Before There Was Darkness There Was White It was the same sound a creaky old door made when you open it but a thousand times louder drowning out even the howling wind. The dogs crouched low in the snow cowering but afraid to even whimper. The moon hung over them; a dazzling orb rimmed with iridescent violet as the aurora borealis flashed vivid green and magenta all around it. The horizon was blocked by upheavals of ice that had been twisted into a chaotic landscape of jagged outcrops. Some were twenty to thirty meters tall and made any further progress doubtful. By the time Fridjof Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen made camp for the night they had already decided to turn back at first light. They had been out on the ice for three weeks and beneath them was two thousand fathoms of freezing ocean. The temperature was a constant forty below and Nansen’s fingers were frozen to his mittens. They were two hundred miles further north than any man had gone before. Ostensibly they were trying to reach the north pole. That is what Nansen had told the Norwegian Geographical Society in Christiania, now Oslo, when he had proposed the expedition and sought funding. What Nansen was really looking for was the legendary land of Thule. In his epic poem Aeneid the Roman poet Virgil calls the furthest point North beyond what is known Ultima Thule. In Greek mythology the Hyperboreans were the first race, the primal race, hermaphrodites more gods than men. They dwelled in the unknown north beyond the frozen wastelands and were sometimes visited as equals by Apollo, the God of light and Wisdom. Now in his mid-thirties Nansen was Norway and indeed all of Northern Europe’s superman, a living legend. As the first man to cross the interior of Greenland he had revolutionized artic exploration by teaching explorers to travel light, like the native Inuit and Norway’s rugged Sami tribesman whom he used in the crossing. The greatest cross-country skier in all of Europe, an athlete without peer and a scientist who revolutionized biology, Nansen was a personal friend of the Prince of Wales and soon to be King Edward VII. Edward had courted their friendship as something he must have. As Norway’s leading man Nansen had been given a no-show job as curator for the University Museum of Bergen. But once there with his insatiable appetite for knowledge Nansen had learned the most intimate secrets of the Eddas from scholars who lived only to please him. He had read forbidden excerpts from the banned Skjöldunga saga of his native Danish heritage, Latinized and sanitized in the work of Saxo Grammaticus and Arngrímur Jónsson. He knew all northern Europeans were Goths that had migrated southward to Europe from the great artic landmass of Scandza. He had studied the Eyrbyggja saga, the Ynglinga saga and the Saga of Eric the Red, and taken to heart the supernatural lore and the existence of Hvítramannaland, White Man’s Land. He was obsessed with accounts from captured Inuit’s in the latter saga about inhabitants of Hvítramannaland […]
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