Bear Grylls is referring to a passage in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T.E. Lawrence's inspirational book about his experiences in the Arabian desert:
All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind wake in the day to find that it was vanity but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.
Allusion to Robert Frost’s poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Robert Frost was an American romantic poet (1874 – 1963).
The chapter title is in homage to the following passage from The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence:
There was a special attraction in beginnings, which drove me into lasting endeavour to free my personality from accretions and project it on a fresh medium that my curiosity to see it’s naked shadow might be fed.
Climbing the highest peak on each of the seven continents is considered one of the highest accomplishments in extreme adventure. The summits are: 1. Asia, Mount Everest; 2. North America, Denali (Mount McKinley); 3. South America, Aconcagua; 4. Europe; Elbrus; 5. Australia, Mount Kosciuszko (although some consider that The Carstensz Pyramid in Papua New - which is part of the Australian continental shelf – also counts); 6. Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro; 7. Antarctica, Vinson Massif. (Source: Wikipedia)
Dr. Seuss’s marvellous poem goes on to read
And when you're in a Slump,
You're not in for much fun
is not easily done…
Hercules is the Latin name for the Greek hero Heracles. He was a demi-god, son of Zeus and Alcmene, the wisest and most beautiful of all mortal women. Hercules was famous for his strength and courage, managing under the orders of the King of Mycenae to accomplish twelve impossible labours.
Captain Robert Falcon Scott (1868 – 1912) was a Royal Navy officer and explorer who led two expeditions to the Antarctic regions: the Discovery Expedition, 1901–04, and the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition, 1910–13.
This is a reference to the classical myth of the same name. Jason was a Greek mythological hero, famous as the leader of the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece.
In order to take over the kingdom of which he was rightly heir, he had to find the Golden Fleece. Jason assembled a group of heroes, known as the Argonauts after their ship, the Argo. The group included the sons of Boreas (the North Wind) who could fly, Heracles and Orpheus (all of whom feature in Riding the Ice Wind).
This references Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1907-1909 expedition to Antarctica in his ship of the same name. The Nimrod is considered one of the greatest ever Antarctic expeditions; it was on this journey that Shackleton and his companions Adams, Marshall and Wild discovered the Trans-Antarctic Mountains, found a way through this range and were the first people to set foot on the high polar plateau. Both Shackleton and Scott, like these heroes, journeyed to far away mythical lands to accomplish deeds of heroism and daring.
Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874 –1922) was an Anglo-Irish explorer and one of the principal figures of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. He was third officer on Captain Scott’s Discovery Expedition, 1901–04, from which he was sent home early suffering from malnutrition. He returned to Antarctica in 1907 as leader of the Nimrod Expedition. For his achievement, Shackleton was knighted by King Edward VII. After Amundsen attained the South Pole in 1912, Shackleton turned his attention to the crossing of the continent and returned for the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914–17, known as the Endurance expedition. In 1921 he went back to the Antarctic with the Shackleton-Rowett Expedition, intending to carry out a programme of scientific and survey activities, but died of a heart attack while his ship, Quest, was moored in South Georgia. He is buried there. (Source: Wikipedia).
The Walkabout is a tradition of the Aborigines of Australia, in which the young males leave their families and spend months fending for themselves in the Outback before returning to the tribe. Enduring this period of testing and privation signifies the transformation from youth to manhood. It is a rite of passage common to many cultures, often linked with circumcision and marriage.
Even in the natural world, young lions spend a period of time away from the pride on their own or in groups before starting their own families. The purification of a trial in the desert, the Walkabout as a journey, a sloughing off of the frivolities of youth, a trial of hardship, is a romantic idea that was important to Bruce Chatwin throughout his writing, but particularly in The Songlines.
The Hero Cycle, wherever found is a story of “fitness” in the Darwinian sense: a blueprint for genetic success. Beowulf leaves… Ivan leaves… Jack leaves… the young Aboriginal on Walkabout leaves… even antique Don Quixote leaves…
Don Quixote (1605) by Miguel de Cervantes is a comic masterpiece in the mould of the quintessential chivalric romance. The comedic hero, Don Quixote, is seen as unsuitable in many ways to the task he has set himself and incongruous to his surroundings. Accompanied by Sancho Panza as his man at arms, mounted astride a mule rather than a charger, the aging protagonist is undeterred, gamely fighting even inanimate and unthreatening windmills which his imagination mistakes for the giants of an epic quest, in a parody of the best tradition of myth and legend.
The author, similarly unsuited to the task, creates in Antarctica a chivalric proving ground of his own imagination where he fights the Antarctic winds with his kites (the Sabre and the Blade), and other obstacles largely created by his own mind. The allusion also acknowledges that the self-aggrandisement in being an ‘explorer-adventurer’ is ultimately bathetic and anachronistic. Just as Don Quixote was a century or two too late for the era of chivalry, the author, too, is a far cry from the golden era of polar exploration.
The phoenix is a mythical bird which is immortal and rises out of the ashes of destruction. It is the archetypal symbol for rebirth. One of the themes of the book, captured in the quotation in the introduction by George Bernard Shaw, is that every man is free to create himself as he wants to be. This is the first of a suite of references to birth, eggs, umbilical cords, Pentecostal winds and renaissance, most fully realised in the leitmotif of Frankenstein, which reoccur in the book. (See also the bookmarks for pages 18, 181, 233 and 247).
There are various different claims for discovery of Antarctica. Captain Cook passed through the Antarctic circle in 1773, Fabian Von Bellinghausen first saw Antarctica in 1820, and American sealer John Davis is thought to have landed in Western Antarctica in 1821, but others give the credit to explorer James Clark Ross who passed through what is now known as the Ross Sea and discovered Ross Island in 1841. He sailed along the wall of ice that was later named the Ross Ice Shelf, and also discovered Mount Erebus and Mount Terror on islands adjoining the Antarctic mainland (both named after two ships from his expedition), in the lee of which Scott situated his first camp. (Source: Wikipedia)
Graham Hancock’s Fingerprints of the Gods posits that Antarctica may not always have been covered in ice and may, in previous millennia, even have been populated by travellers who were technologically ahead of the other races of the world and whose systems and influence was responsible for the Pyramids and other of the unexplained wonders of ancient civilisation. He ties together compellingly, if fancifully, a host of the world’s common myths and the prophecies and fables of an ancient breed of white, bearded men (which help to explain the reception of later explorers in these lands millennia later).
This sentence picks up the writing of Antoine de Saint Exupéry:
And suddenly that tranquil cloud-world, that world so harmless and simple that one sees below on rising out of the clouds, took on in my eyes a new quality. That peaceful world became a pitfall. I imagined the immense white pitfall spread beneath me. Below it reigned not what one might think-not the agitation of men, not the living tumult and bustle of cities, but a silence even more absolute than in the clouds, a peace even more final. This viscous whiteness became in my mind the frontier between the real and the unreal, between the known and the unknowable. Already I was beginning to realize that a spectacle has no meaning except it be seen through the glass of a culture, a civilization, a craft.
The reference in the context of a view of the desert of Antarctica from the air, is appropriate as Saint Exupéry was the writer, par excellence, of aviation exploration, of the desert and the sky and of the world above the land of men. His book Wind, Sand and Stars (a title for the English edition that Saint Exupéry himself endorsed) is titled in French Terre des Hommes. The original French title, so much more fitting and poignant, conjures the petty struggles of the world of men from a bird’s eye view and his poetic detachment gives a beautiful fragility to the little star he floats above.
The Ilyushin is flying low over the Patriot Hills and preparing to land on a natural ice runway.
A metaphor for a blue-ice runway glimmering in the sun but also a reference to the revolutionary organisation in Peru, the Sendero Illuminoso, which hence aims to add a flavour of the rebellious to the author’s escape.
The biblical prophet Jonah was expelled from his city Nineveh for upbraiding the inhabitants on their empty values, materialism and debauchery. He voiced what no one wanted to hear and was cast into the sea, where he was swallowed by a whale, in this case a cavernous cargo plane, and taken to a foreign land.
The tapering shape of a body, lying on its back, in a tight sleeping bag suggests an Eygptian mummy. The image of the mummy – being a symbol of death as well as a reference to maternity - ties into the prevalent leitmotifs of the book – the descent into the underworld and the themes of birth and renaissance.
The tile of a novel by Julian Barnes. The reference picks up the quotation from Flaubert at the start of the chapter on the contradiction between the exotic aspirations of a dreamy adolescent and the sombre realities of a bourgeois life, and by referring to Julian Barnes’ book depicts that particular contradiction being squawked incessantly in his ear, like a cantankerous parrot, that would not be silenced.
Scott goes on to write in his journals:
...it is the sledging life which is the hardest test. It is because it is so much easier to shirk in civilisation that it is difficult to get a standard of what your average man can do. It does not really matter much in civilisation: it is just rather a waste of opportunity. But there’s precious little shirking in Barrier sledging, a week finds most of us out.
This sentence is inspired by Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832) from his poem Begin It Now:
That the moment one definitely commits oneself/ then Providence moves too./ All sorts of things occur to help one/ That would never otherwise have occurred./ A whole stream of events issues from the decision/ raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen/ incidents and meetings and material assistance/ which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.
The theme of the creation of a man in Mary Shelley’s book has profound connections with the myth of Prometheus (as implied by the full title of her book). The myth of Prometheus differs according to classical sources. Prometheus is a rebel. Like Sisyphus (the other classical hero that is heavily referenced in Riding the Ice Wind, see bookmark for page 81), Prometheus is punished re-curringly in hell. Instead of rolling a rock up a mountain, he is placed on a craggy summit where he has an iron wedge driven through his breast, a girdle placed round his hips and his shackled feet with fetters of brass. Zeus then sends an eagle to feast remorselessly on his liver. In some sources, Prometheus’s crime is to have stolen fire from heaven and given it to man. In others, it is to have moulded man from clay and had Eros breathe life into the sculpture. This is where the story of Prometheus captured Mary Shelley’s imagination – and that of her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who wrote Prometheus Unbound in response to the classical playwright Aeschylus’s celebrated Prometheus Bound.
The themes of rebellion (in the form of Satan’s expulsion from heaven and Adam’s from the Garden of Eden) and of the creation of a human being are also at the core of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Mary Shelley quotes Milton on the inside front cover of Frankenstein:
Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay/To mould me man? Did I solicit thee/ From darkness to promote me?
The theme of expulsion from, and hence the continuing search for an approximation on earth of, Paradise is considered by some to be the source of man’s restlessness. The theme of exile, restlessness and wandering in a search for some fulfilment – a Promised Land that may in fact be located inside our heads rather than in a physical place – is a continuous theme of Riding the Ice Wind (see bookmarks for pages 160 and 181).
Likewise, the figures of Prometheus and Sisyphus graphically represent the particular repetitive torture of Antarctic travel where, each day, the trials of the previous day are relived in agonising monochrome.
Further than this, the themes of creation – of the self as well as of man – are further relevant to Riding the Ice Wind. The figures of Frankenstein, Prometheus and Adam all tie into the individual’s ability to create themselves, to hew, cut and paste their constituent parts together by moulding experience and ambition. The account of traversing the continent, like any journey, has been a song of the self. After all, we can all transform ourselves into what we want to be.
This assertion is drawn from Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.