Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I'm back.......Blue Latitudes

Well, the semester is over, I have a few weeks to do other projects, apply for jobs, and consider the future. In the meantime, I thought that it might also be nice to catch up on some of the blogging projects I wanted to share, some extending back several months now. A few I'm not even sure what I was thinking at the time now! So we'll see if those make it into print.

A book I've mentioned here before, or at least alluded to, is a good place to begin. And guess what? It isn't even Medieval related. Now how do you like that? Back a few years ago, my favorite spouse read a book that she just *loved* and kept trying to get me to read in my copious amounts of spare time. It finally became the book to read when all was said and done and everything turned in. And so finally last May
after the diss was turned in, the semester of new preps as an adjunct was done, I finally picked up Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz.

The premise is that Horwitz, then living in Australia, his wife's native land, is interested in Capt. James Cook, European explorer and traveler of the late 18th century. So Horwitz conceives of the idea of following in Cook's footsteps, at least to a limited degree, and he enlists the aid of his friend Roger, a Yorkshire transplant to Australia.

Horwitz weaves biography, travelogue, history, and a bit of anthropology into a narrative that relates his adventures retracing Cook's footsteps. The book bounces back and forth between the past and the present, cites Cook's log books and other primary texts from the voyages, as well as relating his own experiences of meeting and interviewing people (mainly in the Pacific) about their opinions of Cook. Hailed by some as the greatest explorer in history and national hero to reviled as the first conquistador who brought to the Pacific all the ills that continue to plague the indigenous peoples there, the reactions to Cook and his legacy are legion. Some seek to revive his reputation, others would prefer to consign him to the rubbish heap.

A slight medieval connection beyond those already made in previous posts, is the rather fascinating, almost hagiographical zeal, with which Horwitz seeks to find some actual, real, physical connection with the explorer. Yes, a good part of the book is spent seeking real artifacts from the Explorer himself. And shockingly for being so recent, the search is all but vain: his ships are long gone, his homes torn down or destroyed and new buildings established in their stead. Yet, in each locale of focus (Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Alaska, Hawaii, Yorkshire), the search for some connection to the explorer occupies some time and attention. Even an attempt to find Cook's remains, possibly laid to rest among the Hawaiian kings in their pre-Christian site, is attempted though weather and terrain thwart the effort. But this minor part of the book really does resound with me as a kind of search for some connection to the saints: bones, remains, artifacts, to connect to the person and the past.

Horwitz is an entertaining writer and this book is well researched. The book clocks in at 450 pages or so, and only drags in a couple of spots. It is an engaging and interesting narrative and hits on several important issues. Well worth picking up.


Steve Muhlberger said...


A picture taken from a plane near Hawaii. There are plenty more on the Web

Steve Muhlberger said...

Maybe easier to use: