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Guest Post: Antarctica – Harsh Beauty in a Fragile Landscape

A photograph of a penguin in Antarctica

Midge Raymond’s book, The Last Continent, which I’ll be reviewing next week, is full of information about Antarctica that, reading her story as well as a couple of articles she had written (I like to research books when possible) led to questions. Chief of these is how Raymond came to know about Antarctica and why she chose to write about it. I’m happy to welcome her to talk on the subject today as an introduction before we get to the book itself. (Photographs courtesy of the author.)

The Last Continent was inspired by my own visit to Antarctica more than a decade ago, on a small expedition ship very much like the Cormorant in the novel. During the journey, two things stuck with me. One was the concern of the shipboard naturalists about the larger cruise ships, carrying thousands of passengers, that were venturing farther and farther south, which was troubling to them because if something were to happen to one of those ships, rescuers could be days away. Given the extreme weather conditions and the distance from hospitals, this is an incredible risk. So I began to wonder what a catastrophic shipwreck in this region would look like.

Penguin in Antarctica

The other thing that stuck with me was seeing a fellow passenger fall on the ice near a penguin colony. He got right up and was perfectly fine – but seeing this happen reinforced the notion that, at the bottom of the world, you are at the mercy of the conditions and of the few people who are with you.

And of course, the beauty of Antarctica and its wildlife affected me deeply, especially the penguins and their fight for survival as the climate warms. Due to warming oceans as well as over-fishing, penguins have to travel farther for food, which puts them at risk and also means that, during the breeding season, they may not make it back in time to feed their hungry chicks. The storms caused by climate change can also freeze eggs or drown young chicks who don’t have the insulation adult penguins do.

Among the many reasons I wrote The Last Continent was to show how much Antarctica needs our attention and protection. It’s an icy wonderland that is unlike any place else on the planet, and it needs humans to understand its importance and to ensure it doesn’t melt away.

Have you read any books set in/about Antarctica?

Midge Raymond

Midge Raymond’s previous work includes two books about becoming an author; she has also written short stories. Her twitter handle is @MidgeRaymond.



July 24, 2016, 2:31 am

My mom always wanted to go to Antarctica. It has an appeal, because it is not well-traveled, I guess. I have never been interested in traveling below the equator, though!

However, several years ago, when I discovered Madeleine L’Engle’s nonfiction works, I read Penguins and Golden Calves. It is the story of her trip to Antarctica at age 74. It is also a reflection on some themes of Christianity, in particular the difference between idols and icons that frankly illuminated my life.

I still don’t think I want to travel there, but I would certainly read another work about it, so I look forward to your review.


August 23, 2016, 1:33 pm

Laurie: That’s interesting! Why the disinterest?

Antarctica at 74, that takes some guts! I like the sound of that Christianity aspect, it’s one of the divides that are most prominent yet. All that iconoclasm in history.



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