, this is most notable when Robert Franz asks him to be his adopted grandson, to which McCandless replies, "We'll talk about it when I get back from Alaska, Ron."

Title page from first edition of Henry David Thoreau's Walden (1854)

Title page from first edition of Henry David Thoreau's Walden (1854). Ticknor and Fields

4. The "magic bus" from McCandless's journey still rests out in the wilderness of Alaska.

The abandoned bus McCandless used for shelter—and died in—was originally brought into the remote Alaskan wilderness by a mechanic who worked construction on the frontier. The bus still draws tourists and serves for some as a shrine to McCandless.

Bus 142 on the Stampede Trail.

Bus 142 on the Alaskan Stampede Trail. Erikhalfacre CC BY-SA 3.0

5. Scientists disagree about McCandless's cause of death.

Krakauer originally proposed that the seeds of the wild potato were responsible for poisoning McCandless. After a scientific analysis found no harmful toxins in these seeds, however, he claimed improper storage caused them to grow mold and thus became toxic. Another theory suggests seeds weren't responsible for McCandless's death at all and that he simply starved to death.

6. Emile Hirsch, who played McCandless in the 2007 film version of Into the Wild, had to lose 40 pounds to play the role.

McCandless was found 19 days after he died, weighing only 67 pounds. The extremely frail condition of his body caused many to speculate starvation killed McCandless. In order to portray the physical suffering McCandless endured, Emile Hirsch had to drop "almost a quarter" of his body weight.

7. McCandless donated $24,000 to Oxfam before embarking on his journey.

In keeping with the transcendentalist ideal of rejecting wealth and material possessions, McCandless donated his entire life savings prior to his departure. Upon the film's release Oxfam honored the director and cast at their 2007 party in New York City.

8. McCandless's family set up a foundation to donate royalties from Into the Wild.

The fund, "Chris's Purpose"—later called the Christopher Johnson McCandless Memorial Foundation—was set up to honor McCandless's record of charitable giving. Much of its funding derives from royalties produced by the book Into the Wild and its accompanying film version.

9. McCandless's alter ego in Into the Wild, Alexander Supertramp, was an homage to a Welsh poet.

The poet W.H. Davies, famous for his works influenced by the characters and landscape of the rural United States, came from Wales to travel the American wilderness in the 1890s. His memoir, entitled The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp, inspired McCandless's "Alexander Supertramp" persona.

10. The 2007 film of Into the Wild featured award-winning original music.

Eddie Vedder, of the 1990s grunge band Pearl Jam, composed most of the film's score. The song "Guaranteed" from the soundtrack won a Golden Globe for Best Original Song. The film was also nominated for best original score.

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