Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Across Lapland - A Vintage Penguin Travel & Adventure

The cerise Penguin cover indicates the book is a Travel & Adventure story. They are a great coloured cover and the stories are non fiction generally based on some pretty amazing feats people have achieved.

Vintage Penguin No. 226, published 1939
Across Lapland is written by English woman Olive Murray Chapman. Although it was originally published in 1932, Penguin published it in 1939.

Ms. Chapman, an English woman decided she wanted to take a reindeer across Lapland in the Arctic. The places she covered went from Narvick in Norway, to Kiruna in Sweden and across to Kautokeino, Karasiok to Alta, Bossekop and finishing at Hammerfest in Finmark (the name at the time).

Her plan was to cross this area in the winter/spring by herself with a team of reindeer and one guide. The time was the winter/spring of 1931.

According to the description by Penguin, the "object of her journey was to study the life of the primitive nomad Lapps, and to obtain a pictorial record of the people and their customs. She travelled with a still camera as well as a  moving picture camera and upon her return the pictures were shown before the Royal Geographic Society, which at the time would have been quite an honour especially for a woman.
The reindeer and sledges coming in at night with supplies
before the journey begins.
The book contains several of her black and white photos.
Amidst many discouraging remarks from everyone who heard of her proposed quest, she was successful and   completed a very remarkable journey in some incredibly daunting winter weather as well as shoddy accommodation.
I enjoyed this story. I am a great travel reader and the more arduous the journey the more I am attracted to the story. Explorers in this time period were not filmed for television nor did they travel with support crews and photographers that helped them with the creature comforts of home. (Think Charley & Ewan).
A night's accommodation after a snow storm.

I often gravitate to books about travellers, especially women who do remarkable trips walking, bicycling, motorbiking around the world in remote and dangerous places.  I like to travel as much as the next person but some of the trips I read about I am far happier to live vicariously through the pages of an old book. The Penguin books were great to curl up with on a rainy day to enjoy the adventure.

I found a great deal of the book enjoyable but got a bit bored when she would write endlessly about a costume someone wore and I cringed at times when she would barge into a wedding with her Woolworth necklaces to accost the bride, throwing her gift over their head in the midst of a procession.
Inside the night's accommodation on the trail.
Can be shared with several others. Bunk slats built into
the wall.

Although her journey was brave, I found her quite irritating at times. I don't know if it was the way she wrote her story, her expectations of the people around her or just the way she seemed to assume that everyone was delighted to see this English woman come into their remote lifestyle.   She struggled with some of the food, mainly lightly cooked to raw reindeer meat boiled in water. She seemed to eat a lot of boiled eggs and drink heaps of tea. Although she often had coffee offered to her she said it tasted kind of funny and preferred her tea.

Her trip to the journey's beginning aboard some of the ships she had to take were adventure enough for me and sounded far harsher at times than the actual journey across the arctic in her fur wraps and galloping reindeer.
Women marry a man with 1000 reindeer for wealth if they can.

I guess my own philosophy is if you're in somebody else's culture and they offer you their food and drink you oblige as part of respecting what you are being given especially when people have so little. Most of the time she would oblige but sometimes I did think, "Don't be so damn fussy. Put it in your mouth and swallow". "

She was quite sensitive to photographing her subjects although it was not unusual when visiting a new village that she might hide behind a shed of some sort or in a doorway to get photos without being seen.

I often had pictures in my mind of her running from tree to tree like the Loony Tunes do in cartoons, only to peer around one, snap the photo before darting off to the next tree.
Preparing for the day's journey.

There also seems to be a writing style at that period for travel writers that much of their writing is as though they are writing for a text. Very dry observations are recorded about food, clothing, customs and behaviours.  I wanted to know more about the people, how they reacted (besides, "she was very shy") and how she communicated with them. Maybe more of a point of view of how they felt about someone coming into their domain recording them as though they were lab rats.

Perhaps I am being too harsh but often I could not warm to her as I often do to other very early travellers. I did learn a great deal about early Lapland from this trip and I admired her respect for the people and animals.
She didn't seem to address her planning for this trip much and considering she was in weather of more than 50 degrees below zero F, I am surprised she fared as well as she did. Her guides were wonderful and she would have definitely perished had it not been for them.
Trading at the twice yearly Bossekop market

The scenery was stunning and very well described. I could see the snowy tundra, forests and hear the wolf calls as though I was there. I could feel her fear at times whilst bounding through the storms of snow making visibility non existent.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in wilderness travelling but it would be fun to have a good old laugh at some of her antics with someone who has read it, in front of a fireplace, with a hot cup of tea.

Once again the cerise Penguin does not disappoint.

From pg. 27: I was allotted a berth in a tiny cabin for three, with two other women, natives of Bossekop, one of whom already looked very ill. The port-hole was securely shut, the heating full on, and the close, unventilated air impregnated with a nauseating odour, which I found later proceeded from the bundles of goats'carcases on the deck above. ...........  I determined to make it (the night) a short one, so after supper, consisting of eggs, salt bacon, dried fish, sardines and coffee, which I had with the captain and some of the merchants, I wrapped myself up as warmly as possible, and in spite of the cold, went for a stroll on deck, putting off the evil moment when I should be forced to return to the cabin with its depressed-looking occupants."

I particularly enjoyed the stories of the Lapps when they would "joik".

From pg. 75: "It was my first experience of this strange and ancient form of song, which is peculiar to the Lapps, and, although consisting of only four or five monotonous notes, can on occasions be very melodious. The words are usually composed on the spur of the moment and express the emotions of the singer, or tell of what he sees. A Lapp will often sing in praise of his reindeer and dogs, or of the warmth of the sun. At other times he will compose a song about his friends, and I was told an amusing story of a Lapp who had composed what sounded a very fine joik in honour of the Lensmann of his district. On the words being translated into Norwegian, they proved to be all about that gentleman's bald head!"

The descriptions of the scenery were always  my favourite part.

From pg. 115:  "The hours passed slowly by, and we met no one all day, until towards evening I saw some Lapps with reindeer and pulkas driving towards us. They proved to be a man and woman with a baby who, on reaching us, stopped for a chat with Johan (guide), while I delighted in the picture they  made. In the foreground were the group of reindeer and the Lapp mother who, in her furs and scarlet cap and shawl, was bending forward to rock her baby in its little skin cradle which was strapped into the front of her pulka, while Johan and the father smoking their pipes, stood quietly by talking, and throwing long blue shadows over the snow. In the background, and on either side of the great ice-bound lake over which we were travelling, were low ranges of hills whose snow covered slopes were tinged rose and purple from the setting sun, while the pale turquoise sky was streaked in the west with crimson and gold. The preceding long and weary hours were all forgotten as I drank in the glory of the scene before me, lost in wonder at the indescribable peace and beauty of it all." 
The Journey
(Click to enlarge map.)

This book applies to the Century of Books challenge 1932 (here)


  1. It was very primitive back then, but I guess they were used to it. Certainly not for me!

  2. She sounds very pushy! How very odd to be minding your own business in a quiet corner of the earth and then suddenly see her hove into view with her complaints and preferences and intentions of disturbing the wedding. I wonder if she was as bad back home? Perhaps her family quietly encouraged her to travel more...

  3. It does sound interesting though, even if you found her irritating. I love travel books - I read them because I'm such a terrible traveller that I rarely go anywhere!

  4. I'm not surprised you didn't warm to her. She sounds like a horror. if someone hid in doorways to take secret photo's of me, I'd thump them!

  5. I think you have to consider the aim of her trip and what a novelty it was. This was happening back in 1930. She did come back with some great photos. Haha, Pam


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