October 4, 2009
I’ve been teaching Into the Wild, the journey of Christopher McCandless, since early in 2005 so when Changing Hands Bookstore announced that they were bringing Jon Krakauer to town I was stoked. Into the Wild seems to touch more of my students than any other required novel. Last month Krakauer released his next nonfiction novel- the story of Pat Tillman. Before Bush made him the propaganda poster boy for his wars, mostly only people in Arizona knew Tillman as the NFL safety who walked away from a $3.6 million dollar contract to join the Army.
While I know less about Tillman and don’t have developed comments of my own without researching more and reading the Krakauer book about him, Where Men Win Glory, I do know McCandless. My AP classes just finished Into the Wild and as wanted to know if McCandless was elfish or selfless. We had wild debates about this topic in class, but we never came to any sort of conclusion. Toward the end of one of these hour long debates, I suddenly thought of Tillman. At first I hated Tillman because of what he represented by the government, but as I think more and more about it, I hesitate to pass judgment.
When we arrived at Dobson HS tonight, I discovered close seats near the podium and was excited to be about 20′ from where Krakauer would speak. After a short wait, the Changing Hands person came up to introduce Krakauer who was right behind her. We had our touch with fame as he walked within 10′ of us. I shot several pictures as he began discussing Tillman. He began a slideshow of he made of photos and videos from Afghanistan when he was researching Tillman and he read the excerpt where Tillman was killed.
Afterward he opened for questions and most were about Tillman. One or two people wandered into a discussion of Under the Banner of Heaven or Into the Wild, so I figured my question wouldn’t be too far off. He called on me pretty quickly. I explained to him that I’ve taught Into the Wild for the last five years and he actually thanked me. I then told him I couldn’t understand how Tillman could not give up everything without some idea that he’s be glorified for what he was doing. Krakauer agreed and discussed with me how Tillman’s journals argued back and forth the very point about walking away from his wife and family for his country.
Next I asked him my second part. Was McCandless selfish and how do the journeys of these men parallel. Krakauer told my questions was great and really tough to answer. He talked briefly about Tillman, and he said my kids should continue the discussion about McCandless in class: “You students should keep talking about that. I’d love to sit in on that conversation.” Wow. Wouldn’t we like that? He did move on before talking any more about McCandless and after a few more questions, the hosts had to cut off questioning so he could sign.
I was in the B group so I wanted a short 10 minutes before getting in line. Several people I ended up knowing were there and said my question was profound, and what did I think the answer was. Or what did I think Krakauer thought it was. It was my turn to find out.
The line moved quickly and I got up towards the end to get my books signed. I reminded him who I was, and then I said, “Well, is McCandless selfish?” Krakauer looked up at me and answered. “Yes, he was selfish and rightfully so.” He went on to discuss with me the familial problems McCandless faced and we discussed my teaching his novel. I thanked him as he asked about my British version of Into the Wild that I had him signed, and then we parted ways with a hand shake. For me, this was like meeting a rock star.