The Arthur Ransome Society has published 'Ransome, Nesbit and Nansen'. This shows much of the evidence for the influence of Nansen on both Nesbit and Ransome. It also sets out to show the somewhat surprising extent that Nesbit's writing influenced Arthur Ransome. See: Simon Browne, 'Ransome, Nesbit and Nansen', Mixed Moss, 2013 edition, pages 43-55. ISSN 1354-0009.
New material regarding the influence of Nesbit on Tolkien has been added to the Nesbit page of the website in January 2013. This is from a continuing project for the Nesbit Society. details of membership of this highly recommended Society, dedicated to all things Nesbit, can be found at the bottom of this page.
A Review of Fram by Tony Harrison
At the National Theatre, London
The play takes its title from Nansen’s floating science laboratory which was deliberately frozen into the Arctic pack ice for a three year trans-polar drift. When it was clear that the Fram would not be carried over the North Pole, Nansen took a companion and several sledge dogs and set off on foot for the Pole. Nansen and Johansen’s characters and relationship are explored but the play is limited in its appraisal of Nansen’s life and personality. Johansen is depicted as an English northern ‘working class’ depressive alcoholic. In contrast, the program published by the National Theatre opens with the words ‘Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930) was born... with a silver spoon in his mouth...’ In the play, it is said of Nansen, I think on two occasions, that he was Darwinian with the emphasis on ‘WIN’. The implication being that Nansen believed in survival of the fittest - as applied to humans. He is shown as an obsessive, driven, ‘winner takes all’ character. A cold, hard, elitist intellectual who just happened to lead the first large-scale charity based campaign to alleviate widespread famine. If this analysis of his complex character is true, it would be interesting to know why such a personality became involved in such altruistic work. The play does not attempt to address this question.
Nansen, of course, admired native peoples and believed that they could only have survived in the most inhospitable climate imaginable over thousands of years through a process of natural selection. He did belive that the human species had been subject to evolution, but that ths had "stopped thousands of years ago." His early sympathy for, and championing of, the Eskimo is not mentioned. [See Eskimo Life, published before his Fram expedition and his Rectorial Address at the University of St. Andrews].
The majority of the play addresses Nansen’s work as head of the European charities relief effort in Soviet Russia during the great famine of 1921-2. This role is contrasted with the effectiveness of the American Relief Administration in combating famine and mass starvation among the peasants. The American organisation was quasi-governmental and received large US Government grants. In fact the often repeated comparison is spurious: the European effort was large and effective, the American endeavour was immense and therefore even more successful. At the head of the ARA was Herbert Hoover, a former mining engineer. His attitude could be summed up in 3 words: the “business of relief.” Nansen’s organisation in comparison is derided and the American effort, as the play notes, did provide most of the food.
The play neglects to mention that America was enjoying such good harvests that the authorities hardly knew what to do with the grain. Nansen reports in Russia and Peace that maize was so plentiful that it was used as fuel in the railway locomotives of Argentina. The US had been feeding much of Western Europe during and after the war. Their work in Soviet Russia was in many ways just an extension of this supply chain. Where the Americans provided flour, rice, tea, lard, dried milk and sugar, by contrast the Europeans were, for example, providing Danish sausages, Norwegian herring, Spanish wheat, Dutch cheese and Swedish children’s clothing. The type of supplies provided by the European charities is indicative of the shortages in Europe and what was surplus at the time. The end of the First World War did not end the deficiencies. Insufficiencies continued in Europe in the same way that rationing of essentials had to persist in Britain for many years after the end of the Second World War.
Central to the play is a debate on famine relief. This involves protracted deliberations during a scene in a dining room containing a table laden with food. Rather predictably an actress eats much of the food [or sweeps it off the table] and is sick. The lengthy dialogue concentrates on the rivalry between the Americans and the Europeans and difference in approach to methods of fund-raising. This was the first time that large scale famine relief had been mounted. Slide and movie film - the latest technology - were used by both the Europeans and Americans to awaken understanding of the disaster in Russia. The play emphasises Nansen’s work in endless tours to raise funds from private individuals and his use of shocking pictures of the victims of famine.
Perhaps the most obvious deficiency in a play which spends much of its two and three-quarter hours running time on Soviet famine relief is that it strangely neglects to mention the attitude of the Russian Government and its officials.
This is a glaring omission. Rather like the Burmese Generals, the Soviet Government did not want to ask for help from the outside world, and they did not want foreigners inside Russia. The whole of Soviet Russia was on the edge of starvation and their Government had no option but to ask the world for help. The Americans “secured complete financial and operational independence” in Russia. Even so, Colonel William N. Haskell, the man chosen by Hoover to lead the ARA in Soviet Russia recalled that “many clever young Americans had to be sent out of Russia with nerves completely wrecked or on the verge of insanity due not only to the horrible suffering which they were forced to witness but to the interference and annoyance to which they were unnecessarily subjected by the very Soviet officials who should have been their helpers.” Just a few hundred Americans stationed in Russia directly employed thousands of Russians to move enough food to feed around 8-11 million Soviet citizens a day.
Nansen’s organisation, by contrast, was forced to work with the Soviets. The private Russian relief organisation, which Nansen had insisted on partnering, was dissolved. A note from Lenin to Stalin reads: “appoint one man from the... Cheka [State Security] to supervise the liquidation... The whole thing will be done before Nansen leaves.” Nansen’s organisation was most effective when working through Vidkun Quisling in the Ukraine. It should be noted that these pioneer relief efforts, although flawed, were successful. They saved millions of lives.
In November 1922 Nansen happened to travel on an Italian ship which traded regularly to the Black Sea port of Novorossisk. The officers assured him that they had recently brought away from Russia at least 25,000 tons of grain, destined for foreign countries. In other words while appealing for grain from the world, the Soviets were exporting this very grain for foreign exchange. This duplicity ended Nansen’s efforts and the ARA suspended relief operations in June 1923 for the same reasons.
Nansen ultimately used the money he received with his Nobel Peace Prize to build two model farms in Russia with the expectation that this example of good practice would lead to the adoption of new mechanised techniques and would enable the Russians to feed themselves. Again this was not mentioned. Surely the best way to combat famine is to raise enough food to prevent famine before it begins. This is entirely relevant to today - the wilful destruction of Zimbabwe’s ability to feed itself is one of the great outrages of our day.
Apart from the concentration of the play on restricted aspects of famine relief, the star of the show was the set design. The National’s Olivier stage has a remarkable revolving performance area and the climax was the corkscrewing up from the depths of a glistening white quarter size model of the Fram. The ship actually performed something approaching an Ekman Spiral. The effects of the Aurora Borealis [Northern Lights] against a pitch black winter night were anaemic in comparison to Nansen’s descriptions in Farthest North and his sketches. The program contained one or two monochrome renditions of sketches of Auroras made by Nansen. Even these gave a much more vivid idea of his view of the phenomenon.
The acting was exceptional, Jasper Britton looking very much like the young Nansen and he gave an idea of the strength of personality of his subject. However he was hardly given the material to express the range of emotion exhibited by Nansen in Farthest North. His despair at the death of his wife, graphically exposed in Liv Nansen Høyer’s account of her father’s life, is not mentioned.
The three year voyage of the Fram was a scientific expedition. Just as much as the future manned Mars missions, it took place over a similar period of time. The scientific results of the expedition filled 6 large volumes and are still used. Nansen was principally a scientist and oceanographer. He did not get to the Pole but he showed what would be there - deep cold sea water covered by ice and snow.
For an account of the ARA’s mission to Soviet Russia, see: Bertrand M. Patenaude. The Big Show in Bololand, Stanford University Press, 2002.
1 Berit Tolleshaug, Fridtjof Nansen - His Life and Work from the National Theatre Program, 2008.
3 Hans Fredrik Dahl, Quisling, A Study in Treachery, Cambridge University Press, 1999, page 44.
4 Roland Huntford, Nansen, The Explorer as Hero, London, Duckworth, 1998, page 506.
6 Roland Huntford, page 506.
7 Roland Huntford, page 532.
8 Richard Pipes. Russia under the Bolshevik regime. New York: Vintage Books, 1994, pp.415-9; Charles M. Edmondson, An Inquiry into the Termination of Soviet Famine Relief Programmes and the Renewal of Grain Export, 1922-23, Soviet Studies, Vol. 33, No. 3 (1981), pp. 370-385.
10 Liv Nansen Høyer, Nansen, A Family Portrait, London, Longmans, 1957, page 175.
FAMINE RELIEF WEBSITES - a few of the larger agencies for famine relief
Short Term Rapid Aid:
International Red Cross/Crescent: http://www.redcross.int/en/default.asp
Relief Web information site operated by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: http://www.reliefweb.int
Long Term Aid and Development:
Save the Children Fund: http://www.savethechildren.org/
Caritas Internationalis: http://www.caritas.org/
Christian Aid: http://www.christian-aid.org.uk/
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation: http://www.fao.org/
United Nations Children's Fund: http://www.unicef.org/
United Nations World Health Organisation: http://www.who.int/en/
Links to other websites:
Arthur Ransome Society: http://www.arthur-ransome.org excellent and accessible site with good links.
Tolkien Society: http://www.tolkiensociety.com huge 'official' site but perhaps slightly intimidating?
The Edith Nesbit Society has an interesting site at http://www.edithnesbit.co.uk and can be contacted via the Membership Secretary, Mrs. M Kennett, 26 Strongbow Road, Eltham, London SE9 1DT, U.K.. Membership is currently £8. Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._Nesbit.
Project Gutenberg has several of Nesbit's books available for free, including 'The Ice Dragon' in The Book of Dragons with beautiful illustrations by H. R. Millar.
Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/author/Edith_Nesbit
There is no specialist English language site for Fridtjof Nansen [apart from this] and no English speaking Fridtjof Nansen Society. I can find no trace of a Nansen Society in his home country. Until recently there was hardly a mention of Nansen on the official Norway website. Again try Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fridtjof_Nansen
Anyone interested in forming a Fridtjof Nansen society could contact me via the email address below.
Hi, this is Simon Browne. I thought I’d reply to the comments made on a very interesting and lively web forum and say hello to the contributors. I am grateful for the attention you have given to my site - ALL feedback is gratefully received. Click this Link to Lord of the Rings Fanatics Forum or use the browser address:
I seem to have expressed myself badly on several subjects and thus I don’t appear to have conveyed some of my thoughts or evidence too clearly. It is useful to know that there are problem areas and I will endeavour to clarify several paragraphs on the site as a result of your comments. However, I’d like to answer a couple of points if I may.
I’ll make a start at the most recent post, from ‘Lord of the Rings’ him/herself.
Yes, I was aware that Tolkien’s invented language was Quenya and not Guenya - it was a typo and it should have been upper case as well. I touch type so the distance between the keys is of little import - I am adept at creating typos all over the keyboard! Thanks for noticing and pointing it out - it will be rectified at the next revision.
Regarding the origin of Tolkien’s Orcs, I simply write that there exist several possible origins and usages of the term and not just one. I even quote Britannica’s suggestion for which usage Tolkien had in mind. But it seems to me that the essence of Tolkien’s writing is that he carefully considered ALL the possible derivations and connotations before he named anyone or anything. As far as I am aware the alternative usage has not been considered till now. There would be no need unless you were testing a hypothesis that Nansen’s books influenced Tolkien’s writing. However, I do believe that it is entirely up to you, the put-upon reader, to accept or reject my suggestion - having carefully considered it.
As for Tom Shippey’s analysis of Frodo’s name, I do not challenge his views - I quote his analysis and point out that Fridtjof’s name is in part based on the same element. Shippey is using alliteration to suggest a connection between Frodo and Fróði or Frôda. To put the argument the other way, without the alliteration I am sure Tom Shippey, or indeed Tolkien, would never have suggested this connection. Tolkien wrote a letter in 1955 in which he remarks that Frodo is a real Germanic name which has an Old English form ‘Fróda’. The latter he connects with the word fród and he defines this as meaning ‘wise by experience’. [Letters, page 224]. The alliterative similarity may, of course, be coincidence - but I don’t think so. [See Tom Shippey The Road to Middle-earth, 2005, pages 233-235]. This raises one problem I have found in compiling the site - that I don’t have room to repeat all the existing views on Tolkien, although I may well agree with them. I do refer to several established theories, but I have, I believe, a new view on aspects of Tolkien’s major works, which I need to state as well as I can. On the subject of major character names, can anyone find me an alternative suggestion for the origin of the name Bilbo? Prof. Shippey says he does not know of one.
I do NOT believe that Tolkien hoaxed or attempted to hoax anyone. Far from it. But I do think that he was capable of having ‘a low philological jest’ and he was rather fond of riddles. And he did use the name of an E. Nesbit character - the Psammead. Indeed, not just the name, but the character’s personality. That is not a cause for concern - in fact I find it a very interesting cross-fertilization. After all, C. S. Lewis refers to Nesbit’s characters by name in The Magician’s Nephew. But how did it come about? Why did they do it? And did either of them do anything similar again?
I know that subscribers to the Lord of the Rings Fanatics Forum are generally interested in the ancient sources of Tolkien’s writing, but he went to great pains to point out that more recent events may have impinged upon his work. [See the first pages of The Fellowship... 3 excision dots to make you happy, Wiebkes]
Borrowing the name for an invented character does not cause many problems, but if you were to use a person’s real name for a character in a work of fiction, then all sorts of difficulties arise. I won’t elaborate now. I do suggest that Tolkien left clues regarding the influence of Nansen’s books, and I state that this is often through the use of alliteration. I am frankly amazed that no one has looked closely at the alliteration I demonstrate on this website.
I admit I hesitated to make the claim for Nansen’s books being the greatest single influence on Tolkien’s major works. However, I suspect that an Old English enthusiast would think any alliteration needed close attention before meaning and significance was rejected and happenstance accepted. If Tolkien deliberately employed the alliterative connection between Bilbo and Balto, Fridtjof and Frodo then surely we must find out why. Anyone seriously interested in Tolkien's sources must consider the implications. If this alliteration was deliberately employed to forge a connection then, indeed, Nansen must stand as the single greatest influence on Tolkien's major quartet of books. There are of course many other possible influences, including Rosco Duggins’ particular edition of the Mort D’Arthur. [Fascinating story!]. However, I would suggest that the other contender[s] for the title of ‘Single Bigest Influence’ is [are?] the anonymous author[s?] of Beowulf.
Thanks for raising the subject of my site, Ardamir, although as a writer I guail, sorry, quail at the thought of death by a thousand ‘hacks’! Also thanks for the mention of the quote by Tolkien of Nansen’s In Northern Mists. I look forward to reading any further comments!
ps I tried to reply on your site but although I could register I couldn't reply as despite many attempts from several computers the site didn't send a confirming email to my email account. I couldn't even raise a reply from your admin or webmaster! Any ideas?
The U.K.'s National Theatre has produced 'a major new work by Britain's foremost theatre poet, Tony Harrison'. The new play is based on the life of Fridtjof Nansen and is called 'FRAM'. It was premiered on 10 April and ran to 22 May 2008 in London. I attended, of course! For a short interview with Tony Harrison click here . The text of the play is published by Faber and Faber. See Amazon UK for details, also available from Amazon.com.