NO ONE KNOWS who first saw Antarctica but there are hints from among the legends of the peoples of the South Seas that they may have been the first. Chilean archaeologists recently found a bit of reality on King George Island of the South Shetland Islands in the shape of arrowheads that have been identified as those of the indigenous people of South America.
During the first half of the second century A.D., Claudius Ptolemaus, working at Alexandria, wrote Guide to Geography. This work consisted of eight volumes and included maps showing a vast southern region which he called "Terra Australis Incognita" rather than the ancient Greek name of "Antarktikos," a land to balance the continents of the north. Armed with Ptolemaic maps, men of the 16th century set sail in search of this vast land.
The idea of a great southern continent was finally established in the 18th century with the great voyages of the British naval officer James Cook. It was also during this period that remote sub-Antarctic islands were discovered by the great French explorers Jean-Baptiste Charles Bouvet de Lozier, Yves Joseph de Kerguelen Trémarec, and Marion du Fresne. However, it was not until 1819 that the first true Antarctic discoveries were made when the Englishman William Smith was blown southward to the South Shetland Islands during a commercial voyage around Cape Horn.
I have been interested in Antarctic exploration for several years and had slowly accumulated a modest library of Antarcticana. Then my interest turned to Antarctic fiction.
It really did all begin on a dark, foggy day in San Francisco as I was down on my hands and knees browsing through a low, dark shelf of the Melody Land Bookshop. I found a copy of We Were There with Byrd at the South Pole by Charles S. Strong which was obviously juvenile fiction. It was only 50 cents and I bought it even though it did not fit into my cataloguing system. The book sat on my shelf virtually unnoticed until I remembered that I owned a set of works by Edgar Allan Poe which included "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket." If there were two works of Antarctic fiction, then there must be more. It was with that thought that I began my search.
I had read Edge of the World: Ross Island, Antarctica by Charles Neider about three times because it appealed to me. On an impulse I wrote to him asking if he had ever considered writing an Antarctic novel. It seems that on the very day that he had received my letter he had been discussing an Antarctic novel that he had set aside several years before. It was he who suggested that I write an annotated bibliography which later became part of an Antarctican Society newsletter.
After several false starts, I finally decided to write the bibliography in chronological order because I could detect a pattern which I titled "The Emerging Face of a Continent." It is now more than four years later; the list has more than doubled and the pattern has altered somewhat.
In compiling the bibliography of Antarctic fiction, I decided to follow some personal ground rules:
I must read all the tales myself. That, unfortunately, almost limited the items to those written in English or translated into English. I was fluent in French 40 years ago, so I have been able to manage an occasional book in French.This article then is the pattern of Antarctic fiction as I perceive it.
I include the sub-Antarctic islands in my definition of "Antarctic."
I exclude historical novels, autobiographical poetry, and children's penguin stories. These are really different fields and should be treated separately.
There are several items in this group but I have read only four at this time. The earliest is Mundus Alter Et Idem by Mercurio Brittanico (Bishop Joseph Hall), 1605. It appears in Sydney A. Spence, Antarctic Miscellany, as reference number 552. His annotation reads: "A moral satire directed against the Church of Rome and its many eccentricities. It has nothing to do with Terra Australes although an 'imaginary' map of the Antarctic continent is included." It is also listed in Tooley's Early Antarctic Addendum to the 1985 edition as number 26. His annotation reads: "Hall adopted a satiric attitude towards the prevailing idea of an immense and wealthy southern land and in his work 'Mundus Alter Et Idem Sive Terra Australis' published in 1643, he provided the above map, with a deliberately exaggerated southern continent as large as the rest of the world combined, divided into numerous kingdoms with sarcastic names."
An English translation was published by Yale University Press in 1981 under the name of Another World and Yet the Same which revealed that the work is a tale of a traveler to the southern continent who finds that it is inhabited by gluttons, drunkards and eccentrics.
Many authors adjusted southern geography to suit their purposes. In 1816, Thomas Erskine wrote Armata and created a sister planet to earth attached by two narrow sea channels at the South Pole. These channels flowed in opposite directions and were navigable. Around this geographic convenience, he created a utopian world.
Before The Scott Expedition
Most of the books in this section are fantastic high adventures. Parts of Antarctica are warm and support either an indigenous or migrant population. Edward Bouvé in Centuries Apart populated a large island with 16th century Englishmen. James Fenimore Cooper's Monikins are depicted as a non-human simian race. Peter Prospero's Atlantis is inhabited by all the late, great men and women of history who spend a great part of their afterlife going to lectures.
In April of 1818, former U.S. Infantry Captain John Cleves Symmes wrote: "The earth is hollow, habitable within; containing a number of concentrick spheres; one within the other, and that it is open at the pole twelve or sixteen degrees." This statement was sent to 500 institutions of higher learning and important government officials both in the United States and in Europe. This was the beginning of the Hollow Earth Theory which eventually led to the presence of the United States government in the Antarctic.
There are several hollow earth stories involving the South Pole beginning with Symzonia by Captain Adam Seaborn (1820) and by no means ending with Circumpolar! by Richard A. Lupoff (1984). The most important one is "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket" by Edgar Allan Poe (1837). It is the one work of Antarctic fiction that has been read widely and has influenced other writers. The cry of the polar natives, "Tekeli-li," was used by H. P. Lovecraft in At the Mountains of Madness (1936), and by Jules Verne.
Jules Verne was a great admirer of Edgar Allan Poe's works and had always wanted to write a sequel to "Arthur Gordon Pym." Instead he sent Captain Nemo and "Nautilus" to a south polar island (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, 1870) and blew Robur the Conqueror's (1886) aeronef "Albatross" off course and over the crater of the erupting Mt. Erebus. It was not until 1899 that he wrote his sequel Le Sphinx des Glaces (An Antarctic Mystery). The intriguing part of the story is the description of a 300-foot mound resembling a sphinx that was a giant "loadstone" which immediately attracted all metal objects. It cannot be a coincidence that Robert Paltock's hero (The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins, 1751) is shipwrecked on an Antarctic rock that is such a strong "loadstone" that his shoes are immediately stripped of their buckles. I certainly feel that Jules Verne not only read works of Antarctic fiction by other authors, but had a feeling for the most dramatic incidents which in turn have enriched our reading.
The period between 1877 and 1902 is of interest because of four adventure stories in which polar bears are featured. The only other mention of these Arctic animals that I have found is in the delightful child's story Miss Bianca in the Antarctic by Margery Sharp (1971), in which a polar bear cub is on an exchange visit. In 1900, a factual book of Antarctic exploration, The Romance of the South Pole, was published which featured a stunning cover of marching polar bears. Evidently the differences between the two polar regions of earth were not distinct in the public mind until after 1902.
There are four other books in this division that are worthy of special mention. The most widely read of all Antarctic fiction is Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798). How many of us can still recite a few lines from this venerable poem? The only realistic work during this period is The Sea Lions (1849) by James Fenimore Cooper which deals with fur sealing in the South Shetland Islands area.
The most astonishing piece of fiction is Olga Romanoff or the Syren of the Skies (George Griffith, 1894) in which Kerguelen Island is used as a submarine and aircraft base. The most perplexing is The Jungle Books (1893) whose author, Rudyard Kipling, sends Kotick the white seal to visit "Kerguelen Island, the Georgia Islands, the Orkneys, Emerald Island, Bouvet Island, and the Prozets." These islands all exist (different spellings) except Emerald Island. I have a map from an 1842 atlas which shows Emerald Island between Macquarie Island and the Balleny Islands but it was known to be mythical by the time that Kipling published his story.
I have included one tale on my list on the most flimsy of evidence. "The Ice Island" attributed to Robert Montgomery Bird (1827) deals with the problems of a man marooned on an iceberg with a pine tree embedded in it. The only geographic clue of note in the story is the phrase: "An albatross, or sea-eagle, or some fowl Of the deep, darted with shrill cries before my vision." I am not a birder so the search for a southern definition of "seaeagle" is difficult. Thomas Bewick produced a lovely etching of a sea eagle (Falco Offifragus, Lin. - L'Orfraie, Buff.) and noted that the bird was widely dispersed, even found at Botany Island by Captain Cook. In his book on the South African annexation of Prince Edward Island, John Marsh writes: "The Skua is known as the seafaring eagle, and it closely resembles the land bird." Clearly, these two descriptions are not enough, so I am continuing my search.
In The Sea Lions, Cooper drew on his own personal experience as an American naval officer and a major owner of the whaler "Union" of Sag Harbor to tell a story of sealing in the Antarctic. His early interest in the polar regions is shown in his review of William Edward Parry's Arctic journal of 1819-1820 published in the Literary and Scientific Repository, and Critical Review of January 1822. His friendship with the family of the American naval Antarctic explorer Charles Wilkes and the publicity of the British Franklin polar disaster kept that interest kindled throughout his life.
Towards the end of that life, Cooper finally drew upon his knowledge to produce what Fredericka Martin describes as "The most definitive and coherent description of a seal hunt." Unfortunately the merits of this novel have been overlooked because it was written as a romance of religious conversion.
Early 20th Century
Stories based on occurrences during historic expeditions and whaling adventures begin to appear between 1903 and the International Geophysical Year of 1958.
One of the most interesting of the whaling adventures was written by the master mariner of sailing ships, Alan Villiers, in 1934. In Whalers of the Midnight Sun, the captain of a whaler discovers a passage at the foot of Graham Land thus "proving" that what we now know as the Antarctic Peninsula is really an island. This may seem like a strange concept until one studies the map of "Antarctica and the South Polar Regions; Byrd's South Pole Ship" which was given out during the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago. The main continent is depicted in solid white while the peninsula is shown as a series of green islands. The geographic knowledge of the Antarctic regions was definitely sketchy during these years.
The next year saw the publication of Dian of the Lost Land by Edison Marshall. This book is basically an exploration into the wonders of continental drift and was inspired by a Richard Byrd quote suggesting that warm Antarctic valleys may exist. A group of scientists find tribes of Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal living in a warm Antarctica because the continent still had been connected to South America and Africa at the end of the Pleistocene Era.
The only other book that I have been able to find that deals with plate tectonics is Secret Under Antarctica written in 1963 by G. R. Dickson. This story tells of a boy who goes to Antarctica as an assistant to his scientist father. He discovers a submarine yacht under the ice which houses the Tropican movement to reassemble Gondwanaland.
Most of the authors sidestep the issues of Antarctic geography and knowledge during these years. Some of them deal with a specific small area such as the Balleny Islands (Antarctic Fugue, Le Plan de L'Aiguille by Blaise Cendrars) but many use the south in a general way. There is a group of British romances in which most of the story is set in England and the hero is an Antarctic explorer. H. Rider Haggard's hero of Mary of Marion Isle (1929) has a slightly different background. He is a young British lord who becomes marooned on Marion Island of the Prince Edward group and discovers that it is inhabited by a young girl, sole survivor of a shipwreck and mutiny. But again the setting is a small area.
There is a small series of excellent science fiction stories dealing with the Antarctic. John Martin Leahy wrote "In Amundsen's Tent" in which three explorers find a living horror in Amundsen's south polar tent. A. Hyatt Veril prefers to populate his region "Beyond the Pole" (1926) with lobster-like humanoids. H. P. Lovecraft introduces a two-million-year-old Palaeogean Megalopolis which lies at an altitude of 23,570 feet in At the Mountain of Madness (1936). But ask any sci-fi fan about a monster from outer space, that can change configuration at will, being loose on an Antarctic station and he or she will respond immediately: "The Thing." This movie was based on the story "Who Goes There?" (1938) by John W. Campbell, Jr. and has become a classic horror film.
I have found only three of what are known as "murder mysteries" and they are all good tales. The first is The Survivors (also published as The White South and Calling the Southern Cross) written in 1949 by Hammond Innes. The setting is a modern whaling factory ship but the action seems to be based on Ernest Shackleton's 1914 expedition. Emmy Lou Schenk recently wrote a short story ("Ice Cave," 1987) in which a policeman from Florida, working as a substitute research assistant for his son, solves the first Antarctic murder.
The most intriguing murder tale seems to be Victim of Aurora (1977) by Thomas Keneally. At first I was puzzled by the fact that the author had launched a mid-winter search for a missing expedition member during a blizzard, but I later came to regard his use of the polar darkness as a type of St. John of the Cross' dark night of the soul. Many of the characters in the book are based on actual participants of Robert Scott's fatal "Terra Nova" expedition. This is emphasized by the use of one of Edward Wilson's fine drawings on the cover of the first edition.
Perhaps my favorite story of this period is Au Pole Sud A Bicyclette written around 1906 by Emilio Salgari. A group of American and English gentlemen do indeed bicycle from the base of the peninsula to the pole. My many questions about this French version of the book were answered by my friends the Campagnets who verified that the tale is rich in descriptive imagery. It really is a shame that the complete works of Emilio Salgari have never been translated into English.
The Modern Period
The great assault on the southern regions by the expeditions of the IGY brought the natural history of the Antarctic into public focus. As a result the "warm Antarctic" story disappears and is replaced by the image of Antarctica as a place of employment. Stories abound with scientists, whalers and naval personnel.
The only story that I have found, in which the Antarctic is still a land of mystery, is The Ice People (La Nuit Des Temps) written in 1968 by Rend Barjavel. A French expedition finds the remains of a 900,000-year-old civilization under the polar ice cap and manages to awaken a woman named Elea.
Beginning in the late 1970s there is a dramatic change in Antarctic fiction: an increase in stories of worldwide catastrophe and tourism.
The causes of worldwide catastrophe or alarm are many, from x-ray impulses in a space quasar (Airship Nine by ThoBlock, 1984) to a volcanic plume under the Ross Ice Shelf (Cold Sea Rising by Moran, 1986). The effects vary from war to problems of ice. James Follett (Ice, 1977) envisions an 8,000-cubic-mile portion of the ice cap breaking off from continent, and traveling to the north Atlantic area. Crawford Kilian (Icequake, 1979) describes a massive surge of the ice cap. Survival seems to be the main concern of authors at this time.
Charles McCarry would probably be startled to learn that his book The Better Angels (1979) is listed in a bibliographical account of Antarctic fiction. It is a novel of Near Eastern intrigue, but there are a few sentences devoted to noting the fact that the hero's children are touring the Antarctic on their stepfather's yacht. This is a rare mention of tourism by private means. Cruise ships are part of Hungry As the Sea (Wilbur Smith, 1978) and Storehouses of the Snow (Edwin Woodard and Heather Woodard Bischoff, 1980). John Gordon Davis uses a helium-filled airship to attempt to rescue tourists from a DC-10 crash on the Beardmore Glacier (Seize the Wind, 1985).
Charles Neider has drawn upon his own experience of survival from, a helicopter crash on Mt. Erebus in a novel about a tourist plane crash and helicopter crash on the volcano (Overflight, 1986).
It is Crispin Kitto who has drawn the curtain on Antarctica as a land of mystery. In The Antarctic Cookbook (1984), an East Hollywood chef obtains permission to build a summer home on Ross Island between the historic huts of Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton.
Thus, the novelists have taken us on a journey from Terra Incognita to the ordinary.
The search for Antarctic fiction is ongoing, from the Heathrow Airport gift shop to university libraries. To paraphrase Captain Charles W. Thomas: polar literature is where you find it. Example: A Tricky Teaser from a package of Nabisco's Mix 'n Eat Cream of Wheat. "What is the difference between the North Pole and the South Pole?" Answer: "All the difference in the world." And certainly that includes fiction.
Balch, Edwin Scott. Antarctica. Philadelphia: Allen, Lane and Scott, 1902.
Bertrand, Kenneth J. Americans in Antarctica, 1775-1948. New York: American Geographical Society, 1971.
Bewick, Thomas. History of British Birds. Newcastle: Beiby & Bewick, 1797, Vol. 1.
Cooper, James Fenimore. Early Critical Essays. Delmar: Scholar's Facsimiles and Reprints, 1977. Originally published 1822.
Cooper, Susan Fenimore. Pages and Pictures: From the Writings of James Fenimore Cooper. Secaucus: Castle Books, 1980. Originally published 1865.
Debenham, Frank. Antarctica. London: Herbert Jenkins, 1959.
Furse, Chris. Elephant Island. Shrewsbury: Anthony Nelson Limited, 1979.
Headland, R. K. and R L. Keage. "Activities on the King George Island Group, South Shetland Island, Antarctica." Polar Record: Vol. 22, No. 140, 1985, pps. 475-484.
Marsh, John H. No Pathway Here. Cape Town: Howard B. Timmins, 1948.
Martin, Fredericka. The Hunting of the Silver Fleece. New York: Greenberg, 1946.
Mill, H. R. The Siege of the South Pole. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1905. .
Mitterling, Philip 1. America in the Antarctic to 1840. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1959.
Neider, Charles. Edge of the World: Ross Island, Antarctica. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1974.
Roberts, Brian. "Chronological List of Antarctic Expeditions." Polar Record: Vol. 9, No. 59, 60, 1958, pps. 97-134, 191-239.
Smith, G. Barnett. The Romance of the South Pole. London, Edinburgh, New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1900.
Spence, Sydney A. Antarctic Miscellany. London: J.J.H. & J.1. Simper, 1980. First published 1966.
Thomas, Captain Charles W. Ice Is Where You Find It. Indianapolis, New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1957.
Tooley, R. V. The Mapping of Australia and Antarctica. Second revised edition. London: The Holland Press Limited, 1985.
Villiers, Capt. Alan. Men, Ships and the Sea. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 1962.
Wilford, John Noble. The Mapmakers. New York: Vintage Books. 1982.