December has seen a record-breaking cold snap in Los Angeles. So what do I do? I read two books about polar voyages, one an actual voyage, and the other a fanciful Jules Verne story.
Farthest North by the Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930) is the real thing. Nansen was a bona fide arctic explorer who was the first man to travel by sledge across Greenland and who got closer to the North Pole than anyone else before his 1893-96 voyage north of Siberia. he was not only a great explorer, but a humanitarian as well who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 for his work protecting displaced victims of the First World War.
On his famous voyage, he lost no members of his expedition and came back with his ship intact.
This is in contrast to Jules Verne’s The Adventures of Captain Hatteras, which was published the year that Nansen was born. The godlike Captain Hatteras loses his ship to a mutiny, which ship, the Forward (curiously the same name as Nansen’s ship), is blown up by the mutineers. He also loses his mind, though he makes it to the Pole through some fanciful geography invented by Verne. Did you know there is an active volcano right at the North Pole? and that the ice floes do not exist above a certain latitude?
I don’t think I would like to have been under the command of Captain Hatteras. Give me Fridtjof Nansen any time!