In comments on some of the Song of Ice and Fire posts, folks suggested having a book club over here. I’d read something at a reasonable pace, write a series of substantive posts about it, and open up discussion. Are people interested? I had a huge amount of fun with that series, and would happily taken on another series or book that y’all either thought I should read, or would enjoy having a discussion space for. If you’d want in, chime in with recommendations in comments, and I’ll set up a poll next week to determine what we should start with. If you guys want to do this, that is.
So, while I was in Alaska, I basically read nothing but Dudely Adventure Stories: The Passage (kind of), Into The Wild, Into Thin Air, Eiger Dreams, Endurance (which is a completely and utterly amazing work of narrative history, highly, highly recommended even if you have no interest in polar exploration or survivalism), and Underground. It was an interesting mental diversion. I like hiking and camping, though they’re not necessarily my first leisure activities of choice, but I have absolutely no desire to undertake risky mountain climbing or need to credential myself, either internally or externally, about surviving in the wild. I think geographic exploration is interesting, but I understand it in my generation to be largely over, there is no West I can set out for, no gold in them thar hills. I have a hard time understanding anyone who needs to prove themselves through those kinds of risks.
The house I was staying in, though, is owned by a serious mountain climber, and so as I got through some of the other climbing literature, I ended up reading some of Above the Clouds, a book published posthumously by Anatoli Boukreev, one of the climbing guides on one of the teams that met with disaster in 1996. His account is actually relatively consistent with Krakauer’s, I think, with the exception of explanations of how he felt climbing without supplemental oxygen, which I’m inclined to believe because, after all, they were his lungs. And I like Boukreev’s explanation of why he climbed: “Mountains are not Stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion…I go to them as humans go to worship. From their lofty summits I view my past, dream of the future and, with an unusual acuity, am allowed to experience the present moment…my vision cleared, my strength renewed. In the mountains I celebrate creation. On each journey I am reborn.” I’m glad I get my own version of that clarity closer to the ground, but it made me think of serious climbing as less something you’re trying to prove or achieve and more something that people get something truly profound out of.
So, I finished up the second series of Doctor Who over the weekend, and had a good cry at the end of “Doomsday,” which SPOILER ALERT, got me thinking a bit about what’s artistically sadder: love that’s lost or that’s never realized?
I think part of what hurts so much about Rose’s separation from the Doctor is that they do both deeply love each other, but they only realize that love in a limited way. They’re physically comfortable around each other for much of the time they’re together, and they enjoy each others’ companionship, but they don’t actually kiss, except for once that we see, they don’t get to make love, even though they have what seems to be a strong physical attraction, and they never have the emotional comfort of the mutual acknowledgement of their affection for each other. They’re denied all of those things, even though they would have come at comparatively low risk: Rose and the Doctor hurt each other, sometimes, but they probably could have been happy together for as long as Rose’s “forever” lasted.
Would it have been more emotionally wrenching for them to experience some of those additional joys, before they were separated or Rose died? I can’t decide, either in this instance, or as a general rule, if the heartbreak of loss is worse. Does the pain of being denied happiness once you’ve experienced it outweigh the good of that experience? I’m just not sure. Certainly unacknowledged love causes a certain amount of discomfort for invested viewers that gives us a small stake in the frustration the characters themselves experience, where we can’t experience their heartbreak in the same way. So perhaps thwarted romances are more artistically effective for a certain kind of long-running audience.
A side note: having started the third series, but only just, I’m not sure I want to watch the show without Rose. Maybe that’s the wrong reaction. I understand that the show’s about the Doctor, the companions are supposed to be our way in. But I love her, and how far she’s come. I wish Rose Tyler: Earth Defence had gotten a shot.