From The New Yorker: Literature’s Arctic Obsession

Down in New York, Kathryn Schulz has penned a penetrating article exploring the literature’s obsession with the arctic regions. What is it about the North Pole besides Santa Clause and cute polar bears which could have induced writers such as Arthur Conan Doyle to take in it such interest?:


In the nineteenth century, the Arctic, then still largely undiscovered, captured the imagination of the Western world. Illustration by Emiliano Ponzi

Conan Doyle was twenty when he left Peterhead and twenty-one when he returned. On Saturday, May 22nd, in the meticulous diary he kept during that journey, he wrote, A heavy swell all day. I came of age today. Rather a funny sort of place to do it in, only 600 miles or so from the North Pole. Funny indeed, for a man who would come to be associated with distinctly un-Arctic environments: the gas-lit glow of Victorian London, the famous chambers at 221B Baker Street, andfurther afield, but not muchthe gabled manors and foggy moors where Sherlock Holmes tracked bloody footprints and dogs failed to bark in the night. Shortly after returning from the north, and long before writing any of the stories that made him famous, Conan Doyle told two tales about the Arcticone fictional, the other putatively true. The first, in 1883, was The Captain of the Pole-Star, one of his earliest published short stories. In it, a young medical student serving as the surgeon on a whaling ship watches, first in disbelief and then in dread, as his captain goes mad. Although winter is closing in, the captain sails northward into the Arctic until his ship is stuck fast. Then, obeying a ghostly summons, he walks out alone to his death on the ice.

The good news is that as the earth gets warmer many of the problems faced by such writers as Doyle in the North Pole will be obviated. The bad news is that it will be all water and lose the fecundity it has hadas inspirationfor good writing.

Read her full post at The New Yorker

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