Monday, March 10, 2014

Softcore Mountaineering

The greatest contribution that The Eiger Sanction lends to a fuller perspective of mountaineering literature is transparency to the questions of “why write about mountains,” and “what’s to be gained by writing about mountains?” In their simplest, most one-dimensional forms, mountains represent settings. It is to this basic degree that Trevanian uses the Eiger in his novel. Clearly, Trevanian saw more potential in his mountain than just a stage; I predict that he was drawn to the topic of mountaineering based on a perceived guarantee of adventure, masculinity, and overcoming odds that high altitude mountain climbing provides. Unfortunately, under such a pretense, the spy-action-orgy-thriller plot diminishes the mountain into little more than a tawdry background. I felt shorthanded by the use of the Eiger as a prop to increase the stakes of an irrelevant storyline. It perversely reminds me of the current trend in cinema to make up for hollow plots with extra dimensions. Despite my evident reproach for the simplistic role of the mountain in this adventure novel, I am enjoying reading it in the mindset of a self-satisfied armchair-enthusiast. It has not transcended beyond its pages for me, and therefore offers a fresh approach to climbing literary mountains that flourishes in the shallows of entertainment.


  1. I love your last sentence - the interpretation of the mountain is super interesting and this book does provide "a fresh approach to climbing literary mountains that flourishes in the shallows of entertainment." This is a really cool way of phrasing the potential purpose of the novel. I think it is definitely one of the more "entertaining" books we've read this semester, but is that because it is fiction? We touched on this a little in class and I think it's something I definitely wonder about more with your post. I disagree, however, that the mountain's value is diminished, as it seems to be used as a tool for the readers to further understand the plot and the characters. I understand your concern that it is adding a potentially unnecessary dimension to the storyline, yet I would question the mountain's necessity for the storyline to take hold as it does. How would the novel resonate with the absence of the mountain?

  2. While you may criticize Trevanian's use of the mountain to add filler to the plot of this novel, using the mountain to make the whole spy thriller plot more exciting may also be part of the satirical nature of this novel. Almost every James Bond and Indiana Jones movie I can think of takes place in an exotic and thrilling location, which definitely adds to the sometimes thin plots. In fact, some of my favorite parts of these movies have been the uniqueness of their locations such as the ice hotel in "Die Another Day." Consequently, I think Trevanian is using a setting as ridiculous as the Eiger to promote the quality of satire throughout his novel because, really, even a James Bond or Indiana Jones movie wouldn't take place on so extreme and formidable a location. The chances of the hero dying would be too great and too reasonable.

  3. I also believe that the novel introduces us more clearly to the idea that we are climbing literary mountains but I don't think that the mountain itself is useless to the narrative. I think that it gives the perfect setting in order to demonstrate that the final sanction is both emotionally and physically exhausting.The mountain seems to provide something that another setting wouldn't have provided. As we have seen in our previous readings of mountaineering narratives, the mountain is a tool for self-reflection and each climb changes the climber. I believe that the mountain is meant to represent a shift in Hemlock's life.