Sunday, July 17, 2011

Roald Amundsen (1872-1928):  The South Pole

Caution:  This book will send PETA members into a fit of rage followed by a terminal depression.  If you don't like reading about penguins and new born puppies going into the frying pan, then you probably won't like this story.  Then there is ...  

I was searching on Librivox.org for interesting material to read and this long winded account of the Norwegian adventure to the South Pole caught my attention.  It is a story of adventure, mountaineering and one life threatening encounter after another.  Scott's fatal attempt (Librivox has his diaries up also) to do the same trip is a testimony to the danger.  The stories of crossing ice fields full of bottomless crevices hidden under a thin layer of snow is the sort of thing that gets me excited to make a trip there.  At the same time, the technical details going to the level of latitude, longitude, barometric pressure, ... were of the sort that gets me interested.

There was something that bothered me in all this.  The volume is massive going into all kinds of details about their lives during the years from 1910 to 1912.  One is left with the impression that no one had a spiritual life of any kind.  Easter and Christmas are mentioned, yet other than longing for home there is no spiritual side to anything.  A sentence in the introduction by Amundsen is this:

"One of his ships, the Victoria, accomplished the first circumnavigation of the world, and thus established in the popular mind the fact that the earth was really round."

This is based on Washington Irving's flat earth fiction introduced in his novel about Christopher Columbus.  Another quote from one of Amundsen's lieutenants:

"Meanwhile I considered it inadvisable to come to close quarters with them so long as we were unable to use our eyes, and, remembering what happens when the blind leads the blind, we camped."

This is an obvious reference to Matthew 15:14 - "Leave them; they are blind guides.  If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit."

Clearly there is some familiarity with Christianity in this group.  My general impression about the era around 1880 - 1930 was when atheism reached its zenith.  It should be no surprise that the writing is a reflection of the times.

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