Chapter 8-9

In Chapters 8 and 9, Krakauer compares McCandless with other explorers before him. Krakauer notes the lack of sympathy Alaskans felt for McCandless when they read the article Krakauer wrote about his death. Many felt that he was a foolish child, who arrogantly attempted to brave the Alaskan wilderness.

The first person Krakauer considers for comparison is Gene Rosellini, referred to by locals as the Mayor of Hippie Cove. Rosellini was a good student and athlete, but left his comfortable home in Seattle to see “if it was possible to be independent of modern technology.” Rosellini concluded that his attempt to live off the land was a failure after thirty years and then committed suicide.

Another adventurer Krakauer considers is John Mallon Waterman. Waterman was raised in the same Washington D.C. metro area as McCandless. As a child Waterman’s father took him climbing frequently. He was very talented and developed a reputation for his skill. Waterman was described by his contemporaries as a strange character. Although Waterman had significant success as a climber, he began to unravel mentally. After spending some time in a psychiatric facility, Waterman completed what literally turned out to be a suicide mission—climbing Mt. Denali with little gear.

Carl McCunn was an absent-minded man from Texas who moved to Fairbanks in the 1970s. McCunn had himself flown out to a lake near the Coleen River to take photographs but forgot to arrange to be picked up at the end of the summer. McCunn died in the wilderness.

In chapter 9, Krakauer turns his attention to Everett Ruess. Ruess was born in 1934 and shared McCandless’s restless spirit. Ruess adopted a pseudonym during his travels—Nemo, meaning “no one” in Latin and also the name of the main character in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It was believed that Ruess fell to his death at Davis Gulch; however, Krakauer explores alternative theories of his death. Everett’s brother believes he was murdered; Everett’s biographer believes he drowned.


In this section Krakauer attempts to further develop Chris McCandless by examining other men who were “similar” to him. The catch is that their similarities include their desire to be unique, to shun what others find normal. It does not seem to be Krakauer’s intention to claim that Chris was just like these men who also had restless spirits but, instead, to show that Chris was not wholly unusual. In examining the lives of men about whom more is known, we might speculate about Chris McCandless.

Krakauer will explain later how Chris differed from others, but here he shows that all these men were rather “quirky” and that other men who pursue great risks have had difficult relationships with their fathers—much like Chris. This theme of father-son tension nicely segue ways into the next section, which will elaborate on Chris’s strained relationship with his own father.

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