Fatal passage : the untold story of John Rae, the Arctic adventurer who discovered the fate of Franklin

by Kenneth McGoogan

Hardcover, 2001




Toronto : HarperFlamingo Canada, c2001.


John Rae's accomplishments, surpassing all nineteenth-century Arctic explorers, were worthy of honors and international fame. No explorer even approached Rae's prolific record: 1,776 miles surveyed of uncharted territory; 6,555 miles hiked on snowshoes; and 6,700 miles navigated in small boats. Yet, he was denied fair recognition of his discoveries because he dared to utter the truth about the fate of Sir John Franklin and his crew, Rae's predecessors in the far north. Author Ken McGoogan vividly narrates the astonishing adventures of Rae, who found the last link to the Northwest Passage and uncovered the grisly truth about the cannibalism of Franklin and his crew. A bitter smear campaign by Franklin's supporters would deny Rae his knighthood and bury him in ignominy for over one hundred and fifty years. Ken McGoogan's passion to secure justice for a true North American hero in this revelatory book produces a completely original and compelling portrait that elevates Rae to his rightful place as one of history's greatest explorers.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member santhony
I enjoy reading non-fictional accounts of exploration, and have found two geographic regions particularly interesting; Amazonian and Arctic exploration. Perhaps this is because the issues faced by explorers of those regions are particularly challenging.

This book is essentially a biography of Dr.
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John Rae, a longtime employee of the Hudson Bay Company, who spent much of his life on or North of the Arctic Circle. The author is an unabashed fan of Dr. Rae, and even points out in his preface that the purpose of the book is to elevate Dr. Rae to a position in the pantheon of Arctic explorers, a position that the author firmly believes that Dr. Rae has been unjustly denied.

As a result, the question arises as to whether the author presents an unbiased picture of Rae and his achievements. For the greatest part of the book, this is really not a factor. There is no dispute as to Rae’s exploits, his discoveries, or the incredible feats of endurance and competence he displayed in his endeavors. However, the final quarter of the book, dealing with controversy concerning his report on the Franklin expedition and the long running feud between Rae and Lady Jane Franklin certainly have the potential to present a biased and perhaps overly complementary picture of Rae’s actions.

The final segment of the book, dealing with discovery of the Northwest Passage and the honors associated therewith, give the author a final opportunity to argue the poor treatment accorded Rae. While virtually every other explorer with a hand in charting the region was awarded knighthoods and cash rewards, Rae was excluded from official plaudits. Doubtless, this was a political decision as was the decision by many to credit Franklin with discovery of the Passage (which he most certainly did not). However, to simply label Rae as the discoverer of the Northwest Passage borders on hagiography. Charting the Northwest Passage was a collaborative undertaking and required the combined efforts of literally dozens of explorers over the course of decades. While it is true that Rae identified the final piece in the puzzle (though it is unlikely that he knew it at the time), to give him full credit ignores the 95% of the puzzle that was already in place.

Despite its sometimes biased viewpoints, it cannot be argued that Rae was anything other than a fascinating individual and perhaps the most physically gifted Arctic explorer on record. I can recommend this book to anyone with an interest in exploration in general and Arctic exploration in particular.
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LibraryThing member amerynth
I generally love polar expedition stories, but I didn't particularly enjoy Ken McGoogan's "Fatal Pasage: The True Story of John Rae, the Arctic Hero Time Forget." In a way, I understood why time forgot Rae as his story, at least told by McGoogan, isn't terribly interesting.

The book is pretty dry
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and the most interesting bits about Rae come at the tail end of the book. I think the book needed to be totally restructured to make it a lot more interesting.

Rae, a prodigious walker, organized several expeditions in the Arctic, several with the design of looking for the lost Franklin expedition, which disappeared while searching for the Northwest Passage. Rae never finds the expedition itself, but finds relics and speaks with Eskimos who provide information that pinpoint where remains of about 40 members of the expedition can be found. However, Rae's conclusions about the expedition upset Lady Jane Franklin so much that she set out to destroy his reputation.

All this would be fairly interesting reading but it makes up such a small portion of the book. There is a ton of less interesting detail to wade through in order to get to the meat of the story.
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LibraryThing member TedBetts
McGoogan's Lady Franklin's Revenge was not the first Franklin book I read but it was the northern lights of my early polar reading and lit up my interest in the story of the lost Franklin Expedition. Somewhat ironic to read this one first and then his earlier John Rae biography (the first book in
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McGoogan’s “Fatal Passage Quartet”) There is something to be learned about the author in doing so for I think it is readily apparent how much of Lady Franklin's story and life and personality he learned, and dislike he had to set aside. And dislike is perhaps a mild phrase for the impression he leaves of her in Fatal Passage for what she did to Rae. But the book is about Rae, who truly was a great, heroic explorer that time forgot. McGoogan chronicles the vast amount of territory that Rae charted - no one had charted nearly as much territory and no non-Inuit had travelled as much by foot - including as McGoogan puts it, the final link in the fabled (if somewhat fictional) “North West Passage”.

McGoogan writes history, particularly historical biography, in the way I like to read it: a strong and clear narrative voice and point of view, but chock full of primary sources that anchor it, giving it weight, making it convincing. Fatal Passage is not nearly as polished as Lady Franklin's Revenge, nor does it dig or divulge as much directly from Rae's own writing as with his later biography and much of McGoogan's personal opinion seems to come out a bit too much, but it is a compelling read, great storytelling and even a good bit of suspense and drama to keep you engaged. For the Arctic and the Franklin enthusiast, this is definitely on the must read list.
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LibraryThing member Lord_Boris
An enjoyable book in two parts. The first covers Rae's early life and in some detail his various Arctic expeditions. The second documents his subsequent life and the battles against Victorian English society. It's a book about an egalitarian versus the establishment with the backdrop being the
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North West Passage and all what that meant to Britain and its Empire. Although all the conflict occurs in the second part of the book perhaps the more enjoyable part was the first. Here we learn of Rae's prodigious abilities and his forward thinking in adapting to the ways of the natives. For example the use of snowshoes and igloos when these were still regarded (particularly by the Royal Navy) as the ways of backward savages and not appropriate for civilised men. The writing was good enough to have me feeling part of these expeditions to the frozen north. No small feat as I read this book while sunning myself by a pool in Tenerife.
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