Tuesday 27 August 2013

Paths of Glory

Do you like adventure? A beautiful love story? A British accent?
If the answer to all three (or even just one or two) is yes, then you have to read this book. Or better still, listen to it. I have done both, and both experiences were highly enjoyable - but Roger Allam, the reader of the audiobook, enriches the story tenfold with his warm, appealing voice and soft British accent. Take a listen:

Aaah, I could listen to him for hours! Don't you?

Jeffrey Archer is one of my favourite authors. I have read many of his books (to name a few: First Among Equals; Kane and Abel; A Prisoner of Birth; The Clifton Chronicles) and enjoyed them all, but this one is amongst my top 3.
Paths of Glory is based on the true story of George Mallory, a remarkable man who loved two women in his life - and was killed by one of them.

George Mallory (source)
He was one of the most accomplished climbers of all time, and it was his life's ambition to become the first man standing on top of the earth - on Mount Everest.
When asked why, Mallory famously answered: "Because it is there."

Mount Everest, "goddess of the earth" (Chomolungma in Tibetan, which is how George referred to it) is the highest mountain on earth at 8,848m above sea level. 
Mount Everest (source)
Mallory attempted the assault three times, and was last seen in 1924, 600 feet from the top. Nobody knows for sure if he made it to the summit or not.

Here is a short video that I found on YouTube; I believe it is part of the film The Epic of Everest that was made by a member of the 1924 expedition, John Noel.

George Mallory's body was found 75 years later, bleached to alabaster, with his right tibia and fibula broken and right elbow dislocated. The team who found him searched his pockets for one important item: A photograph of his beloved wife Ruth that he had vowed to leave on the summit.

Ruth and George (source)
But despite his wallet and papers being intact, the photo wasn't found.

Does that mean that Mallory and his climbing partner Sandy Irvine made it to the top, 29 years before the official conquest of Everest?
(Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay are the official first men reaching the summit in 1953.)

It is one of the great mysteries of mountaineering that will likely never be solved.

Base camp: Irvine and Mallory, back row left (source)
But let me start at the beginning:
Mallory was born in 1886 in England. His parents discovered early on that their son was special: He seemed to have no fear whatsoever. Little George was fascinated by heights: He climbed on rocks, roofs, hills - whatever highest point he could find. The older he got, the more intense became his passion.

As a young man visiting Paris he allegedly climbed the Eiffel Tower, and shortly after that scaled St. Mark's Basilica in Venice to impress his future wife Ruth.

The love story of Ruth and George is wonderful. It is one of the main focal points of the story and describes a deep, true love and great romance. They adored each other and wrote long letters to each other when they were apart; leaving Ruth was incredibly hard for George, but his obsession with his "lady" Everest was greater.

That obsession killed him at the age of 37.

But to Mallory, I think it was a price worth paying. He once said:
“So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.”  

Here is an excellent video where the Anthropologist Wade Davis describes the mindset of the men that lived during and after World War I; what made them crave going on this big, dangerous adventure.

I find it fascinating to learn about people with such wild dreams.
Who so much believe in themselves that they attempt the seemingly impossible.

Even though I would never willingly risk my life, I would like to be more like these adventurers: brave, inspired, daring.
Just as Mallory said:
"What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life."

xo Miriam

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