Was Chris McCandless an inspiration or a lost soul?

Craig Medred

It has been 20 years since Chris McCandless starved to death in Alaska during an attempt to live simply and alone in what he considered wilderness. McCandless's story captured the popular American consciousness through the work of author John Krakauer, first in a lenthy 1993 magazine article, then in the 1996 book "Into the Wild," which itself inspired a 2007 movie.

McCandless's death and Krakauer's account touched off a huge debate in Alaska and America. Should the dead young man be pitied? Feared? Mocked? Lionized? Was he a martyr? Gallant or Goofus? Mentally ill? Was he just another arrogant Outsider full of disrespect for Alaska and its people? A daring adventurer who did what self-important Alaskans only dream of? Was he a literary character or a real person?

The years since McCandless's wasted body was found have not blunted the passion with which people have expressed their point of view. The following exchange proves that if nothing else. It begins with an Aug. 20 column by Alaska Dispatch's Craig Medred, taking issue with a column by Pete Mason for The Huffington Post.

  1. 1 Forget Chris McCandless. Has Craig Medred gone into the wild?

    OPINION: Despite what Alaska Dispatch's Craig Medred says, Chris McCandless, of "Into the Wild" fame, was not one short of a six pack. He was just a young guy living life to the fullest.

  2. 2 Remembering Chris McCandless and the misbegotten truth of self-reliance

    Piling scorn on the deceased Chris McCandless and treating his solitary wilderness sojourn with virulent mean-spiritedness is not foolish or wrong-headed; it's beside the point.

  3. 3 Examining Chris McCandless, 20 years after he went 'Into the Wild'

    Twenty years after Chris McCandless died alone in an abandoned bus on the edge of the real Alaska wilderness, some people still don't understand the fundamental lesson of his death.

  4. 4 McCandless and Palin, the woodsman and the politician

    There's something wrong when imagined caricatures of people who don't accomplish much become icons for so many Americans.

  5. 5 'Into the Wild' fantasy claims another victim

    It was inevitable that writer Jon Krakauer, filmmaker Sean Penn and their "Into the Wild" fantasy would get someone killed.

  6. 6 Parents of McCandless visit the bus

    Chris McCandless's parents made a memorial trip to see the place their son died, reports a South Dakota television station.

  7. 7 New book gives wilderness legend Dick Griffith attention he deserves

    A new book about the extensive outdoor adventures of 85-year-old Dick Griffith gives readers a dose of the reality behind one of the North's biggest backcountry legends.

  8. 8 In rural Alaska, have we become desensitized to high death rates?

    The per capita death rate for two people in the rural Alaska village of Kwethluk would translate into the equivalent death of 800 people in Anchorage.