Antarctica's icy landscape inspires scientists, fantasists

Book Editor Ken Raymond writes about how Antarctica draws explorers, scientists and writers.
by Ken Raymond Published: September 22, 2013
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Antarctica's icy landscape long has inspired fear and wonder, for visitors to the southern ice cap and for those who only have dreamed of going there.

Its daunting otherness — a place almost like the surface of another planet — has attracted explorers and scientists and inspired writers of fiction and nonfiction.

Among the latter, Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, author of “South,” is the most compelling narrator; his 1914 expedition to Antarctica turned rapidly into one of humankind's most amazing tales of survival when his ship became trapped in the ice and was slowly ground to pieces, leaving his party stranded and separated in the worst place on Earth.

Somehow Shackleton and his men survived their extended stay, suffering endless privations and keeping themselves going through acts of sacrifice and will.

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Some of the best Antarctic fiction involves the macabre or supernatural. One thinks immediately of H.P. Lovecraft's 1936 novella, “At the Mountains of Madness,” in which a doomed scientific expedition faces a cosmic horror so inhuman that to look upon it even for a moment causes insanity, and of John W. Campbell Jr.'s 1938 novella, “Who Goes There?”

Campbell's chilling story, which also focuses on a team of scientists, has been filmed at least three times as “The Thing From Another World” (1951), “John Carpenter's The Thing” (1982) and “The Thing” (2011).

Even in this modern world, Antarctica remains a place of science and dreams, vast, beautiful and inhospitable, inspiring biographers, novelists and poets.

by Ken Raymond
Book Editor
Ken Raymond is the book editor. He joined The Oklahoman in 1999. He has won dozens of state, regional and national writing awards. Three times he has been named the state's "overall best" writer by the Society of Professional Journalists. In...
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