Form and Content
In Two Against the Ice: Amundsen and Ellsworth, Theodore K. Mason examines the lives of two great polar explorers and attempts to fuse their two biographies into a single story. For the most part he succeeds, though the partnership between Roald Amundsen and Lincoln Ellsworth was by no means so thorough that their names are as linked as those of, for example, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark or Orville and Wilbur Wright. He succeeds by deemphasizing the biographical aspects of their stories and focusing on their shared values, skills, and experiences.
More than a dual biography, Two Against the Ice reads like a collection of short stories about polar exploration. Through eleven chapters, Mason structures his narrative episodically, providing enough biographical detail to establish a chronology and background for the major expeditions of Amundsen’s and Ellsworth’s lives but focusing on specific expeditions in intimate detail. While the early part of the book focuses on Amundsen and the very end on Ellsworth, because of their age difference, Mason keeps them both in consideration at all times. Beginning with Amundsen’s youthful trek with his brother Leon through the Hardangervidda wilderness of central Norway, Mason describes the Belgica expedition to the Antarctic (18971898), the Gjoa expedition through the Northwest Passage (19031906), the Fram expedition and conquest of the South Pole (19091912), the Maud expedition through the Northeast Passage (19181919), the first attempt at transarctic flight (1925), the Norge dirigible expedition across the North Pole (1926), Umberto Nobile’s ill-fated Italia expedition, and the Wyatt Earp-Polar Star expeditions from 1933 through 1939. A final chapter sums up the explorers’ careers and their accomplishments as a team.
Two Against the Ice also contains a bibliography listing twenty-one entries, including six by Amundsen and Ellsworth, and an extensive index that is helpful in tracking and cross-referencing names, places, and expeditions. Mason also peppers the narrative with quotes from or about his subjects. Of great use are the eighty-four captioned photographs and seven maps interspersed throughout the text; they help to clarify and dramatize the accompanying material. The rigors of polar exploration and the magnitude of Amundsen’s and Ellsworth’s achievements become more vivid with the generous visual aids that depict life on the ice, the ships and men involved, and the routes taken on the various expeditions.