Sunday, June 24, 2007

Safe Return Doubtful

Title: Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
Author: Alfred Lansing

“[T]he stern of the Endurance rose 20 feet into the air and hung there for a moment with her motionless propeller and her smashed rudder held aloft. Then slowly, silently, she disappeared beneath the ice, leaving only a small gap of black, open water to mark where she had been. Within sixty seconds, even that was gone as the ice closed up again. It had all happened in ten minutes.

Shackleton that night noted simply in his diary that the Endurance was gone, and added: ‘I cannot write about it.’

And so they were alone. Now, in every direction, there was nothing to be seen but endless ice. Their position was 68 38 ½’ South, 52 28’ West – a place no man had ever been before, nor could they conceive that any man would ever want to be again.”

The story of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition is one of the great adventures tales of all time. Led by Ernest Shackleton, the expedition’s goal was to become the first party to cross Antarctica. But the men never even made it ashore. Before they hit land, their ship became trapped in the ice pack of the Weddell Sea. Eventually, the pressure ground the vessel to splintered smithereens, leaving the men stranded in the middle of one of the coldest, most desolate places on Earth. Certain death seemed imminent.

But that was not to be. It took over a year, but Shackleton succeeded in leading his team over the 850 miles of ice and water that separated them from civilization. Twenty-seven men were part of the expedition. Each and every one of them survived.

Many authors have told the story of Shackleton and his men. But Alfred Lansing’s account, published in 1959, has become the definitive classic. It’s inspiring, horrifying, and quite disgusting. The sheer amount of suffering these men endured on their journey is unimaginable. They were cold, wet, starved, and filthy for well over a year. One of them even developed a boil the size of a football on his arse.

Many parts of the book are nightmarish. Shackleton’s men were marooned on ice, not solid land. When summer arrived, the very foundation beneath their feet began to melt away. They had to wade through slush as they scrambled from floe to floe with their gear. If the ice broke up beneath them, they would’ve been plunged into what would almost certainly be an icy, icy death. Brr.

At one point, Lansing’s account even had me in tears. I won’t spoil it for any of you, except to say that while all of Shackleton’s men survived, Fido did not.

What impressed me most about the book, however, was the comradeship that developed among Shackleton’s men. With one or two exceptions, very few petty feuds and jealousies developed. Indeed, the men seemed almost obscenely chipper throughout much of the ordeal, and their attitude appears to have been the perfect epitome of British “keep a stiff upper lip” stoicism. In fact, it was so admirable that I often found myself wondering whether Lansing had whitewashed some of the more personally unpleasant aspects of the voyage in order to preserve its inspirational message.

Overall, however, anyone looking for an introduction to the story of the Endurance should pick up Lansing’s book. At the very least, go online and take a look at some of the expedition pictures. Shackleton took a photographer with him, and much of the journey was captured on film. They’re pretty amazing to see.

I’ll conclude with a newspaper advertisement that has been attributed to Shackleton:

Men Wanted: For hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.

The above may very well be apocryphal. Regardless, it aptly fits the spirit of the Endurance legend.

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posted by Elizabeth at 4:35 PM


Blogger reyn said...

hahaha! "arse"! You should have tried that instead of "trochee!"

Shackleton was an amazing guy who led an incredible group of guys. I only know little bits of his story, culled from book reviews like yours, a childrens's book I read after graduating college, and various museum displays, but it's still fascinating stuff.

6/25/2007 6:31 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

It is a fascinating story. There's a NOVA special on it narrated by Liam Neeson that I just moved to the top of my Netflix queu. Can't wait!

And maybe guys would respond better if I simply went "ooh" over their sculpted buttocks, instead of trying to dazzle them with my brains...hmm...

6/25/2007 9:14 PM  
Blogger reyn said...

THAT took a strange turn.

Just keep in mind the guys you'll attract like that. Big, dumb idiots, who are just in it for teh sex, and have nothing in their heads but themselves, despite being built like Greek gods., yeah, I guess that's exactly what you want to do.

6/26/2007 6:41 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Hey, I'm a strange girl here! And if sculpted buttocks are on my mind, it's all ket's fault.

6/26/2007 8:30 PM  
Blogger reyn said...

Is that because she made you watch Casino Royale?

6/27/2007 6:36 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

No, but because she Shaw the third volume of the Sleeping Beauty trilogy for her birthday : ).

6/27/2007 8:20 PM  

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