The Arctic as the Penultimate Frontier

It has been some time since I last read Frankenstein.  And I’ve never read it under the pretext of science fiction, but rather as a gothic novel.  However, upon rereading the epistolary opening sections of Mary Shelley’s novel, I immediately recalled another work of gothic fiction, which warrants some note.

In Edgar Allen Poe’s only novel length work, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Poe betrays a fascination with, and indeed constructs a fictionalization of, the Antarctic region.  In that work, Pym is set adrift at sea by a series of calamities and misfortunes, eventually drifting into the southernmost regions of the world.  Interestingly enough, Pym does not encounter “the land of mist and snow,” but instead a temperate, near tropical territory.

Similarly, in Shelley’s work, we find a keen interest in the nethermost parts of the planet.  Robert Walton, in his letters to his sister, betrays an obsession with the exploration of the north pole..  He seeks “the secret to the magnet,” and expects “a country of eternal light” where “snow and frost are banished.”  Indeed, Shelley and Poe seem to have shared this affinity for the arctic regions, as well as an optimistic fantasizing of it.

And really, in the context of the science fiction genre, this interest and literary play with the unexplored parts of our universe is not so unprecedented.  In fact, one could argue that the arctic presented in Frankenstein was the penultimate frontier.


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2 Responses to The Arctic as the Penultimate Frontier

  1. Josh Ambrose says:

    Yes, I think sciencefiction is always interested in exploring the boundaries, finding the “penultimate frontier.” Great point!

    Do you think the fact that Walton finds snow/barrenness is a mirroring of Frankenstein’s own quest? In other words, what is Shelley doing with her “affinity?”

  2. Jessica says:

    I guess people have always been exploring new frontiers. So if exploration of a new frontier signifies a Science Fiction novel, it would be very difficult indeed to mark the first one.

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