cover image The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule

The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule

Joanna Kavenna, . . Viking, $24.95 (294pp) ISBN 978-0-670-03473-4

The fourth-century B.C. Greek explorer Pytheas claimed to have sailed six days from Scotland and discovered a land he named Thule. From Pytheas's brief, oft-disputed account of a land of short winter days where the sea turned into a viscous mass sprang an entire mythology of a magical, northern realm hidden beyond the edges of civilization. Kavenna's discursive book takes a thoughtful stroll through the different myths of Thule, examining how it became symbolic of everything from the Victorians' lost Arcadia to a polluted fantasy of racial purity for the proto-Nazi Thule Society. Kavenna, who's written for the Guardian and other British papers, follows the mark of Thule from the beer halls of Munich to the imagined Thules of the Shetland Islands, Iceland, Greenland and beyond. While frequently rhapsodic in regard to the epic landscapes, Kavenna resists the urge to attach too much import to her travels, not forcing the mythological on the everyday (unlike many Thule hunters, including fantasist Richard Burton). Although Kavenna's voyages don't solve the mystery as such, they provide fodder for a bracing account of humankind's dream of exploration and of the explorers "determined to discover, to shade in the blanks on the maps." (Feb. 6)