By November 27, 2010 1 Comments Read More →

South Pole Adventure

On this weekend of frenzied shopping, all eyes are on goods that will purportedly come from the North Pole. I recommend Black Friday counterprogramming for readers, who will find much more pleasure going the other direction, tracing the adventures of the Antarctic explorers.

The key event is the race to be the first team to reach the pole in 1911 and 1912. The Norwegian Roald Amundsen used some deception to take the prize just ahead of the long preparations of the Englishman Robert Falcon Scott and his team. Scott paid the ultimate price, along with the four others who joined him in the final dash for the Pole. They made it there, but they didn’t make it back.

last-place-on-earthThere are two basic historical views of the race and the ill-fated Scott expedition. One historical camp is best represented by Roland Huntford’s work The Last Place on Earth. Huntford argues that Amundsen’s tactics were not devious and that he simply prepared and executed better than Scott, who Huntford regards as bungling and incompetent. Huntford’s book was also brought to life vividly in a 1994 BBC miniseries of the same name.

On the other side is Rannulph Fiennes (a cousin to actors Ralph and Joseph). A polar explorer himself, Fiennes looks carefully at all of therace-to-the-pole evidence in The Race to the Pole. He argues that other writers have gone looking only for details that support a particular view of the Scott expedition. His own insight into the difficulties of predicting polar weather, of the way the climate can effect even the judgments of modern explorers with contemporary equipment, and his understanding of how even simple tasks like putting on a pair of cold boots in the morning can become monumentally difficult in such conditions all make Fiennes’ opinion very convincing, as does his very thorough citation of the historical journals of all the explorers and his understanding of when in their lives each of them published their accounts.

No matter which of these accounts you read (I also recommend the journals of the explorers themselves, the many other accounts of the Amundsen, Scott, and Ernest Shackleton expeditions, and a play by Ted Tally called Terra Nova), you’ll get heartracing adventure, literary transportation to an exciting era, a bracing dose of tragedy, and plenty to think about and discuss. Take your book group to the South Pole this winter. I think you’ll have a marvelous adventure.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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