Review by Paula Grenside
by George Belden (Manuscript
recovered and edited by Norman Lock), Calamari
"Little is known about George Belden. One thing
is certain, however; he was not in Antartica at the time
of Scott's 1910-12 expedition to the Pole, but the year
after the disaster. His name does not appear on the list
of passengers and crew aboard Terra Nova,
nor is it mentioned by Scott in his journal or in any other
known to have been kept by a member of the tragic enterprise."
The first lines of the Editor's Forward prepare
the readers to the entrance of a literary canard, but when
you start reading Belden's hallucinated and poetic entries,
you forget the fictional creation and share the visions, the
humanity of Belden and company as well as Scott's lucid madness.
It's through Belden that we relive the last months
of 1912 In Antarctica with Scott, Wilson, Oats, Bowers, members
of Scott's crew, and other characters created by Belden's
fervid imagination, till the tragic death on the Barrier.
Historically, they were found, frozen, in their sleeping bags;
Belden gives his personal version of Scott's funeral in the
trolley-car hearse with the bell tolling for the last Snow
Norman Lock shows undeniable talent at recreating
a world of ice, light and darkness where impossible visions
are made credible and resist like ice statues till the melting
breath of reality dissolves them. Belden's visionary madness
is far more involving and credible than Scott's cold, objective
"I want no poetry here! I came to Antarctica to
" A stone is only a stone until it's thrown through
a glass house; then it becomes and adage and admonition.
Antarctica has no ulterior meaning: There is nothing beneath
the ice except more ice."
Scott objects to connotations that cling to reality;
Belden and the others need to see and actually see things
beyond reality though aware of the cruelty of poetry. There's
an episode in the chapter "Defying Analysis" when
Pointing and Belden find frozen shadows. The relevance of
the episode is the urge, the crave to find a presence, signs
testifying they are not alone in the ice desert, that someone
else made his way through it. The shadows excite their imagination;
the ice is no longer a biting machine but a "gigantic
He nodded. " Frozen Shadows!"
They were those of birds mostly. And one that looked as
if it had been cast by an iceberg. And one that was unmistakably
that of a man. The man's shadow was long, evidently made
when the sun had been low in the sky....
Pointing handled them like delicate glassware, afraid they
might shatter in his hands."
They even photograph those shadows, place them
back in the rubber sack. As weird as it may seem, readers
see them and witness their unfortunate melting when Oates
opens the sack looking for food, displays the shadows on the
table and the shadows of the birds flap their wings and disappear
in the dark. Scott promptly dismisses the shadows:
"...We are studying reality in its purest form.
I must insist that you do nothing to adulterate it."
Scott disapproves of everything that diverts
from the study of first principles, he has an intellectual
rigor that is beyond the other explorers' power, is beyond
"desire". He disapproves of similes, too, and more
of metaphors because disguised as truth. He always considers
the heart of the matter as when he defines Antarctica:
"Antarctica is a laboratory," he says. "
Here where it is all but extinguished, life is easiest to
isolate and observe."
and, later, his concept of beauty:
"As a man I enjoy a woman's beauty. As a scientist
I should prefer the beauty of her bones for in them I can
see the truth articulated."
Here is when Belden concludes that Scott is the
Lock is really good at alternating and contrasting
the visionary escape of the men with the stubbornness and
mad determination of Scott who refuses to admit and face the
incumbent catastrophe. Imagination can only lead to disaster,
he keeps repeating, but it's imagination that gives the men
the strength to go on as when Bower sees his wife in a red
silk dress, and Belden feels Elizabeth's warm lips on his.
The whole story appeals to the senses, sight
and touch especially. White and cold are everywhere and become
an obsession broken only by glimpses of colors and warmth
brought by hallucinations or nightmares. White and cold and
ice that becomes a symbol of Scott's emotional coldness.
In the end, neither the escape into dreams or
the facing of reality will save them, but readers can but
side with Belden and Lock who created him.
The "credibility" of the recounting
is strengthened by the illustrations created by Derek White,
the publisher. The creative reconstruction of diary pages,
of maps gives the drawings their aspect of time-worn documents,
of authentic material. Lock's book offers an original view
on Scott's expedition to the Pole and casts a peculiar light
on the hero.