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MadsPLP
07-17-2010, 10:11 AM
One of my recent obsessions is polar fictions, e.g. fictions taking place/revolving around on or around the North Pole/The Arctic or/and the South Pole/The Antarctic. I am thinking of writing my Master's thesis in Comparative Literature on this subject (although I am also considering various ways of writing about horror fiction).

As the many slashes, the Poles are not always that easy to demarcate clearly, and one cannot say where The Arctic ends to give room for the North Pole, etc.

An interesting thing is that allusions to the Poles keep popping up in unexpected places. In Pynchon's V, in Conrad's Heart of Darkness, in Hardy's Tess of The D'Urbervilles, etc.

Therefore, I am looking for recommendations for Polar Fiction reading. Also non-fiction books about cultural representations of the Poles (although I'm not that interested in travel descriptions. Others may be, though). Anything goes.

I am already aware of the aforementioned books, as well as polar scenes/narratives in Shiel's The Purple Cloud, Shelley's Frankenstein, Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Verne's The Adventures of Captain Hatteras, Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, and a story by Simon Strantzas, the name of which (the story, not Strantzas) eludes me at the moment.Recommendations - also odd places where Poles pop up in fictions without polar narratives (such as Tess...) will be much appreciated.

Regarding non-fiction, Victoria Nelson's brilliant The Secret Life of Puppets, Eric G. Wilson's The Spiritual History of Ice and Jen Hill's in-places-good-but-sometimes-an-example-of-why-people-make-fun-of-academics White Horizon, the latter focusing primarily on empire and gender in relation to the Arctic.
I am looking for more non-fiction on this as well, and recommendations are, too, much appreciated.

Also odd mentionings such as Madame Blavatsky's references to a utopia on the North Pole, Nazi UFOs in the Antarctic, etc., may have som value. I assume Jocelyn Godwin's Arktos, is the major non-fiction work on the myths here?

For the moment, I am not distinguishing too sharply between the Arctic and the Antarctic, although I am aware of the very different geographical qualities which inhabit these areas.

One thing which strikes me is the North Pole/Arctic craze which seems to have permeated England in the 19th Century. After the Pole is eventually reached, this craze - though not nearly as permeating, seems to be transferred to the Antarctic, even though it is reached at roughly the same time. But because of it's different geographical qualities - the South Pole has an actual continent surrounding it and is not just a place of floating pack ice, the Antarctic is empty of humans, etc. - the South Pole seems to remain a scene for fictions long after it is reached. Eventually that seems to die out as well, leaving us with outer space as the space to explore in fiction, the Antarctic somewhat being relegated to "low" culture (e.g. Marvel Comics' Ka-Zar comics, Nazi occultism (quotations marks around "low" is not meant to imply that Nazi occultism is a misunderstood form of "high" culture, but possibly that Ka-Zar is...)), occasionally resurfacing once in a while.

Anyway, babbling over, does anyone here have any thoughts on the various aspects of this subject?

waffles
07-17-2010, 10:44 AM
One of my all time favorite books (in general, not just only about polar exploration) is

Amazon.com: The Worst Journey in the World (Penguin Classics) (9780143039389): Apsley

I realize that this probably isn't what you are looking for - it's a two-fisted romp through the Antarctic wilds with manly men dying and being all noble about it ... etc. But, it a lot of fun to read.

Just what I need right now - another thread lengthening my list to-be-reads:)

G. S. Carnivals
07-17-2010, 11:28 AM
Mads, you might seek out Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell. It was the basis for the classic 1951 film The Thing from Another World. :eek:, :eek:, and :eek:!

Soukesian
07-17-2010, 12:34 PM
The first thing that comes to mind is Edgar Rice Burrough's Caspak trilogy, starting in 1918 with 'Land that Time Forgot'. Burroughs, typically, has a lot of fun mashing up contempory science and pseudoscience into riproaring adventure.

Caspak - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

If I recall correctly, his hollow earth series posited holes at the poles, with the inner world of Pellucidar accessible by Zeppelin . . ye gods, I loved this stuff as a kid!

Pellucidar - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Evans
07-17-2010, 01:40 PM
I think there's a sort of impossible quest aspect to a lot of earlier polar exploration and fiction. Reaching the Pole was a sort of metaphorical triumph over the World and all the hardships it could throw at those who dared challenge it.

The idea is subverted in M.P. Sheil's The Purple Cloud where idea of the Pole as the unreachable unconquerable summit of the world is in fact a sort of forbidden fruit, the taking of which brings about an apocalyptic repetition of the Fall of Man (though the outcome is rather like that of Ragnarok in Norse mythology).

Spotbowserfido2
07-17-2010, 01:44 PM
Now that I am older, I feel that I can confront the horrors I experienced in Antarctica as a young pup. A memoir of my experiences begs to be written. I would call it Baby Ice Dog, after the Blue Öyster Cult song. Although the book doesn't yet exist, it is recommended reading.

MadsPLP
07-17-2010, 02:12 PM
Now that I am older, I feel that I can confront the horrors I experienced in Antarctica as a young pup. A memoir of my experiences begs to be written. I would call it Baby Ice Dog, after the Blue Öyster Cult song. Although the book doesn't yet exist, it is recommended reading.
As is any book named after a Blue Öyster Cult song.

Evans> You are right of course - The North Pole especially is always-already pregnant with disaster in most polar fictions. It is interesting to note that that motive is prevalent from Frankenstein and onwards - even before Franklin became the great tragic hero of the 19th century, hubris and transcendence is present. There are some other twists to The Purple Cloud - the disaster is not necessarily connected to the Pole, given that Adam Jeffson is - even at his most reliable - extremely unreliable as a narrator. The Pole is of course presented as a magic place, but the whole novel is constructed in a way as to also support an interpretation where there is contingency in the extreme.

I wrote a 25 page thesis on this, and of course my postulate above here calls for examples. I'll have guests in a few minutes, so I can't do this now, but hope to return to it, hopefully before I leave for a week's vacation on Tuesday. Alas, I think The Purple Cloud is much less straight forward than what it appears, and that it is essentially playing out the contingency-in-the-extreme/theodicy problem in a very fascinating way, where both interpretations are valid. I'm not sure Shiel intended it that way, though, but sometimes the text is cleverer than its author. As for now, I'll refer to a text by Monique R. Morgan, which was previously available on the internet, but seems to have vanished. I think it must have been made into an article called "Madness, Unreliable Narration, and Genre in The Purple Cloud", which was in Science Fiction Studies #108 (vol. 36, pt. 2, July) 2009. It doesn't seem to be online, but if you're interested, I think I can send you (or anyone else interested, for that matter) the draft which was previously downloadable on the internet.

The abstract is as follows:

Abstract. -- This essay argues that M.P. Shiel’s 1901 novel The Purple Cloud contains pronounced traits of both science fiction and fantasy, and invites contradictory readings about which genre is dominant. After sketching the development of the narrator’s madness and unreliability, the essay explores the connection between unreliable narration and genre in Shiel’s novel. Readers can either treat the fantastical elements of the story as reliably reported or they can view them as the narrator’s delusions and can treat the novel as predominantly science fiction. The concluding sections explore other manifestations of the narrator’s unreliability and the ethical conundrums involved in pushing his unreliability too far.I know this is not nearly enough to support my argument, but her arguments were quite convincing when I read the draft.

G.S. Carnivals > Thanks a lot! I thought about the movie (I only saw the Carpenter remake), but didn't know there was a novel behind it. Movies being the most parasitic of art forms (probably rivalled by literature), I should have known there would be. I'll look it up.

Waffles> A nice recommendation, actually. Though it may not be relevant for the thesis, I think that " two-fisted romp through the Antarctic wilds with manly men dying and being all noble about it" is always intriguing. It sounds like a non-fiction Captain Hatteras to me.

Soukesian> Excellent recommendation!

Russell Nash
07-17-2010, 02:41 PM
One of my recent obsessions is polar fictions, e.g. fictions taking place/revolving around on or around the North Pole/The Arctic or/and the South Pole/The Antarctic.

There is a very interesting book by a Canadian writer, James De Mille (1833-1880), "A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder". It's a dystopian novel which I recommend to you very much indeed.

A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder by James De Mille - Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/6709) (online)

There is also a book by Ash Tree Press, by Conan Doyle, "The Captain of the Pole Star". This is just a story a few pages long.

The Captain of the Polestar (http://www.ash-tree.bc.ca/atp105captainofthepolestar.htm)

http://www.pagebypagebooks.com/Arthur_Conan_Doyle/The_Captain_of_the_Polestar/The_Captain_Of_The_Pole_Star_p1.html (online)

There are also several stories by Clark Ashton Smith, although I don't remember which ones right now.

Mr. D.
07-17-2010, 03:46 PM
The once very popular but now nearly forgotten writer Alister MacLean wrote two novels with Artic settings. The first was Ice Station Zebra, which had the horror of a fire aboard a submarine as it passed under the polar ice cap, among other polar adventures. In Bear Island a film crew travels by ship to the title island to film a movie. There is, of course, much more involved, but Bear Island is probably the most desolate, windswept geographic site in the world. North of Spitzenberg (sp?) it is definitely Arctic as well. MacLean basically wrote one story over and over again, but these Polar novels might just fit in with your work.

bendk
07-17-2010, 04:05 PM
Perhaps The Terror by Dan Simmons. I haven't read it because it is a monster of a book at around 800 pages, and I doubt if I will ever make time for it, but I have read a synopsis or two.

Evans
07-17-2010, 04:33 PM
Mads, do you have a copy Faunus no. 9? It contains an article Machen wrote for children about Scott's expedition. I'm not sure if its of any relevance but I thought I'd mention it anyway given the weird fiction connection.

There's also the Jean Ray story; The Formidable Secret of the Pole



Evans> You are right of course - The North Pole especially is always-already pregnant with disaster in most polar fictions. It is interesting to note that that motive is prevalent from Frankenstein and onwards - even before Franklin became the great tragic hero of the 19th century, hubris and transcendence is present. There are some other twists to The Purple Cloud - the disaster is not necessarily connected to the Pole, given that Adam Jeffson is - even at his most reliable - extremely unreliable as a narrator. The Pole is of course presented as a magic place, but the whole novel is constructed in a way as to also support an interpretation where there is contingency in the extreme.

I wrote a 25 page thesis on this, and of course my postulate above here calls for examples. I'll have guests in a few minutes, so I can't do this now, but hope to return to it, hopefully before I leave for a week's vacation on Tuesday. Alas, I think The Purple Cloud is much less straight forward than what it appears, and that it is essentially playing out the contingency-in-the-extreme/theodicy problem in a very fascinating way, where both interpretations are valid. I'm not sure Shiel intended it that way, though, but sometimes the text is cleverer than its author. As for now, I'll refer to a text by Monique R. Morgan, which was previously available on the internet, but seems to have vanished. I think it must have been made into an article called "Madness, Unreliable Narration, and Genre in The Purple Cloud", which was in Science Fiction Studies #108 (vol. 36, pt. 2, July) 2009. It doesn't seem to be online, but if you're interested, I think I can send you (or anyone else interested, for that matter) the draft which was previously downloadable on the internet.

The abstract is as follows:

Abstract. -- This essay argues that M.P. Shiel’s 1901 novel The Purple Cloud contains pronounced traits of both science fiction and fantasy, and invites contradictory readings about which genre is dominant. After sketching the development of the narrator’s madness and unreliability, the essay explores the connection between unreliable narration and genre in Shiel’s novel. Readers can either treat the fantastical elements of the story as reliably reported or they can view them as the narrator’s delusions and can treat the novel as predominantly science fiction. The concluding sections explore other manifestations of the narrator’s unreliability and the ethical conundrums involved in pushing his unreliability too far.I know this is not nearly enough to support my argument, but her arguments were quite convincing when I read the draft.


I've never looked at it that way. If your going along those lines wouldn't you have divorce the events of the novel from the larger narrative frame work? I always seen The Purple Cloud as Sheil's attempt to combine certain aspects of Social Darwinism and Neitzschian philosophy with an Old Testament Good VS Evil dichotomy.

gveranon
07-17-2010, 04:55 PM
Three possibly relevant sf novels which I haven't read:
Antarctica, by Kim Stanley Robinson
Circumpolar! by Richard A. Lupoff
The Hollow Earth, by Rudy Rucker

In The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, John Clute gives the following intriguing description of Rucker's novel: ". . . an orthodox alternate-world tale set in the 19th century, in which an inner world (Hollow Earth) can be entered from the South Pole, which is what Edgar Allan Poe and the young protagonist do. The treatment of Poe is remarkable for its relative lack of gaucheness."

(Brief pause to register my appreciation of the last sentence above. Clute's encyclopedia entries and book reviews are always fun to read.)

Also possibly relevant, Glenn Gould did three radio documentaries about people who live in remote northern locations. The series, which I haven't heard, is called The Solitude Trilogy: The Idea of North, The Latecomers, and The Quiet in the Land.

nomis
07-17-2010, 05:10 PM
There's Barbara Roden's "Northwest Passage" that is about the arctic and it's exploration. I suppose that's obvious from the title...

Masonwire
07-17-2010, 06:22 PM
I highly recommend Christoph Ransmayr's first novel:
Amazon.com: The Terrors of Ice and Darkness (9780802134592):…

His other works are also interesting (though not necessarily for your project) and some of them should appeal to members of TLO. His debut "Strahlender Untergang" (which as far as I know hasn't been translated into English) talks (to quote the blurb) "with grim irony of the downfall of the lord of the earth, the disappearance of man in the desert".

Russell Nash
07-18-2010, 10:11 PM
There is also this book

Amazon.com: The Birth of the Peoples Republic of Antarctica: A Novel (9780805037869): John Calvin Batchelor: Books

MadsPLP
08-05-2010, 10:19 AM
Mads, do you have a copy Faunus no. 9? It contains an article Machen wrote for children about Scott's expedition. I'm not sure if its of any relevance but I thought I'd mention it anyway given the weird fiction connection.

There's also the Jean Ray story; The Formidable Secret of the Pole



Some questioning regarding the North Pole as catalyst of disaster in The Purple Cloud


I've never looked at it that way. If your going along those lines wouldn't you have divorce the events of the novel from the larger narrative frame work? I always seen The Purple Cloud as Sheil's attempt to combine certain aspects of Social Darwinism and Neitzschian philosophy with an Old Testament Good VS Evil dichotomy.


Re: Machen - I don't own that specific number. I bought some other numbers, but I think this one was unavailable when I bought the other ones (for a thesis on regression into slime, and atavism, and Darwinist motives in Machen's early works (it got a "12", the Danish equivalent of an A, much to my surprise as I thought it a complete failure)).

Regarding The Purple Cloud, it is not only the framing which casts the fiction as unstable, unreliable. Jeffson is not only an unreliable narrator, but also, and more importantly, and unreliable interpreter of events.

Jeffson is not wholly rational: he takes dream visions seriously; his understanding of the world is based on two inner voices which battle within him (one "white"/good, one "black"/bad) - this white/black dichotomy is not of his invention, but something he has adopted from a fellow student at Cambridge, and thus, his whole frame of understanding is irrational at best. He is a man of science, too, a doctor.

At the end, Jeffson thinks that he has glimpsed the true nature of the world, and the meaning of the disaster. But: his interpretation has been varying widely throughout the novel before that. This could be a sign of rationality - that he is willing to shed his understanding of a former hypothesis in view of new facts, but it could also be construed as to suggest a lack of ability to interpret events correctly, and as a highly evolved ability to construct an incosistent understanding of events.

The correlation between the dates of the eruption of the purple cloud and the day of Jeffson reaching the pole is there, but we don't know if there is any causality - it could just as well be a coincidence, as could Jeffsons survival of the cloud. After all, there does not seem to be any moral justification for Jeffson surviving, since he is almost wholly amoral. This could of course be because of Shiel's views on morality.

On the pole, Jeffson's vision cannot be wholly verified by himself: "think", "felt", "fathomed", "impression", "dream", "fantasy" topped with a "this must be my madness" is how he describes his vision. Once again, this could be interpreted as his rationality not wanting to give in to a vision, that is in fact real, or as a fit of polar madness.

Also, his linking of Mackay's prophecies with the end is debatable - why should this particular doomsayer be more right than every other doomsayer who has ever existed?

His megalomania and pyromania accounts for some sort of mental disorder as well.

When in Constantinople, a voice orders him to "kill and eat" Leda, but is struck to the ground by lightning - he interprets this as White's reaction to his impulse, but a few pages earlier he has noted that storms are more frequent and wilder than before. Also his memory is flawed (he admits so himself) and he doesn't consult earlier notebooks.

Generally, we tend to trust the last version given, when presented with contradictory accounts of events. Here, we cannot necessarily trust the last, since there are many, many more occasions where Jeffsons narration and interpretation may very likely be flawed. I won't list them all, but they are indeed there, also in his relations to Leda and in her interpretation of the world (which are derived from Jeffson); this post have become relatively long and I need to get back to work.

However, this possibility of an interpretation vastly differing from Jeffson's own, is what, apart from the purple prose passages and the general fascination of the plot, makes the novel so brilliant: it can sustain two wholly opposing interpretations, where the ideas of extreme contingency and teodicy are never resolved (for the reader).

Robin Davies
08-05-2010, 02:56 PM
There's Barbara Roden's "Northwest Passage" that is about the arctic and it's exploration. I suppose that's obvious from the title...
If I remember right the story Northwest Passage is set in the Canadian forest. But the collection it features in (Northwest Passages) contains two polar stories (Endless Night and The Brink Of Eternity).