The characterization in this book is great. Lansing describes Shackleton in great detail, and it is clear Shackleton is a superb leader. When motivating the crew to pack up and leave camp to proceed west, Shackleton tells his men that they can celebrate Christmas before they leave with a feast. At first, I thought of this as a thoughtful act, but then I realized it was a pragmatic act. I came to trust Shackleton’s leadership skills because I was being told about them from a third party, Lansing, and the crew. Quoting a member of the crew, Lansing writes, “He was, as one of his men put it, ‘the greatest leader that ever came on God’s earth, bar none’” (p. 13). In addition to developing Shackleton, Lansing develops the personalities of the rest of the crew. In describing the surgeon on crew, Lansing quotes the surgeon directly writing, “…when Shackleton asked him why he was wearing glasses: ‘Many a wise face would look foolish without spectacles’” (p. 17). Lansing gained my trust by illustrating the crew’s own voices.
What makes a good adventure narrative? In my opinion, “Endurance” is the best adventure narrative we have read thus far because of the themes that run through the text. Lansing conveys the idea that adventure is greater than man—greater than one single leader. Shackleton and his leadership skills are the focal point of the text, but not the main theme because Shackleton is not described in isolation from the rest of the crew. His success relies on the success of the crew, which is conveyed in the writing of the text. A good adventure narrative is one that pulls out the important message of a story—an adventure—that people can relate to and conveys that message to the reader from as many perspectives as possible. In this case, the main theme revolves around challenge and teamwork, or overcoming a challenge through teamwork.
Obviously, there are always issues with adventure narratives. In this case, Lansing is drawing from people’s private diaries, which poses an issue, and readers can always question the facts as they are presented to us in the text. However, facts don’t matter much to me as long as the message is true. The underlying message in all these texts seems to be that adventure is greater than man because we privilege texts that incorporate multiple perspectives and a certain degree of reflection. We critique the one man or woman who writes for not incorporating other’s views. We critique Herzog for his every-man-for-himself leadership style. However, while adventure is greater than man, it is also an individual experience. It is my opinion that the best texts—like “Endurance”—capture both of these things.