The Ice Museum

  • Illuminating and consequential...Her depictions are a wonderful mixture of the exact and the fanciful-much the way icebergs will assume shapes that blend the solid and the fantastic.

    The New York Review of Books

    Exceptionally readable... reminiscent of Lawrence Millman’s Last Places and Colin Thubron’s In Siberia... compelling... beautiful...

    The Times

    The Ice Museum is an account of a poetic tour through northern lands. It's also a history of ideas about remote Arctic places. As the narrator travels, strains from the past keep her company - centrally the classical idea of a land called Thule, a northern Atlantis, seen once and never found again. The route takes her through the lands that have been called Thule: from Shetland to Iceland, Norway, Estonia and Greenland.

    There are cameos from former travellers: Richard Burton, Anthony Trollope, W. H. Auden, and Fridtjof Nansen. There are dark moments: the Thule Society, founded after the First World War, had Adolf Hitler and Rudolf Hess amongst its members. The narrator reaches an isolated US military base called Thule; she finds Arctic poets, Inuit musicians and Polar scientists. Finally, she arrives at Svalbard, a beautiful archipelago at the edge of the frozen ocean.


    The Ice Museum is published in the UK by Penguin. It is also published by Penguin in the USA.

  • A fascinating travel book and a magnificent literary accomplishment. Joanna Kavenna’s accounts of her travels through northern Europe are always vivid and evocative, insightful and illuminating, and sometimes very amusing. But her writing is also informed by a profound knowledge of Nordic history, literature and myth. The result is a magical book about a magical land.

    Avi Shlaim

    A truly original debut: the sensitive exploration of a dark myth

    Colin Thubron

    An evocative account of crossing frontiers - geographical, cultural, political and personal.

    Timothy Garton Ash, Sunday Times

    Joanna Kavenna writes in many forms, and in many voices, beautifully, always convincingly: the literary essayist, the historian, the child, the memoirist, the social sketcher, and the travel writer. This is a brilliant debut, an important and unusual book about metaphors and myths can drive history.

    Robert Macfarlane

    A book for anyone who has ever been fascinated by ice landscapes and ice myths. I was captivated.

    Giles Foden

    On a journey notable for its many dangers and lack of creature comforts, Kavenna’s remarkable voyage takes her to those places once identified as Thule, including the Shetlands, Norway, Iceland, Greenland and, quite plausibly it turns out, Estonia. Exceptionally readable...reminiscent of Lawrence Millman’s Last Places and Colin Thubron’s In Siberia...compelling...beautiful...

    Paul Watson, Times

    The Ice Museum is neither travelogue nor essay but the expression of a heartfelt passion for dark myth and the far reaches of our imagination. Hers is a wonder voyage which never seems to tire; it has a ceaseless enchanting energy that washes over the reader as if from those restless seas. She is poetic, bold, and brave in language ... it’s an astoundingly self-assured debut. A sensitively poised, cherishable book.

    Benedict Allen, Independent on Sunday

    Wonderfully eloquent and compelling

    Jenny Diski, Guardian

    An involving, astonishing book of travels... Joanna Kavenna’s sense of place is exceptional

    Peter Davidson, Scotland on Sunday

    Beguiling...Her story sheds light on our growing knowledge of Earth and our persistent wish for something strange just beyond the horizon.

    Martin Ince, New Scientist

    Part diary, part detective story... an enchanting work that transcends conventional genres, full of poise and passion.

    Kelly Grovier, Observer

    A fascinating cultural history... The descriptions are truly poetic... Kavenna certainly has a feeling for snow... It is a book that coolly recommends itself to those who yearn for the North.


    An exciting and profound book...Kavenna relies on a formidable battery of skills ... as historian..., literary lyric celebrant, everywhere...To think about Thule is not just imaginatively exhilarating but a grave responsibility. And it is hard to envisage a more compelling or wiser guide than Joanna Kavenna to discharge it.

    Paul Binding, Spectator

    Atmospheric - Kavenna documents her journey, vividly describing encounters with wizened philosophers, walks across lava fields... with skill and passion


    Kavenna’s depictions of the natural world are worthy of Dorothy Wordsworth

    Mark Sanderson, Sunday Telegraph

    Beautiful, clever, ambitious, funny, well-observed...Kavenna’s gifted

    Nick Smith, Literary Review

    Kavenna’s book is part geographical history and part travelogue. Her ability to draw together the strands of the Thule myth is deft and entertaining.

    Time Out, London

    Luminously poetic, strange and magical

    Daily Mail

    [Kavenna] has a natural gift for descriptive writing and for delineating the character of the curious people she encounters on her travels. The reader is left wondering where the author hopes to go next, what further will-o’-the-wisp will attract her; but most of all he is left hoping he will be able to go with her and enjoy another such stimulating read. Fascinating.

    John Ure, Times Literary Supplement

    A rich alloy of history, culture and travel continues to supply a template for many inventive works of non-fiction. That mix crystallises beautifully in Joanna Kavenna’s journey through the past and present of Nordic lands, from Greenland to Estonia, in search of the legendary "Thule": The Ice Museum

    Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

    Joanna Kavenna’s The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule (Viking) is a most original book, both scholarly and adventurous. She blends fantasy with fact and shows how the culture of all countries arises from make-believe and wish-fulfilment.

    Michael Holroyd, The New Statesman

    Why not fling yourself into the chilly bliss of The Ice Museum and make joyous mental snow angels? Finally shortlisted for a first book award last month, Joanna Kavenna’s debut might have been in the running for more honours if it was easier to classify - partly a traveller’s journal, partly a literary essay, partly a long poem so exquisite that nobody could bring themselves to edit it.

    Celia Brayfield, The Times

    Luxuriously poetic descriptions of landscape are intercut with lively passages about endearingly patronising Victorian tourists, whose voracious appetite for excitement and strangeness led them to traipse doggedly across the Nordic territories. But what makes Kavenna’s account particularly enjoyable is the absence of machismo - there is no shortage of books recounting polar expeditions in every last grisly detail. By sparing us the manly-struggle-against-the-elements dimension, Kavenna allows more space for mental exploration, which is where Thule comes alive.

    Alex Heminsley, The Observer

    Kavenna has a deep empathy with ice and snow, and with the early history of the Arctic. Here is "the trans-European migration of the ruined and hopeful" across the seas to settle in Iceland and the President of Estonia, Lennart Meri, surrounded by books and memories...It is a fascinating book that makes you glad that Kavenna gave up her job and left seek this "potent symbol of empty lands and silence".

    Ross Leckie, The Times
  • Thule, real or not, is ripe and beguiling material for a literary and geographical adventurer, and Kavenna is formidable on both fronts. Her mission is also highly cerebral, as she ferrets out the literary references and the individuals, often wonderfully eccentric, who support a particular theory of the real Thule... Kavenna makes no apologies for being erudite - and in an age of flippant, self-indulgent travelogues, this in itself is refreshing... Though the Thule quest may now seem ancient, it is far from irrelevant. Kavenna bridges the transition like a master...

    Florence Williams, New York Times Book Review

    Joanna Kavenna’s The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule investigates the lore of Ultima Thule historically, chiefly through scholarship, and geographically, through her plucky wanderings in Nordic lands. Her pilgrimage begins in Scotland, and takes her to Iceland, Greenland, Norway, Denmark, Estonia, and-well above the Arctic Circle-Svalbard, the fjord-cut archipelago that used to be known as Spitsbergen. The prose reverberates as Kavenna sails up the west coast of Greenland through pack ice... [with] visions straight out of Wallace Stevens... Erudition broadens a seemingly narrow obsession into something illuminating and consequential... Her depictions [are] a wonderful mixture of the exact and the fanciful-much the way icebergs will assume shapes that blend the solid and the fantastic.

    Brad Leithauser, New York Review of Books

    A well-grounded, suspenseful history of a unique intersection of poetry and geography. In pursuing her passion, Kavenna discovers that the desires we project onto the unknown are always just out of reach.

    Jeanne Cooper, San Francisco Chronicle

    A chromatic, poised writer with an eye for evocative images. A lambent chronicle of wandering north and encountering an old idea brought forcibly into a new age.


    In a gorgeously written and unusual book, Kavenna chronicles her personal journey into the myth and reality of the legendary Arctic land of Thule... The Ice Museum transcends all genre description, and holds its own as a journey into a world that somehow vibrantly exists on paper and nowhere else.

    Colleen Mondor, Booklist

    In her captivating book The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule: , British author Joanna Kavenna brings the Thule myth to life, seamlessly combining elements of travelogue, detective story, and history book... Armed with intense curiosity, Kavenna struggles to get onto Greenland’s US-run Thule Air Base, joins the gregarious locals at the Thule Bar in Scotland’s Shetland Islands, and drinks coffee with the former president of Estonia. Oddly enough, the people who populate the book are even more fascinating than the chilly locations... One of the most intriguing characters is the young author herself, an intense and otherworldly scholar who even as a child dreamed of the North Pole and memorized the names of explorers... It’s hard to imagine a more enchanting tour guide or, for that matter, a more exotic trip.

    Randy Dotinga, Christian Science Monitor
  • Full extracts from a selection of reviews:

    1. The Ice Museum — Paul Watkins in the Times
    2. The Ice Museum — Paul Binding in the Spectator
    3. The Ice Museum — Benedict Allen in the Independent on Sunday

    Paul Watkins in the Times

    Not for nothing did the ancients of this island pray, with limited success, to be delivered from the fury of the Northman. In the ferocity of Viking raiders and the landscape from which they emerged lay the archetypal shock and awe. The Vikings shared with us, however, a fear and fascination of the land beyond their own ice-bordered settlements. They called it Thule and it was known not only to the Scandinavians but to the Romans and the Greeks as well. First sighted by Pythias in the 4th century BC, and described as a land of perpetual light followed by perpetual darkness, lying six days north of Scotland, its location and existence have been disputed ever since.

    Escaping from the confines of an urban life ("As spring broke across the grey-fronted houses, I knew I had to leave"), Joanna Kavenna joins the tribe of those restless spirits drawn to the outer reaches of the northern world. On a journey notable for its many dangers and lack of creature comforts, Kavenna's remarkable voyage takes her to those places once identified as Thule, including the Shetlands, Norway, Iceland, Greenland and, quite plausibly it turns out, Estonia. Travelling on foot, by train, seaplane, boat and helicopter, she encounters several Thule dreamers. Some, like Johannes the Icelandic poet ("I improvise in iambic pentameters"), are there because their people have been living in the North for centuries. Others, like the grizzled professor who speaks of Greenland as "a super-reality, a hyper-existent image of truth and destiny", have been lured by the same siren song as Kavenna herself. A few, like the two Scottish sisters whom she meets on a "smashed-up icebreaker" called the Aurora Borealis, are there because they have underestimated the North's "vista of emptiness... the vivid realisation of absence" and now cannot wait to get home. For this last group, no longer beguiled by, nor accustomed to, life on the outer reaches of the planet, the North is a terrible place, monochrome and barren, symbolising the opposite of what life is supposed to offer.

    Kavenna's odyssey also leads her south to Bavaria, birthplace of the crypto-fascist Thule Society. For members of the club, "wringing their hands about the dilution of the German spirit through the addition of non-Aryan elements to the population", the myth of Thule offered a purity in which their schemes of racial ideology could flourish. In Munich, where society members gathered at the Old Bar of the Four Seasons Hotel, Kavenna receives cryptic answers to her questions about the group. "Everything is in darkness," she is told by a 6ft-tall professor named Ursula. "It remains in darkness, it will always remain in darkness."

    Unlike the earlier explorations of Burton, Nansen and Rasmussen, whose search for Thule promised the chance of discovering an actual location on the map, Kavenna's walkabout through the murky borderlands between the real world and the world of the imagination offers no such possibility. Except for an American military base bearing the name, the actual location of Ultima Thule, as Virgil described it, will probably never be known, if it ever existed at all. But it is this very lack of final destination that makes Kavenna's story so compelling. In a style reminiscent of Lawrence Millman's Last Places and Colin Thubron's In Siberia, she vividly describes the landscape of the Shetlands ("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"), of Iceland ("a land like a disaster film, a natural gore flick - the country scattered with the innards of the earth") and of Greenland, where the waves of Melville Bay were "like eels trapped under tin foil and the water was silver in the pale light". This, combined with telling details of the journey's changing effects upon her, make for an exceptionally readable narrative.

    While the Earth's features have been satellite-imaged down to the smallest detail, some places have remained important to us for their ability to remain always beyond the horizon. To search for them is to embark upon a voyage both external and internal, whose prize is not a set of GPS co-ordinates but the journey itself, as Kavenna has so beautifully recorded in The Ice Museum.

    Paul Binding in the Spectator

    In the fourth century BC a Greek, Pytheas, sailed north of Britain and found (in some sense of the word) Thule, bequeathing to posterity not just a name but a cluster of possibilities, a concept, a mystery, a challenge, a goal. In Thule, he reported, the tides congealed, sea-water turning to paste; in winter the ocean round it froze, in summer the sun shone day and night. Britain's Roman conquerors thought Thule must be the island's north, so confirming them in their pride as unique masters of the physical world; Tacitus put Thule in the present-day Shetlands. But whatever island or country Thule is deemed to be, it has over the subsequent centuries become a synonym for northernness in all its layers of meaning, geographical, climatic, cultural, spiritual, even metaphysical. And it is both the purpose and the achievement of Joanna Kavenna's exciting and profound book to make us appreciate how immensely important to all our world-views northernness is. By our images of it and by the values we attach to them, we define ourselves.

    Thule or northernness can become a needed antidote to the softness and commercialism of elsewhere, the ultimate contrast to noise and busyness, and even to fecundity (which keeps us to this-worldliness). It offers prospects of enormous riches, but won't yield them to humankind without making it undergo gruelling hardships; no seductive oases, sportive beasts or glittering cities here. Thule stands for what is terrifying, indeed inimical in Nature, though seekers and finders, from dedicated Victorian travellers to its greatest hero and explorer Fridtjof Nansen, have been moved to the depths of their being by the beauty and majesty of northern mountains, fjords, ice-cap and floe- or berg-filled seas. Furthermore, wherever we locate Pytheas's discovery, the northern lands that contest for the name indubitably and indomitably exist, and by their existence influence the whole planet and its inhabitants, human and non-human.

    Joanna Kavenna not only gave the candidature for Thule intensive thought, she visited each of the islands concerned - Shetland, Norway, Iceland, Greenland, the Sami (Lappish) country, Svalbard (formerly Spitsbergen). Her travels often entailed a radical jettisoning of what her predecessors had thought or written; she had to read the places afresh, for herself, as they stand now, while remaining attentive to their past significance and to the still awesome strengths of their natural landscapes. She could rely on a formidable battery of skills - as historian, in teasing out the annexation of Thule by Nazi ideologues, both German and Norwegian; as literary critic, analysing the Kalevala to understand better the relationship between Lapps and Finns; as social observer, as in her portrait of US military men up in their Greenland Cold War base actually called 'Thule', as lyric celebrant, everywhere, but nowhere more memorably than in her depictions of Iceland.

    A particularly fascinating chapter deals with the one hypothesis about Thule that doesn't place it in the far north, but in the east of our continent, in Estonia. A meteorite falling on the island of Saaremaa may have brought about a trauma in the collective psyches of contemporary inhabitants and their successors. And the Estonian for fire is tuli. Kavenna's discourse here gives us a wonderfully clear and sympathetic account of how a myth can healingly be used by a small nation which has been through far too much and is now, with some difficulties of identity, finding its cultural and political feet.

    The book ends appropriately with the furthest northern community in the world, in Svalbard, of scientists deployed to analyse the contemporary decrease in cold and ice (hence Kavenna's cryptic title), tentatively proffering alarming data and explanations. To think about Thule, therefore, is not just imaginatively exhilarating (which it certainly is) but a grave responsibility. And it is hard to envisage a more compelling or wiser guide than Joanna Kavenna to discharge it.

    Benedict Allen in the Independent on Sunday

    Joanna Kavenna tells us how, tired of London, the Tube, the grey crowds, she lost the will to push herself forward. We can all sympathise, can we not? But she decided to exchange this 'endless sea of people' for a dark wasteland of the north.

    Strange to relate, she was following in a grand tradition of poets, men of destiny and dreamers. Her objective was Thule, the Atlantis of the Artic, the mysterious and unfortunately misplaced island of the ice seas. The Greek navigator Pytheas started it all, in the fourth century BC setting out north from the Mediterranean and finding Thule among seas which were six days beyond Britain. Here the land, although inhabited, was plunged into winter blackness, the ocean, skies and land congealed into a viscous mass, and Pytheas, wisely one feels, chose to circumvent this unpromising, seething, thickening ocean and set sail for home.

    The isle of Thule has been downright elusive ever since. As the ancient geographers went about plotting the rim of the known world they pondered where it might be. Great thinkers added their tuppence-worth. For Virgil, it was Ultima Thule, signifying remoteness and the very limit of the known. Strabo proclaimed Pytheas a fraud - plainly, Britain was the furthest inhabited land because there people lived in cold and misery. As the maps were filled in, Thule moved about. It was the Shetlands, it was Iceland, it was Norway. Or perhaps it was still out there, an elusive cold rock lost in the mists.

    Thule was helpful however; for poets the word evoked notions of isolation, the beauty and majesty of a Land Beyond. Yet, as Kavenna reminds us, it also sprung up from time to time in the accounts of otherwise fairly level-headed explorers. As they contemplated the bleak ice-bound lands ahead, staring out into the screaming wind, they recalled the name Thule and found themselves 'pinning the word to the empty wilderness.' When the great Fridtjof Nansen wrote up his most famous Arctic adventure he too conjured the word from the cold ether, using it to evoke the terrible beauty of the north: we were to understand that he was a Norseman venturing beyond Thule, and so to the Pole - there he'd jab his flag into the ice, and so slay, in a sense, the dragon.

    Kavenna's first port of call was Shetland, where happily she finds a bar called Thule. A promising start, you might think, but it looks like a prison and the sturdy drinkers whom she quizzes are baffled - one upsets his glass when she tries to pontificate upon the Roman historian Tacitus and his theories about the subject. Undaunted, she travels to Iceland, then Norway, Estonia, Greenland and Svalbard. There are more encounters; with the dull-witted; with philosophers half-crazed, one suspects, by the Northern Lights; and with the downright scary (the Thule Society, of which Hitler was a member, sought to trace out there the pure blood of the Aryan race).

    Onward Kavenna ventures, wending her way in pursuit of the impossible - this dream of a virginal land 'that could never breathe or sweat as a crowded hopeless city or a history-strewn landscape could'. She brings along a plethora of other travellers, or rather their little musings on Thule - one of them the Arabist and explorer Richard Francis Burton, who, like her, carried 'the idea of Thule like hand-luggage.'

    I must reveal here that the author does not find Thule. Or at least, not a wave-lashed, ice-capped rock of the north. Thule was, in many sea-faring tales, positioned not in the Arctic seas but between the earth and the world of the gods - that is, somewhere beyond the reach of mortals. And so it has proved to all seekers; the island remains out there somewhere but only as an unobtainable state. It's desirable but impossible. It taunts us. We are drawn to this place on the edge of our imagination, yet Thule has never promised to be paradise. The lonely isle expresses for us the ambivalence we feel, but can seldom grasp, in nature - the grandeur but also our unease in the face of the raw elements.

    This is Thule's artful story, and Kavenna delivers it with easy erudition. The Ice Museum is neither travelogue nor essay but the expression of a heartfelt passion for dark myth and the far reaches of our imagination. Hers is a wonder voyage which never seems to tire; it has a ceaseless enchanting energy that washes over the reader as if from those restless seas. She is poetic, bold, and brave in language - it's an astoundingly self-assured debut. A sensitively poised, cherishable book.

  • Flight

    Seen from above, the ice sounds a ceaseless warning. A vicious blankness emanates from the white expanse below. The shadow of the plane falls on fleeting clouds. The ice smothers forests and mountains under a thick pall. Nothing moves across the whiteness.

    The plane is drifting downwards, falling towards the glazed countryside. The ice looks like silence, like the physical embodiment of nothingness. A paradox, a symbol expressing the inexpressible; here is the vivid realisation of absence. As the plane descends, the warning sounds insistently: LEAVE. A single syllable resounding across the smothered land. No point in coming here. The country is closed for the ice deluge, to be opened in the spring. The plane is plunging through a white sky, into banks of drifting cloud. The trees below are bleached, their branches bent under the weight of the snow. As the plane skids across the runway the trees blur into lines of whiteness.

    Shaking their heads, the passengers disembark. A pale sun shines onto the rigid arms of the trees. I step slowly onto the frost-coated runway. A thick wind blasts at my body, forcing me to bend against it. A woman is signalling frantically, pointing at a bus. We all board, obediently.

    In an icy landscape, it is hard to discern distance and gradient. Complex layers of vegetation are simplified into one dense line of thick snow-bound forest. Only the most violent features of the landscape remain - the most jagged and strange. Trees seem to be locked in the ice, bowed by the weight of their casing, like statues struggling to become free of a block of stone. The sun trembles above the horizon, casting squat shadows on the snow, waiting to sink into darkness again. When darkness comes, the ice shines under a bright moon.

    The ice land is an anonymous world, the trees stripped of colour. The fjord is frozen, the trees are silver splinters; it is almost dark, though the day is hardly half way through.

    I was travelling through northern lands, compelled by the endless indeterminacy of a myth: the land of Thule - the most northerly place in the ancient world. Before the regions north of Britain were mapped, there was a dream of a silent place, where the inhabitants lived under darkened skies through the winter, and enjoyed constant sunshine in the summer. Thule was seen once, described in opaque prose, and never identified with any certainty again. It became a mystery land, at the edge of the frozen ocean.

    A Greek explorer, Pytheas, began the story: he claimed to have reached Thule in the 4th Century BC. He had sailed from the sun-drenched city of Marseilles to Britain. He sailed up to the north of Scotland, and then sailed onwards for about six days into the remote reaches of the ocean, until he sighted a land called Thule. There, so the story goes, the inhabitants showed him where the sun set on the shortest day and rose again soon after. In the winter, the land was plunged into darkness. Near Thule, the sea began to thicken, and Pytheas saw the sea, sky and land merging into a viscous mass, rising and falling with the motion of the waves. He turned away from the seething semi-solid ocean, and sailed back to Marseilles.

    Mist, sea and land, a frozen ocean, a midnight sun in the summer, a twilight sky throughout the winter. Pytheas's account of his journey was lost, and no one could decide where Thule might have been. It left the story of Thule as a tantalising glimpse of a distant land. It was an empty page, its silent rocks inviting interpretation. With each new discovery in the north the name of Thule was evoked. The Romans reached the north of Britain, and claimed they had conquered Thule. Strabo scoffed at the idea of Thule, at the credentials of Pytheas; but Virgil imagined Augustus worshipped as a god, even in farthest Thule. Later, Procopius thought Thule was in Scandinavia, and wrote garbled anthropology about the Thulitae. The Venerable Bede called Iceland Thule; the medieval clerics described Thule as a place where the sun never shone, and the ice became as hard as crystal, so the inhabitants could make a fire above it. Petrarch mused on where it might be; Mercator fixed Thule at Iceland. Christopher Columbus claimed he had been there, long before he arrived in America. As the lands of the North were mapped, the name of Thule was moved around, from Iceland to Norway, from northern Britain to the tip of Greenland. Northerly latitude was enough, a midnight sun and a frozen ocean still more persuasive.

    Nothing could be known for certain about Thule, and so the word was drawn into imaginative histories, rhetorical speeches, poems and novels and explorers' accounts. It was worshipped and parodied, cited in stanzas and drawn into rhetorical phrases. A long line of philosophers, poets, advocates and detractors referred fleetingly to Thule, from Boethius to Percy Bysshe Shelley. They cast it in a cameo, adding the word to a line of their prose or verse, using it to evoke pallour and the North. Alexander Pope wrote a slapstick interlude in The Dunciad, in which a fire was extinguished with a dank and clammy page of a poem about Thule. Charlotte Brontë put Thule into a gothic scene, as Jane Eyre sits, abandoned by her relatives, dreaming alone on a rain-drenched afternoon. She is reading a book about the Arctic; a reference to the lonely rocks of Thule propels her into a wild transport, as she conjures the bleak shores of Lapland, Siberia, Spitzbergen, Nova Zembla, Iceland, Greenland, with 'the vast sweep of the Arctic Zone, and those forlorn regions of dreary space, - that reservoir of frost and snow, where firm fields of ice, the accumulation of centuries of winters, glazed in Alpine heights above heights, surround the pole, and concentre the multiplied rigors of extreme cold.' Thule was the symbol for all of this, Brontë thought, all these dreams of beauty and fears of desolation. From Julius Caesar to Edgar Allen Poe, Thule suggested cold silent plains, the blank spaces of the remote northern lands, awaiting discovery and interpretation. '...To the west, to Hesperian darkness, and the shores of barbarian Thule,' wrote William Godwin, in Things as They Are. 'A wild weird clime,' Poe called it, a land on the way to Night, a strange unworldly place.

    Thule was entwined with thousands of years of fantasies about what might lie beyond the edges of the maps. As the maps came to cover the world, Thule was bound up with the crusades of modern exploration. In the 19th and early 20th Centuries, as more and more travellers set off for the remote north, Thule recurred in explorers' accounts: Fridtjof Nansen from Norway, Richard Francis Burton from Britain, Vilhjalmur Stefansson from Canada, Knud Rasmussen from Denmark all sounded the cry Thule, as they travelled across the Arctic. Imaginative explorers filled in the blank moment of arrival with a devout incantation. Where the ice stretched away, and the birds plunged and dived, crying into the cold air, the explorers remembered Thule, pinning the word to the empty wilderness.

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