Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Where The Whales Go To Die

Growing up, one of my favorite movies was (and still is) The Island at the Top of the World.  It's a weird, strange movie, but it triggered my sense of adventure (and scared the bejeebus out of me) so a favorite it became.  I have recently discovered the book The Lost Ones by Ian Cameron, on which the movie was based, and fell in love with it as well. Since it is set in the frozen tundra I held on to it until winter set in.   Before we get into that though, as always SPOILERS AHEAD!
The book is written in first person/journal form and follows the strange adventures of Keith Rogers, a whaler; Professor Somerville, a teacher of flora and Captain Anthony McIver, a man looking for his son.  The Professor and McIver convince Rogers to come with them to find McIver's lost son Donald Ross.  Donald it seems has found some information on the mythical legend of a place where the whales go to die.  He was last seen hijacking a helicopter and heading out over the frozen tundra.  The threesome put together an expedition and head out in the undiscovered snow and ice to see if they can find out what happened to him.  As they travel, they uncover some unsettelling information about the mysterious island they are heading towards.  The island is Prince Patrick Island and there is no official record of anybody ever actually setting foot on the island and all maps, such as they are were made by aerial recon and even the aerial footage is iffy because of a perpetual mist that obscures parts of the island.  They are warned against the yellow-haired men that supposedly inhabit the island, confusing the trio as only Eskimos are known to inhabit any of the area.  Many cold
adventures follow, culminating with the men stranded on the mystical island, under siege by the mysterious yellow haired men.  They are captured and taken to an impossible city, that has survived and flourished due to thermal vents warming the area to comfortably habital temps.  The natives, who all sport blond hair, seem to live under a very medieval code of suspicion, taboo's, and rituals.  The men are found guilty of trespassing and are sentenced to death.  They meet Freyja, a girl who knew Donald, and was his lover.  She helps the men escape and promises to guide them to where she thinks Donald may be.  The place Freyja takes them is a sacred spot that only the Shaman's may go and look upon, keeping the natives in their grip.  After some more harrowing events the trio plus Freyja end up trapped on a sort of beach, along with numerous whale carcasses where they find Donald, alive.  They have finally found where the whales go to die.  Freyja tells them the story of how whales used to eat the young of other animals, and as punishment they were barred from heaven and must circle the waters of hell.  To this end, when a whale gets old it goes to a special grave yard to be tipped into the waters of hell.  This strange beach is littered with the bodies of all kinds of whales, and they are eventually carried by a river to an underground whirlpool, fulfilling the story.  The other part of this myth is the Guardians that Freyja is terrified of, which turn out to be very aggressive Orca's.  In desperation the five of them build a boat out of various whale parts and try and get past the Orca's.  Freyja, out of guilt and fear feeling that she is the reason the Guardians won't leave them alone is because of her, she jumps into the water, dying as she gives the men a way to escape.  They all finally head home and go about their various lives, always having this surreal adventure to think back on.
To be 100% honest, I was not prepared to like this book as much as I did.  I wanted to see the source material for my favorite movie, and found a decently written adventure.  It is hard for me to talk about the book without talking about the movie which are intertwined in my head, even though they are both very different.  I think what struck me most about both is the sense of adventure, the idea that there is something still unknown out there.  As a kid...ok even now, I always wanted to discover something, always looking over the next ridge, or opening the old doors, or squeezing through the holes, hoping to find something new.  I also love the idea of hidden things, lost things rediscovered, mystical myths and this book had it all.  The pacing of the book was surprisingly brisk considering 90% of it was spent trying to survive on the frozen tundra.  I loved the mix of science, exploration,
anthropology and myth.  This is one of those books that reminds you how many facets of life come together to form a culture ore society.  The actual physical book itself was also pretty neat.  The story was published in 1970 and the book I have was printed not much later, making the physical tome itself about 45 years old, which doesn't seem that old, until you realize that it is in paper back, still in one piece and older then me :-)  It felt like holding a discovery, which added to the enjoyment reading it.  Of course now I am terrified it's gonna fall apart.  I also loved the words that the author used.  One of my favorite things about older books is that people use grown up words in every day conversation, I miss that, none of this shortening or acronyming of words, just full, meaningful, beautiful words.    This book rekindled my love of adventure and exploring and now I want to go find more books like this.  I give this book 7 out of 10 sacred lockets and recommend it to anybody who likes adventure, myths, or snow.
When is it ok for the movie and the book to differ?  How awesome is the combo of myth and science?  Is this the reason people say "Hey this is a weird book/movie...I think you'll love it"?

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