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Friday, September 12, 2014

I've Got That John Franklin Fever

I'm in the grips of a certain mania; dealing with a severe bout of Sir John Franklin Fever. Don't ask, I just really dig polar explorations, and mysterious disappearances, and quests for lost ships. So you can imagine my excitement, glee really at this week's news.

Some Canadians think they've found one of Franklin's lost ships on the bottom of the sea. It's been missing for over 160 years, and they found it! Scientists are saying it's the greatest archaeological discovery since finding King Tut's tomb. Franklin's ships, Terror and Erebus vanished on the ice along with all 129 crew members in 1845. They were searching for the fabled Northwest Passage, which incidentally is no longer fabled, thanks to melting polar ice.
So, in honor of my weird Franklin obsession, here are some books you must check out:

The Terror by Dan Simmons
Obviously, you have to read this. It's awesome. This book was recommended to me by a customer. And I LOVED it!

This fantastical re-imagining of Sir John Franklin's ill-fated final search for the Northwest Passage reads pretty accurately based on the little I know. It uses the same dates, locations, names, even down to the wording of real-life messages recovered by rescue efforts. Yeah, it's pretty dead on...


That's right, a vicious monster haunts the ice where Franklin and his men are trapped. Killing and maiming with abandon. But as the novel and the expedition spiral into disarray, the sailors have a lot more to worry about than one itty-bitty monster. Disease and starvation, crushing ice, brutal blizzards, endless night, and ultimately their own shipmates. But surprisingly, there is a lot more to this epic. Mysticism, hope, adventure, loyalty.

I know you're thinking, "how ridiculous, a monster." But in the end it makes so much sense. Trust me, just suspend your disbelief and push on. It's worth it. It also sports one of the most perfectly developed characters I've encountered in a long time.

I had one awful nightmare while reading this book. I also almost vomited on the bus while reading about the effects of scurvy (I actually had to skip a few paragraphs...I've never done that). But I also had one peaceful dream about solitude and the Northern Lights (I actually had that dream the night after I finished the book). I was more than a little preoccupied with this one.

This next one isn't actually about Franklin, or even the Arctic, but it is the book that started my interest in polar exploration.

The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition by Caroline Alexander

In August 1914, days before the outbreak of the First World War, the renowned explorer Ernest Shackleton and a crew of twenty-seven set sail for the South Atlantic in pursuit of the last unclaimed prize in the history of exploration: the first crossing on foot of the Antarctic continent. Weaving a treacherous path through the freezing Weddell Sea, they had come within eighty-five miles of their destination when their ship, Endurance, was trapped fast in the ice pack. Soon the ship was crushed like matchwood, leaving the crew stranded on the floes. Their ordeal would last for twenty months, and they would make two near-fatal attempts to escape by open boat before their final rescue. 

Drawing upon previously unavailable sources, Caroline Alexander gives us a riveting account of Shackleton's expedition--one of history's greatest epics of survival. And she presents the astonishing work of Frank Hurley, the Australian photographer whose visual record of the adventure has never before been published comprehensively. Together, text and image re-create the terrible beauty of Antarctica, the awful destruction of the ship, and the crew's heroic daily struggle to stay alive, a miracle achieved largely through Shackleton's inspiring leadership.
And speaking of Shackleton, there is a new, beautiful graphic novel based on the expedition that you really can't miss.

And last but not least, this fascinating and gripping nonfiction account of Britain's obsession with the Northwest Passage.

The Man Who Ate His Boots: The Tragic History of the Search for the Northwest Passage by Anthony Brandt

After the triumphant end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the British took it upon themselves to complete something they had been trying to do since the sixteenth century: find the fabled Northwest Passage. For the next thirty-five years the British Admiralty sent out expedition after expedition to probe the ice-bound waters of the Canadian Arctic in search of a route, and then, after 1845, to find Sir John Franklin, the Royal Navy hero who led the last of these Admiralty expeditions. Enthralling and often harrowing, The Man Who Ate His Boots captures the glory and the folly of this ultimately tragic enterprise.

That should be enough reading for you to really nerd out on polar exploration and Franklin. Here's more on the finding of the ship if you are interested.

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