Polar explorer-turned-author Fiennes revisits Robert Scott’s ill-fated South Pole journey and counters latter-day debunkers who’ve set about cutting the great English hero down to size.
Author of several true adventure tales based on his own various journeys (Mind Over Matter, 1994, etc.), Fiennes brings his expertise to bear as he retells the story of one of England’s most cherished sons. Scores of others may have written of Scott, but, Fiennes points out, none of them have traversed Antarctica on foot, as this writer has. Having established his bona fides, and an authorial voice that brooks no nonsense, Fiennes then details Scott’s first and last trips south. We meet the young explorer as he angles for the role of expedition leader, achieves it in 1900, mans and outfits the operation, and plunges into exploration of the harsh continent. This first journey sets the stage for the better-known trip a decade later, in which Norwegian Roald Amundsen stole a march on England and made it to the South Pole a few weeks before Scott’s team. Fiennes presents this tale of betrayal—Amundsen had set sail for the North Pole and then abruptly changed course for the Antarctic—with an immediacy that gives the old story fresh sting; his way with the telling detail and a sense of urgency keeps what could be a cumbersome retread bowling along at a great pace. The chronicle of Scott’s last days, slowly starving and freezing in a tent just a few miles from a food depot, is particularly well rendered. Fiennes couples his admiring but clear-eyed portrait of a flawed hero with righteous indignation; when he goes after individual authors he feels have got Scott all wrong, the gloves are off.
A marvelous plunge into the arcana of Scott’s world—lengthy discussion of the number of calories necessary for a day of sledging, anyone?—and the many myths that followed his glorious failure.