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Book Review: The Polar World: the Unique Vision of Sir Wally Herbert
IMHO: You, a Reader of The Fan Hitch
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The Polar World:
The Unique Vision of Sir Wally Herbert
by Sir Wally Herbert
reviewed by Sue Hamilton
What instantly grabbed me about this book was the dust jacket. Looking right at me, his eyes piercing into mine, was Sir Wally Herbert, ice clinging to his toque, his eyebrows and lashes, mustache and beard; his skin weather-beaten from the glaring sun, howling wind and savage cold. But it is his expression, wizened and weary but not beaten; his penetrating eyes that caught my attention. He is speaking to me, "I have been on many long journeys and I have stories to tell."
Sir Wally Herbert, polar explorer, writer and artist, has chronicled his extraordinary life in The Polar World: The Unique Vision of Sir Wally Herbert, his final book, published in 2007, the year of his death at age 72. It is through his artistic talent that he showcases and shares his vision and stories with the rest of us. The Polar World is more a sumptuous collection of images accompanied by highly descriptive captions rather than words of Sir Wally’s life and times accompanied images.
Wally Herbert's three years of military service had not satisfied his youthful desire for exploration. So, in 1955, he signed up with the Falklands Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS) as a surveyor. He later admitted to having suppressed his artistic skills (an aptitude the degree to which he hadn't even suspected) and confined himself to the creation of detail maps of the areas of Antarctica where he traveled. This experience set the course of Herbert's future. He was inspired by the polar explorers who came before him: Scott, Amundsen, Nansen, Shackleton, Peary, Cook, Fuchs. For almost two years he and his wife, Marie, and their baby daughter Kari, lived among the Polar Inuit of Greenland. He describes his encounter with the shaman, Innuteq, while looking to acquire dogs for future polar travels. And in the late 1970s he and Allan Gill, set out by skin boat and dog team to undertake the first circumnavigation of Greenland. But of all Sir Wally's polar adventures, he felt his crowning achievement was the British Trans-Arctic Expedition (BTAE): four men and forty Inuit Dogs crossing the ice cap via the north pole in sixteen months, from Barrow, Alaska to Svalbard.
The BTAE attained the North Pole on April 6, 1969, on the 60th anniversary of Robert Peary's claim to have reached the same location. Sir Wally later learned that the famous image, Earth Rise, was taken (by Apollo 10 astronaut Jack Young) at the exact same time on the exact same day, that the Trans-Arctic Expedition sighted land! The team touched land, ending their historic expedition, on May 29, 1969, which was on the sixteenth anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary and Norgay Tensing's first assent of Mount Everest. Herbert was amazed and awed by these record-breaking coincidences in exploration.
Sir Wally had successfully published nine books. But after two manuscripts were rejected (one King Dog, a novel set in Greenland) by many publishers, he took up painting in 1989 at Lady Marie's urging. And so his artistry - images of heroes of early polar exploration, his fellow travelers in the cold, personal experiences, dazzling polar scenery, wildlife and of course his travels by dog team - satisfied his "…link between the explorer and the creative spirit."
Shaman with His Dogs; watercolour; 2003
Sir Wally Herbert, courtesy of Kari Herbert, Polarworld
While Sir Wally's words tell us of his life's adventures, it is his artwork that gives new meaning to the term "illustrious career". If it is true that one picture is worth a thousand words, then Sir Wally has bequeathed to us The Polar World as an encyclopedia between two hard covers.
The Polar World: The Unique Vision of Sir Wally Herbert by Sir Wally Herbert; 2007; ISBN: 978-0-9555255-1-3; published by Polarworld, 5 Hurrell's Row, Harston, Cambridge CB22 7NW, UK; 12 inches x 10 inches in hardcover; 128 pages with over 85 images; special half-price offer during 40th celebration of the British Trans-Arctic Expedition of £17.50 plus shipping; other special limited editions are available while they last.