Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Alexander Supertramp

Last Thursday night we watched the movie "Into The Wild" on the pay-per-view movie channel in our motel in Connecticut. My wife was about halfway through the book of the same name by Jon Krakauer. I started reading the book this morning on the train ride to work.

The movie and book tell the story of Christopher McCandless, a young man who turned his back on his family following his graduation from Emory University in Atlanta in May of 1990. He adopted for himself the moniker of Alexander Supertramp and spent the next two years crisscrossing the western United States before embarking on what he called his Alaskan adventure in April of 1992. Attempting to lead a life of total isolation, living off of only what he could hunt and forage for, McCandless ended up not being up to the task he had set for himself and he slowly succumbed to starvation. A group of hunters found his body in an abandoned bus about two and a half weeks after he died.

During the course of his peregrinations, McCandless befriended a number of people, and it is clear from the book that he made quite an impression on many of them. One of the unlikely friendships he struck up was with a lonely octogenarian widower whose wife and only son had been killed by a drunk driver in 1957. Krakauer describes the man, whom he calls Ron Franz (not his real name), as having been a "devout Christian." Krakauer writes "[w]hen Franz met McCandless, his long dormant paternal impulses were kindled anew."

McCandless encouraged Franz to give up his sedentary existence while he was still fit and healthy, and Franz was inspired enough by McCandless to actually follow through on it. In a letter he wrote to Franz, McCandless implored him to "put a little camper on the back of your pickup, and start seeing some of the great work that God has done here in the American West.' Franz proceeded to do so and ended up occupying McCandless's former campsite, awaiting his promised return.

Late in December of 1992, Franz was driving with two hitchhikers that he had picked up. He started telling them about his friend "Alex". One of the hitchhikers realized who he was talking about and sadly informed Franz of a magazine article he had read about how McCandless had died the previous summer. Franz was devastated by the news.

Franz tells Krakauer, "When Alex left for Alaska, I prayed. I asked God to keep his finger on the shoulder of that one; I told him that boy was special. But he let Alex die. So on December 26, when I learned what happened, I renounced the Lord. I withdrew my church membership and became an atheist. I decided I couldn't believe in a God who would let something that terrible happen to a boy like Alex."

However, in an interesting contrast, the farewell message that McCandless wrote before he died in that abandoned bus was "I HAVE HAD A HAPPY LIFE AND THANK THE LORD. GOODBYE AND MAY GOD BLESS ALL."

I think I can understand why both men reacted in entirely different ways to this tragedy. As an atheist myself, I believe that the universe is indifferent to us. McCandless did not die because some God did not care about him. Rather, he died because he had put himself into a situation that he was not equipped to handle. The local game he hunted was not sufficient to sustain his nutritional requirements. The river that he easily forded in April had become an impassable raging torrent that summer due to the melting of the ice. Had he reconnoitered further up the river, McCandless would have come across a steel cable spanning the river with a basket that he could have used to transport himself to safety. Alternatively, had he managed to be a little more successful at feeding himself, he might have survived long enough to be rescued by the hunting parties that converged on the bus on September 6, 1992. If there was a loving god watching over Christopher McCandless, it would not have required that much of a miracle to have enabled Chris to survive.

15 comments:

Brian said...

Interesting story! I'll have to put that on my reading list.

Tommy said...

Hi Brian!

On his way to Alaska, McCandless passed through Yukon Territory in Canada.

jeff said...

i have just finished the book 'into the wild' it is one of the only books that i have read ever that i have wanted to know more about. chris mcCandless is one person that i wish i could of known, it does not matter if people think he was stupid and idiotic for what he did, he did wat he wanted to do and his actions have made me realise alot about myself. i wish to know more???

Taryl said...

I watched the movie twice and I am still thinking about it- What an amazing story- I dont think I will ever forget the impact that it had on me- I feel that everyone should watch it- Learn from his message- It is Huge!!

Anonymous said...

Its a rally interisting story, hes an amazing guy but would his story have been so amazing and touched so many lives if he had lived? His death is a tragity but his memory will live in my heart and mind until my death. I can only hope mine has so much meaning. He is a marytre of freedom and hope.

Tommy said...

would his story have been so amazing and touched so many lives if he had lived?

Sorry for the late response to this. In short, yes.

Especially if he ended up being found and rescued a week or two before his death. He would have had quite an interesting story to tell.

The big question that we will never know the answer to is if he had survived, what lesson would he have gotten from it and how would he have applied it to his future? Would Chris have just gone back to his peripatetic existence, only to die in some other forest or out in the desert somewhere, or would he have learned that the answer was not necessarily to be found some place "out there", but inside of himself?

Mary Gerber said...

I am fascinated with this story/movie/book. I wish I could run off and live such an uncomplicated life and see all of God's work. It does not surprise me that Chris thanked God at the end of his life. Creation demands a creator and I believe he came to that realization while out in the wild.

Anonymous said...

this story is one we shall never forget. it ravages the hearts of all different and alike. when you said he was unprepared, or something, he wasn't. he chose to see the wilderness in its full beauty. you can't do that with a clock and somewhere to go. you have to be lost. he was NOT CRAZY, but confused like every other human wandering around this Earth. he along with some others just found a place to wander to and around! and of course he loved the simplicity (think it was a comment tommy). everyone loves simplicity. we all came from it, no job, no money, no time.I once read a comment from a native Polynesian in the 19th century," all of you mainlanders and whites worry about time to much. life is short don't spend your time swimming against the world but with it." we all need to let go of what we think we are supposed to do, and do what we want to do. that is living life to its fullest. Tommy i believe you did a superb job with this site however, add a few pictures in time. Please!

Anonymous said...

this story is one we shall never forget. it ravages the hearts of all different and alike. when you said he was unprepared, or something, he wasn't. he chose to see the wilderness in its full beauty. you can't do that with a clock and somewhere to go. you have to be lost. he was NOT CRAZY, but confused like every other human wandering around this Earth. he along with some others just found a place to wander to and around! and of course he loved the simplicity (think it was a comment tommy). everyone loves simplicity. we all came from it, no job, no money, no time.I once read a comment from a native Polynesian in the 19th century," all of you mainlanders and whites worry about time to much. life is short don't spend your time swimming against the world but with it." we all need to let go of what we think we are supposed to do, and do what we want to do. that is living life to its fullest. Tommy i believe you did a superb job with this site however, add a few pictures in time. Please!

Anonymous said...

I've read this book a few times and also seen this movie 2 times its a great story and a must read to anyne who loves a good adventure i have plans to try and recreat his jurney soon and see if i can find any signs he may have left

Tommykey said...

Hi Anonymous @ February 4, 2009.

In case you come back here, I would suggest that rather than trying to recreate McCandless' journey, you go on a journey that is uniquely yours. And be careful!

Anonymous said...

Responding to the person who said he wasn't unprepared, uh, yes, he was. Very unprepared. A bag of rice, a 22 and a few other scant items? He was woefully unprepared. Balance. It's about balance. One needs spontaneity, yes, but one also needs to know what they're getting into and prepare for the worst. I am a horrible planner and thus would never attempt something like that because I would likely starve to death after five minutes...

AND, as for atheism, there is an interesting youtube video that was banned from our music station in Canada because of "blasphemy". It's about a dance move invented by the band, and at one point in the song, angels appear, dancing the dance and everyone begins singing "Hallelujah" and the station had the audacity to ban the video, only to reinforce the puritanical perspective of Canada that already exists.

The video is here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hr-GNLue_b8

Anonymous said...

Well... that's interessting but honestly i have a hard time figuring it... wonder how others think about this..

susienoel said...

I'm so sorry you will never know the everlasting life with our Lord Jesus Christ! :(

Tommykey said...

Thank you for your concern susienoel. And I'm very sorry that you spend your life worrying about people who don't share your delusions.