Into Thin Air: A Personal Account Of The Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer
Into Thin Air Book Cover

Just in case you didn’t read my last post, the book I chose to read was Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (click here for the synopsis).

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.

Image result for storm on mount everest
Photo of climbers on Mt. Everest during a storm

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.

Image result for top of everest
Summit of Everest

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.

Book Reference
Krakauer, Jon. Into Thin Air. New York, Anchor Books, November 1999. Print.

Picture Reference

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

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. Hey Kat Loin!
    I enjoyed reading your reflection/review/analysis! It was interesting to hear your perspective on how people don’t just fit into one single archetype, and I guess I was a bit closed-minded to not think about that. But it is nice that you ended up finding one that generally fit your character. I like how in your blog post, you put things into your own words and it sounds like you’re talking to me rather than sounding robotic! You really are good with your words, which is probably why I’ve never won an argument against you… But I digress! Your blog post was great, and I think the only thing I have to suggest for improvement is probably the incorporation of more secondary sources, maybe like some videos, more links, perhaps some more pertinent photos where you can have more detailed captions about, you know, that type of thing. But overall, good job!

    Like

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