Magazine article The Spectator

In the Grip of the Ice

Magazine article The Spectator

In the Grip of the Ice

Article excerpt


by Alfred Lansing

Weidenfeld, 20, pp. 278


by Jennifer Niven

Macmillan, 16.99, pp. 449

These are two tremendous adventure stories, which describe what men are capable of enduring when beset by hunger and by nature's extremes of cold. Endurance is a reprint - the tale first appeared in 1959. The Ice Master is brand-new, a piece of first-rate historical research. Each deals with a polar expedition that went wrong.

Shackleton's third expedition to the Antarctic was intended to make a crossing, on foot, of the whole continent, via the South Pole. On 1 August 1914, as he was about to sail, he offered his ships and men to the Admiralty, which replied in one word, 'Proceed'. So he went south; but his own ship, Endurance, was beset in pack ice by mid-January 1915 before she ever reached land. The pack was too dense to cross; her crew stayed with her, but she sank in mid-November. After three months' struggle, mainly on a floe a mile across that gradually shrank to a triangle with 50-yard sides, they managed to reach the desolate Elephant Island; from which Shackleton himself, with five companions, set out in a 22-foot boat across the roughest ocean in the world, for an 800-mile journey. They reached the barren side of South Georgia. He and two others crossed it, which had never been done before, and found a ship to rescue all their crew.

Lansing, a journalist, saw the power of the story, and wrote it up out of survivors' journals, aided by some magically good photographs by Frank Hurley, taken at the time and preserved by miracle, dozens of which decorate his pages.. He begins quite gently, but gradually seizes hold on his readers' imaginations, and carries their attention and their anxiety with him as Shackleton's leadership asserts itself to a triumphant conclusion.

Jennifer Niven, also a journalist and a film-producer, tells - in her first book -- the tale of a comparable struggle, but a very different story. Her attention was drawn to it by a footnote in a book by the Arctic explorer Stefansson, who mentioned in passing that in September 1913 he had abandoned another ship, the Karluk, bound in pack ice off north Alaska, with over a score of people still on board. …

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