Thursday, October 25, 2012

Our Hero brings John Rae to Explorers' Club




Our Hero is looking forward to giving a talk called Return to Rae Strait at the Explorers' Club in New York City. It happens Saturday evening, December 1, as part of the club's inaugural Polar Film Festival. This past August, for the first time in 13 years, Ken revisited the site where he erected a plaque in 1999. It marks the spot where explorer John Rae discovered the final link in the Northwest Passage. Ken will also introduce Passage, a feature-length docudrama based on his award-winning book about Rae, entitled Fatal Passage. Polar adventurer Stefan Kindberg organized the three-day festival. It will include a traditional welcome by Inuit culturalist Aaju Peter; filmmakers John Houston and Jon Bowermaster introducing their latest documentaries; and a screening of Jeff Orlowski's film Chasing Ice, which captures a multi-year record of the world's changing glaciers. Besides books and DVDs, displays will include Inuit art and Arctic paintings by Sheena Fraser McGoogan.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

More Arctic Journals of John Rae . . .

An expert review here of . . .
The Arctic Journals of John Rae
Selected and Edited by Ken McGoogan

Victoria, BC: TouchWood Editions, 2012
312 pp. , $19.95

Reviewed by Russell A. Potter

The welcome publication of the journals of Dr. John Rae, the man who filled in the last crucial blanks in the northern coastline of North America, now fills a notable blank on the shelves of history; his is the last personal narrative of a major explorer during the search for Sir John Franklin to be published, one hundred and fifty-eight years after the latest events it recounts. There is considerable irony in the chief reason for this delay, which is doubtless that Rae searched too well, uncovering things that the British Admiralty, and large segments of the British public, would have preferred remained covered up. His accounts of Inuit testimony as to Franklin's men resorting to cannibalism shocked the sensibilities of the day, and were vociferously denied not only by Charles Dickens, but by many others in more recent times, despite the clear forensic evidence since gathered which has proved this testimony true.  Rae's own words still speak most capably in his defense, and we must be grateful to Ken McGoogan and TouchWood editions for bringing them back to us in a beautiful and compact new edition.

The format of the book, though, may be a bit confusing at first to some readers; it opens with several passages from the "lost" section of Rae's autobiography, missing from the manuscript at the Scott Polar Research Institute, then partially recovered by McGoogan in a series of extended quotations in David Murray Smith's compendium of Arctic voyages. Smith's commentary and sections of Rae's text are given together, which makes for somewhat jarring transitions between the rather pompous language of Smith, and the plain speaking of the intrepid Orcadian. There can be gleaned, however, from these pages, some items of considerable interest to the armchair Franklin searcher of today, particularly in Rae's extended comments on the paucity of wood amid the Inuit he encountered. Rae believed that this was clear evidence that they had not found either of Franklin' ships as of 1854, which would effectively date the finding of the ship at Oootjoolik to after that point; certainly by the time McClintock encountered the Inuit near Booth Point in 1859, wood was remarkably abundant.

The second, and largest section of the book contains Rae's full account, published in his lifetime, of his first Arctic expedition in 1846-47; while it of necessity contains nothing about Franklin, it is remarkable to consider how well and (for the most part) how comfortably Rae lived off the land, at the very moment when Franklin's men, holed up in their frozen ships, were contemplating that same land with fear, so dependent were they on stored provisions . . .

For the rest, click here.