Penguins in the Basement

My dissertation advisor Terry Irwin used to say that Cambridge changes are so named because that’s the only way things ever change at Cambridge. Evidently so, since two blackboards have just surfaced in a Cambridge basement with century-old, never-erased chalk sketches of penguins by polar explorers Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton. (Story here; conical hat tip to LRC.) They’d better get those things under glass pretty quickly, I reckon.

You can see a close-up of the drawings here. Evidently Scott was a bit better at drawing than Shackleton was.

I venture to say that that’s perhaps the only respect in which Scott was better than Shackleton. Check out these excellent, and reasonably accurate, docudramas of the marvelous Shackleton, who heroically brought his crew through against impossible odds without losing a single man, and the odious Scott, whose arrogance and incompetence led himself and his men to a needless death.

I hope the upcoming Mountains of Madness movie captures something of the feel of these two great films (only with more shoggoths, of course).

2 Responses to Penguins in the Basement

  1. Danny Shahar December 28, 2007 at 11:16 am #

    It pains me to see Scott given this praise, however slight it may be, so I feel a need to defend Shackleton’s drawing against your critique. It is clear that Scott’s drawing captures the well-known King Penguin, and it does so fairly well. If Shackleton’s drawing were supposed to portray the same animal, then Scott would obviously be the victor. But Shackleton’s drawing looks so much like the Adelie Penguin, which also lives in Antarctica, that it seems unfair to suggest that he was not trying to draw one. If Scott’s drawing was supposed to be of a King Penguin, and Shackleton’s of an Adelie, then I contend that the contest was a tie.

  2. ian December 29, 2007 at 9:42 am #

    I’m glad I’m not the only one with a low opinion of Scott. His undoubted bravery is accepted, but had he been less arrogant the degree to which he needed to demonstrate it would have been significantly reduced – and many men as brave or braver would have survived.

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