Saturday, March 17, 2012

GUEST POST: Brenda Clough on Arctic Centennial

March 16 or 17, 2012, is the 100 year anniversary of the death of Antarctic explorer Lawrence Edward Grace ‘Titus’ Oates.  He’s the quintessential British hero, a role model for the kiddies and a mine of inspiration for writers, including me. He died possibly one of the most dramatic deaths of all time; when you want an example of character being destiny Oates is a perfect case to cite.
Also along about now is the centennial of the death of Robert Scott and his party of explorers, of which Oates was a member.  The actual date of their demise is understandably fuzzy, since they froze and starved to death in a dark tent on the ice.   Uncounted heroes have died unknown and unsung, but what saved Scott from oblivion was his writing.

He wrote, right until the bitter end, and his last journal entries have a terrible power and drama.  Notes to his sponsors, letters to his wife, and, most importantly, his Letter to the Public, which included a plea for support for the widows and orphans the expedition would leave.  This plea was powerful enough to not only pension those widows and orphans, but fund the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge.  He was a sufficiently great writer to be able to reach his readership right from his deathbed.  Not only did he maintain heroism and courage right to the end, but he told us about it.  Amazing!

And like all known writers, Scott was lucky.  His frozen body (and those of his companions) lay with all his letters, papers and equipment out on the ice for the entire brutal 6-month Polar winter.  In the spring, when the sun came back, the other members of his expedition went out to look for him.  Finding their little tent — it was nearly buried in blizzard drift — must have been like stumbling across one selected pebble on a beach.  That lucky discovery is the only reason we have Scott’s notes, and the only way their fate is known. The rescue party took the journal from under Scott’s pillow. Oates’ body was never found, and the only record of his death is what Scott noted in his journal. Slide down on that last link to March 16-17 and read the eyewitness account.  You have to hold your breath, while you read it.

This year boatloads of commemorative events — museum exhibits, an expedition – are scheduled to take place.  But I think I must remember these Edwardian explorers in a way they would have approved — by writing.

Deborah adds: Speaking of writing, you can check out Brenda's newest novel, newest novel Speak to Our Desires is out exclusively from Book View Café. She also has stories in Book View Café’s two steampunk anthologies, The Shadow Conspiracy and The Shadow Conspiracy II, as well as in BVC’s many other anthologies including our latest, Beyond Grimm (co-edited by Deborah and Phyllis Irene Radford!)

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