THE SPEC­TRAL ARC­TIC

A History of Ghosts and Dreams in Po­lar Ex­plo­ration

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight University Press Nonfiction - SUSAN WAGGONER

Shane Mc­cor­ris­tine, UCL Press (AU­GUST) Soft­cover $45 (326pp), 978-1-78735-246-9

In The Spec­tral Arc­tic, Shane Mc­cor­ris­tine fo­cuses on early ex­plo­rations of the Arc­tic. Cit­ing nu­mer­ous re­ports of ghostly pres­ences, un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally strong be­lief in omens, and seem­ingly prophetic dreams, he notes that para­nor­mal phe­nom­ena have long been part of the record. The Arc­tic ex­pe­ri­ence af­fected the psy­chol­ogy, be­liefs, and at­ti­tudes of ex­plor­ers.

To make these points, the book plows a deep re­search trail, not only cit­ing heroic nar­ra­tives writ­ten in ret­ro­spect, but also tak­ing care to in­clude ex­cerpts from letters, pri­vate di­aries, and of­fi­cial jour­nals kept as jour­neys pro­gressed. A wide num­ber of ex­pe­di­tions are ref­er­enced, and the book draws es­pe­cially heav­ily on the fa­mous Franklin ex­pe­di­tion, a team of 128 men and two boats that de­parted Eng­land in 1845 un­der the lead­er­ship of ex­pe­ri­enced ex­plorer John Franklin. None were ever seen again. In­ter­est in the Franklin ex­pe­di­tion was re­newed in 2014, when both ships, along with a num­ber of well-pre­served corpses, were dis­cov­ered.

The book is writ­ten as a schol­arly study, in a staunchly aca­demic style that, at times, blurs the points be­ing made. Ref­er­ences are in­serted in the text, elim­i­nat­ing the need to back­track to the bib­li­og­ra­phy, while quoted ma­te­rial is or­ga­nized in the­matic chap­ters: on the cul­tural in­flu­ences in Eng­land that spurred men to un­der­take such haz­ardous mis­sions, on the ways in which na­tives of the Arc­tic and non-na­tive ex­plor­ers in­flu­enced each other’s nar­ra­tives, and on the ap­pear­ance of women in Arc­tic lore.

A deeply in­ter­est­ing work on the psy­chol­ogy of ad­ven­tur­ers, The Spec­tral Arc­tic is a sound ad­di­tion to the canon of Arc­tic ex­plo­ration lit­er­a­ture.

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