The Ice Museum

The Ice Museum by Joanna Kavenna

Book: The Ice Museum by Joanna Kavenna Read Free Book Online
Authors: Joanna Kavenna
inside it, and an empty car parked by a stream. I walked to the edge of Britain, once the last land of the world. The moss was a cold green shade, spectral in the half-light, and the stark cliffs rose to empty grass plains. As the evening fell I stood on the empty cliff, looking at the sea stretching away towards the horizon. A frigid wind raced in from the sea. There was a brilliant, wine-rich sunset.

ANOTHER WORLD
    BY A ROUTE OBSCURE AND LONELY
 
HAUNTED BY ILL ANGELS ONLY
 
WHERE AN EIDOLON, NAMED NIGHT,
ON A BLACK THRONE REIGNS UPRIGHT,
I HAVE REACHED THESE LANDS BUT NEWLY
 
FROM AN ULTIMATE DIM THULE
 
FROM A WILD WEIRD CLIME THAT LIETH, SUBLIME
OUT OF SPACE . . . OUT OF TIME!
    Â 
“DREAMLAND,” EDGAR ALLAN POE (1809-1849)
    Â 
I left this outpost of my country, this luminescent set of islands, and travelled further north. It was an inevitable momentum. The idea of Thule expanded with the maps. As knowledge of the north increased, so the ends of the world shifted, and a land beyond the limits of the known world had to move with changes in cartography. It was a story about unbounded curiosity; as new northern lands were found, so Thule was reapplied, sometimes for rhetorical effect, sometimes from a sense that a recent discovery must be the last land, the mysterious land sighted by Pytheas. The idea of Thule was entwined with mysteries and gaps. It was intriguing to imagine Pytheas arriving in a northern land, finding a midnight sun, and sailing home. But it was an act of imagination even to think about Pytheas’s journey; from the surviving fragments it was hardly possible to say for certain where Thule might have been. Any discussion of Thule as a particular place was an elaborate piece of reconstruction. It was like rebuilding an ancient temple from a few scattered stones. A hypothetical version of Thule could run along, certain of a few things, plunging into vagaries on others. Thule was a land where the sun shone through the summer nights, and where the winters were dark. It might have been near a congealed ocean, or near a sluggish ocean, or near a frozen ocean. It might have been a place inhabited by barbarians of some sort, though this was uncertain. It might have been six days’ sail north of Britain, but this could have meant due north, or north-east, or north-west, and Pytheas had previously found it difficult to calculate distances with accuracy. It was a land with a curious array of qualities—not exactly like anywhere, but redolent of many places. All the lands of the north contained elements of Thule—from Shetland to Svalbard. Even as I travelled, they were lands still valued for their beauty and emptiness. Pure in parts, with the soft sunshine gleaming across their ancient rocks.
    For the Victorians on their steamers, Shetland was hardly a contender. Iceland was the only plausible Thule. They stayed stubbornly on their ships, passing the Faroe Islands in a flurry of excitement, pointing out the turf houses of Tórshavn and admiring the great circling crowds of seabirds. Then they waited for Iceland to appear on the horizon. Mrs. Alec Tweedie, William Morris, Anthony Trollope, Sir Richard Burton, understood that the rough outline of the north was almost complete, the pencil lines were convening on the maps. But they wanted Ultima Thule to be a land unlike any other, a land weird enough for a mystery lasting thousands of years. They imagined travelling to Thule as a ride to a Gothic Utopia. They travelled with Edgar Allan Poe in mind, reciting his fantasy verse on the theme of Thule:
    Â 
I HAVE REACHED THESE LANDS BUT NEWLY 

FROM AN ULTIMATE DIM THULE 

FROM A WILD WEIRD CLIME THAT LIETH, SUBLIME
OUT OF SPACE . . . OUT OF TIME!
    They wanted to see nature in its weirdest outfits, performing its most hysterical tantrums and fits. In the lands of the Icelandic Thule, the eternal works of nature were grotesque, and scarcely even eternal. The land shifted

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