Ernest K(ellogg) Gann Rose Feld - Essay

Rose Feld

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In "Island in the Sky," Ernest K. Gann, veteran airline transport pilot, tells a story that transmits the feelings, the thoughts, the impulses of men who come alive in the stratosphere. It possesses the understatement of individuals who need no words to explain actions, the poetry of airborne creatures who know the fulfillment of release from the earth.

Mr. Gann's story is concerned with the flight of Dooley and the forced landing of his plane, the "Corsair," in the uncharted frozen wastelands of northern Canada. It is concerned with the kind of man Dooley was and the kind of men who, without question, assumed the perilous task of finding him and his crew….

It is not in the description of flight alone, of flying above clouds, through clouds and beneath them that Mr. Gann excels. On their frozen lake in the midst of nowhere six men waited for life or death. One of them went, lost in a blizzard within fifty yards of his comrades, and … in describing his death Mr. Gann describes the last moments of a man who was alien on earth….

That the others didn't die was due to the miracle of the courage and the comradeship that is part of the flying man's code. There is a moment of dreadful suspense in the tale when one shares the heartbreak and the panic of five men who after a glimpse of joy are driven back to face a bitter death. Mr. Gann tells his story and portrays his people with an economy of words and emotion that mark the poet of the air. Only a creature with the earth-clinging instincts of a ground-hog could fail to be stirred by it.

Rose Feld, "The Men of the Stratosphere," in New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), July 16, 1944, p. 5.