Into the Wild

Sean Penn is currently filming Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild (1996) about Chris McCandless' ill-fated Alaskan wilderness odyssey of 1992. Although the book is dramatic enough, it's unlikely Penn will spin off, as Krakauer does, into the intriguing stories of other fanatical adventurers--Everett Ruess, John Waterman, Gene Rosellini--who also ventured off into the wild full of ideals and hubris, never to return. Part cautionary tale, Krakauer also does his bit to counter those who would dismiss the bright, Tolstoy-quoting Jack London-loving McCandless as mere crackpot by setting him within the context of other intensely motivated nature lovers (John Muir, Henry David Thoreau) who also retreated from society into the seductive refuge of nature.

For more on Alaska, try John McPhee's 5-star account of his Alaskan travels in 1977's Coming into the Country. Alone in the Wilderness (DVD) chronicles the adventures of 50-year-old Dick Proenneke as he builds a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness by hand. An excerpt from this book by nature writer Edward Hoagland also makes an appearance in Krakauer's book. And for another such recluse whose sensational death occurred a few years ago, check out Werner Herzog's remarkable 2005 documentary about Timother Treadwell, aka Grizzly Man.