Thursday, August 9, 2012

Climbing Everest, by George Mallory

Peter Gillman collects the published writings of George Mallory in Climbing Everest: The Writings of George Mallory. The book includes Mallory's contributions to the expedition accounts Mount Everest: The Reconnaissance 1921, and The Assault on Mount Everest 1922, as well as some journal articles and a couple Times news dispatches from the 1924 climb. I was bit disappointed that Gillman didn't include Mallory's many known letters from the mountain and about the expeditions, as I feel they add a wealth of information and perspective about his experiences. Even the 1924 expedition account, Fight for Everest, includes his letters to his wife from that climb.What's included is still makes for a great story, with a thorough account of the 1921 reconnaissance. As the first mountaineer to get a close look at Everest, Mallory makes the most of his great privilege and solemn duty. I love that someone with romantic streak was the first to explore Everest's environs, as I can only imagine what the narrative might have been with a Raeburn or a Strutt providing the prose. Mallory's many descriptions of Everest at times make it sound majestic (such as his comparison of it to Winchester Cathedral), and at others imposing, but dis-proportioned (perhaps a Matterhorn could stand on its summit...).  His personal discovery of penitentes makes for a lovely explanation of their form. I appreciate that even though Mallory was a bit out of his league in his first trip to Everest, he gets the important details correct and even 91 years later, his words still largely ring true. (No stodgy, laughable opinions here.) He admits that he knows little of Himalayan snow, and describes its peculiar character; he gives himself a hard time for loading the camera plates backwards and for overlooking the entrance to the East Rongbuk Glacier. Similarly, his 1922 writing is exciting, but modest, with an analysis that makes sense, especially for the time. Though he took the deadly avalanche quite personally (as did Somervell), he is careful not to place blame in his published accounts.

Gillman, who also co-wrote a first-rate biography of Mallory, The Wildest Dream, includes a postscript describing the events of 1924 that Mallory was unable to narrate. At least in the audiobook edition (which I reviewed) there is also an interview with Gillman that explains some of the surrounding details to the narrative that are not made entirely clear by Mallory's writing alone. I appreciate Gillman's attachment to the mystery of the events of 1924 and that he felt no need to speculate on or explain away what we (currently) cannot know. I agree that there's something lovely about a mystery that is likely to forever remain unsolved.

No comments:

Post a Comment