When I began reading this book, I naively assumed that it wouldn’t be hard to assign character archetypes to the characters in the novel. After all, characters in a story tend to fit into nice little boxes that make it easy to determine their archetype. Romeo is pretty obviously a tragic hero, for example. However, I clearly made a mistake in that assumption. Into Thin Air is based on a true story and is written by one of the survivors of the disaster. It is about real events and real people and unfortunately for me, real people don’t fit into archetypes as cleanly as book characters do. Therefore trying to figure out just one archetype for any character is nearly impossible. For instance, at the beginning of the book the main character fits the hero archetype, as shown by how he “wanted an opportunity to climb the mountain” (Krakauer 27)/chose to go on the journey. Then, later in the book, how he saved someone by showing them the way to shelter: “‘Which way to the tents?’ Andy blurted, frantic to reach shelter. I pointed in the direction of camp four, then warned him about the ice below us” (Krakauer 202). It’s pretty clear that at this point, the protagonist is the hero; however, he begins to follow the every man archetype after the storm hits. This is shown by how the mantle of hero is passed on to another character as the protagonist becomes too tired to help anyone. “I asked Hutchinson why, once he learned the whereabouts of the missing climbers, he didn’t… make a second attempt to wake me…’It was so obvious that all of you were completely exhausted” (Krakauer 221). After this point, the main character stops following the hero archetype and instead just tries to get through the situation alive– which I don’t blame him for.
Despite my issues with assigning character archetypes, it was actually surprisingly easy to find the similarities between the main character’s journey and the archetypal hero’s journey. The journey begins with the main character at his home in the U.S. Even when he reaches Everest he is still in a familiar environment due to his past mountaineering experience. However, he soon begins his decent, or accent in this case, into danger as he begins climbing the mountain. The first time the main character is in any real danger, it isn’t even caused by the mountain itself, but rather the beginning of an illness that had “worsened considerably after a second night” (Krakauer 62). This would play a large part in his inability to fulfill the role of a hero later in the novel. The main character’s task in this novel changes about halfway through.
In the first half, his task is to get to the “top of the world, one foot in China and the other in Nepal” (Krakauer 7), but in the second half, his goal changes to essentially “getting down the incline without breaking a leg” (Krakauer 203). Finally, after many more struggles, the main character gets home. The only difference between this and the hero’s journey is that there isn’t really a happy ending. Sure, the main character gets home but his relationship with his wife becomes strained due to him lying to her about the fact that he was going to climb Everest. He also suffers from survivor’s guilt and is haunted by the memories. Moreover, many of the characters– ten, to be exact– that you get to know throughout the book end up dying within one to two chapters of each other. So sadly, there really isn’t some happily ever after; the closest thing we get is a silver lining.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. Admittedly, it was slightly boring in the beginning but once the climb began it was a pretty interesting and nerve-wracking read.
Krakauer, Jon. Into Thin Air. New York, Anchor Books, November 1999. Print.
CNN. “If you’re dreaming of climbing Mount Everest, this is what it takes”. CNN Travel. June 2, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/28/asia/how-to-climb-mount-everest/index.html
Cunningham, Caroline. “Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster”. Indigo. N/a. Retrieved from https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/into-thin-air-a-personal/9780385494786-item.html
Ray, Rick. “Climbers fight brutal storm on Mt. Everest”. shutterstock.com. N/a. Retrieved from https://www.shutterstock.com/video/clip-1546645-climbers-fight-brutal-storm-on-mt-everest