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The Frozen Ship: The Histories and Tales of Polar Exploration    by Sarah Moss order for
Frozen Ship
by Sarah Moss
Order:  USA  Can
Bluebridge, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Anise Hollingshead

In The Frozen Ship, we read accounts of polar survival and death that have intrigued people since these stories were first recounted. From tales of the early Norse explorers, to later expeditions by Europeans, we have long been attracted to reading about other people in dire circumstances in the bitter cold. There's something strangely fascinating about accounts of people who encounter disaster in a landscape of ice and snow, versus accounts of people in similar bad situations in the rain forests of South America. We must think, 'Well, at least they're warm!' They're just not suffering quite enough.

Sarah Moss takes a bit of a different tack in this book on polar exploration, in that it's not about the disasters themselves, but about what was written about the disasters, and the underlying beliefs and attitudes of the times that may have influenced these writings. She explores the common assumptions, literary styles and politics of the time periods involved and strives to present a good depiction of the background behind these heroic tales. The book begins with an account of a 19th century captain's discovery of a frozen ship in the middle of the ice, evidently trapped for eighty years. Frozen corpses, in very good condition, are still on the ship, along with written entries in journals.

This sets the stage for many similar tales of disaster in various polar localities. Moss relates the stories and then appends historical anecdotes, explanations, and discussions on the written accounts. This introduction continues with a journey through time following the written record of famous polar expeditions and explorations. Beginning with the first records of Norse settlements and continuing with the famous expeditions in the first half of the 20th century, we're presented with condensed historical accounts. Later sections describe the special circumstances surrounding men who winter on the poles, men who survived and men who died. There is also a section on less familiar accounts of women at the poles.

These stories are, of course, great reading in and of themselves. The author spends a good amount of time discussing them, but her writing is non-intrusive on the whole and does a good job of adding information and opinions in a seamless fashion. A few of her opinions have a political tone that can be annoying (often to do with the religious piousness of the dominant white male of the times), but most of her comments and descriptions add an informed and thoughtful insight into the written accounts and the circumstances that influenced their style and content.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and am unashamed to admit that I always like reading accounts of polar disasters. I hate the cold, so it must be an awful fascination that draws me. I also appreciated the author's treatment of the writings on these events, and while I didn't necessarily agree with all her opinions, I learned a great deal. I highly recommend The Frozen Ship to anyone who is interested in tales of the Arctic and Antarctic.

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