cover image Coronation Everest

Coronation Everest

James Morris, Jan Morris. Burford Books, $14.95 (150pp) ISBN 978-1-58080-047-1

More than 29,000 feet above sea level amid the desolation and frost of the Himalayas looms the sublime summit of Mount Everest, the very top of the world. Special correspondent for the London Times and an eyewitness to the climb, Morris (then James Morris) recounts Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's famous ascent of the mountain. The first climb ever to reach the top of Everest culminated on May 29, 1953, two days before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II--a truly royal gift for the young monarch. The quest begins in isolated Katmandu and trudges steadily eastward across the valley to the foot of Everest and upward to its pinnacle. First published in England in 1958, Morris's narrative is at times guilty of a certain sentimentalism redolent of postwar, postcolonial Britain; nevertheless it transcends its era. In vivid language and sharp detail, Morris describes the events and individuals of the historical trek. Her insightful and lively reflections on local customs and food, fauna and flora are interspersed with quiet musing on the Sherpa people and her own curiosity about the mythical Abominable Snowman. Occasionally sullied by the more down-to-earth concern over competing, news-pilfering reporters--hell-bent on snatching the story from right under her nose--Morris's ruminations oscillate between terror and beauty, ultimately surpassing laconic reporting to achieve virtuosity. At first, the author speculates as to why anyone would attempt such a formidable exploit, but her skepticism gives way to hope, and the endeavor, ostensibly that of a few adventurous souls, becomes that of all of humanity. (Apr.)