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Fatal Passage: The Story of John Rae, the…

Fatal Passage: The Story of John Rae, the Arctic Hero Time Forgot (2001)

by Ken McGoogan

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An enjoyable book in two parts. The first covers Rae's early life and in some detail his various Arctic expeditions. The second documents his subsequent life and the battles against Victorian English society. It's a book about an egalitarian versus the establishment with the backdrop being the North West Passage and all what that meant to Britain and its Empire. Although all the conflict occurs in the second part of the book perhaps the more enjoyable part was the first. Here we learn of Rae's prodigious abilities and his forward thinking in adapting to the ways of the natives. For example the use of snowshoes and igloos when these were still regarded (particularly by the Royal Navy) as the ways of backward savages and not appropriate for civilised men. The writing was good enough to have me feeling part of these expeditions to the frozen north. No small feat as I read this book while sunning myself by a pool in Tenerife. ( )
  Lord_Boris | Feb 21, 2017 |
A fascinating story of John Rae, Canadian explorer who found remains of the Franklin Expedition and publish accounts of the cannibalism the lost members were forced to endure. ( )
  ShelleyAlberta | Jun 4, 2016 |
This is a highly readable account of John Rae, the indefatigable explorer of the Arctic who discovered the first significant proof of what happened to the ill-fated Franklin expedition to the Northwest Passage. However, his report was not welcomed in the UK because the Admiralty refused to credit the accounts of the Inuit, especially when they claimed that they had found evidence of cannibalism. Rae was subsequently discredited, never received a knighthood despite others with lesser accomplishments receiving that honour, and was proven right only in the early 20th century. Rae is simultaneously awe-inspiring and irritating by his sheer physical prowess. He thinks nothing of walking 40 miles round-trip in snowshoes, and walks from Hamilton to Toronto to give a lecture and shows no signs of tiredness. He hauls more than his fair share of the loads on his various surveying expeditions, is a talented boatbuilder and skipper, and quickly masters the art of snowhouse building. But it is thanks to him that we have a lot of our initial information about the Northwest Passage, and of course knowing what happened to Franklin. He is well worth reading about, as is the part of the book where Lady Franklin orchestrates her campaign to discredit him -- she is a formidable adversary.

Recommended if you're interested in Canadian history and geographical exploration. Would go nicely with Pierre Berton's The Arctic Grail, a book about the Franklin expedition, or a book about Roald Amundsen's journey to the Northwest Passage -- Amundsen adopts Rae's approach of living off the land and working closely with the Inuit to help him and his crew survive. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Mar 19, 2016 |
I generally love polar expedition stories, but I didn't particularly enjoy Ken McGoogan's "Fatal Pasage: The True Story of John Rae, the Arctic Hero Time Forget." In a way, I understood why time forgot Rae as his story, at least told by McGoogan, isn't terribly interesting.

The book is pretty dry and the most interesting bits about Rae come at the tail end of the book. I think the book needed to be totally restructured to make it a lot more interesting.

Rae, a prodigious walker, organized several expeditions in the Arctic, several with the design of looking for the lost Franklin expedition, which disappeared while searching for the Northwest Passage. Rae never finds the expedition itself, but finds relics and speaks with Eskimos who provide information that pinpoint where remains of about 40 members of the expedition can be found. However, Rae's conclusions about the expedition upset Lady Jane Franklin so much that she set out to destroy his reputation.

All this would be fairly interesting reading but it makes up such a small portion of the book. There is a ton of less interesting detail to wade through in order to get to the meat of the story. ( )
1 vote amerynth | Dec 6, 2011 |
McGoogan's Lady Franklin's Revenge was not the first Franklin book I read but it was the northern lights of my early polar reading and lit up my interest in the story of the lost Franklin Expedition. Somewhat ironic to read this one first and then his earlier John Rae biography (the first book in McGoogan’s “Fatal Passage Quartet”) There is something to be learned about the author in doing so for I think it is readily apparent how much of Lady Franklin's story and life and personality he learned, and dislike he had to set aside. And dislike is perhaps a mild phrase for the impression he leaves of her in Fatal Passage for what she did to Rae. But the book is about Rae, who truly was a great, heroic explorer that time forgot. McGoogan chronicles the vast amount of territory that Rae charted - no one had charted nearly as much territory and no non-Inuit had travelled as much by foot - including as McGoogan puts it, the final link in the fabled (if somewhat fictional) “North West Passage”.

McGoogan writes history, particularly historical biography, in the way I like to read it: a strong and clear narrative voice and point of view, but chock full of primary sources that anchor it, giving it weight, making it convincing. Fatal Passage is not nearly as polished as Lady Franklin's Revenge, nor does it dig or divulge as much directly from Rae's own writing as with his later biography and much of McGoogan's personal opinion seems to come out a bit too much, but it is a compelling read, great storytelling and even a good bit of suspense and drama to keep you engaged. For the Arctic and the Franklin enthusiast, this is definitely on the must read list.
  TedBetts | Mar 3, 2011 |
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Dedicated to:
Sheena, Carlin, and Keriann
(my travelling companions)
and to:
Phyllis and Louis
(who sent me forth)
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In June 1833, in the rugged Orkney Islands of northern Scotland, a restless, energetic young ship's doctor stood on the deck of a weather-beaten fur-trading vessel as it sailed out of STromness harbor.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0786711566, Paperback)

In the spring of 1854, John Rae, a Scottish immigrant to Canada, led a small party of explorers across the Boothia Peninsula to map the missing link in the fabled Northwest Passage. That signal accomplishment, along with Rae's other contributions to Canadian and world geography, should have earned him glory. Instead, Ken McGoogan tells us, Rae faded from the record.

Rae's trouble, McGoogan writes, came from unpleasant reports that he filed about the fate of an earlier expedition, led by Sir John Franklin, whose remains he discovered along the way. Lost "in a hummocky wasteland of yawning crevasses and ten-foot pressure ridges assailed by blizzards and blowing snow," the unfortunate party--or so Inuit hunters reported to Rae--resorted to eating the dead. The news scandalized Victorian society, drawing vigorous objections from none other than Charles Dickens, who argued that proper British heroes were incapable of such acts and had to have been done in by the Inuit themselves. Rae, the messenger, was effectively killed by the tidings he brought, and written out of the history books. In this insightful and adventure-packed book, McGoogan restores Rae's name to the long roster of heroes of Arctic exploration. --Gregory McNamee

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:44 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Rae (1813-93) was the only major British Arctic explorer never to receive a knighthood. His error, says Calgary-based novelist McGoogan, was that when he returned to London in the middle 1850s, from his explorations across what would become northern Canada, he brought tragic news of the long-lost expedition led by Sir John Franklin and so brought on his head the vilification of such powers as Lady Franklin and Charles Dickens.… (more)

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