Sunday, November 02, 2008

Some Further Thoughts

After I wrote last night's Terror review, I realized I left out a whole bunch of other stuff. I was writing it while trying to ignore CNN punditing, and that sort of cancelled out some of the less-obvious aspects of the book as I was writing.

So, some further thoughts about The Terror.

While this was definitely a book about survival and misery, and also about a supernatural evil thing picking off the men, there was also a distinct commentary being made about white explorers (and, by extention, Western 'civilization') and the folly of thinking you can transport proper English society to the Godforsaken Arctic. And also, as I briefly mentioned in the review, fascinating Eskimo shaman culture and a small glimpse into how Eskimo communities survived and thrived.

At one point, Crozier is faced with some of the flotsam and jetsam of his ruined ship. As he gazes over engraved silver cutlery and Royal Navy awards and china plates, he thinks to himself, "Did we really haul all this shit up here? What in God's name were we thinking?" This sums up the stark contrast to how the Englishmen failed to thrive in the Arctic with all their paraphenalia, to how the Eskimo people do so much more with so much less.

An example that fascinated me: The men on the ship (and on the ice) were contstantly wet and freezing. They wore countless layers of woollens, topped off with heavy, sodden snowsuits. At some point, I think it was mentioned that these wet layers which never really dried added at least 30 pounds to each man, as they were increasingly weakened and sickened. 30 pounds of wet wool, constantly on your body. For over three years. Ick. As they pulled the heavily laden sledges over the ice, their perspiration would condense inside the wool, and then freeze. This alone would be enough to make me want to keel over and die.

In contrast, the Eskimo people wore only thin layers of skins and furs, and (as we later learn) are warm enough inside snow houses that they strip to near-nakedness as they let their outer garments dry completely over small stoves. Late in the story, Crozier marvels at being warm and dry inside nearly weightless furs and skins. He sleeps naked under warm white furs. I can only imagine what a difference it would have made to the men on The Erebus and The Terror if they had bothered to learn something from the 'natives' and hadn't had to suffer the agony of wet/frozen/heavy woollen layers for years.

There is also some commentary implied about the brutality and short-sightedness of white explorers, which I can't really go into without giving away key parts of the story. However, once again, the arrogance of 'civilized' society is shown to be ultimately terribly destructive and counterproductive.

It's much less rainy today, and our house is much less damp. However, last night as we lay in (warm, dry, snug) bed, it felt like we were camping near a swamp. Again, this can't be good. Sigh.
Well, it's time to study. I have a test on Tuesday night. A test. On election night!! I can't believe it.


Nymeth said...

I am even more determined to read it now! 30 pounds of wet wool...eek.

Daphne said...

Yes, you must! It was sooo very good. I was totally surprised by how much I loved it!