Yes, this is a Maine dedicated blog. Those who know Maine may say with surprise, “Where is Malacandra?” There are many mountains in this state hosting many townships and rural towns. And those who know the works of CS Lewis may say, Didn’t Ransom have a guide in the alien mountains of Mars? These kinds of juxtapositions may happen while reading adventure stories in parallel, in this case Out of the Silent Planet and one other. The best of such adventures can be heartbreaking when one of them is a true adventure, along with knowing it happened to someone in our own real place and time.
The story of being Lost on a Mountain in Maine is Donn Fendler’s. He was lost on Mount Katahdin in 1939 through a fault of his own. That is how the 12-year-old told it to those who searched for him. That is how he tells it to us — readers of this iconic book. Generations of Maine schoolchildren have read his story. I’m told Stephen King used it as a blueprint for one of his tales. Much of the heartbreak for me stems from the length of Donn’s lostness — nine days. Readers may experience his trial as torment, as wonder, as alien. In imagining it for us with the help of writer Joseph B. Egan, Donn makes this great great trial real. Though it happened in 1939 I use the present tense because I’ve been listening to the story as an audio book performed by a boy — after first encountering it in print a few years into our Maine adventure.
But how does Malacandra come into it? Where does Ransom fit in? The inadvertent, compelled, extraterrestrial adventurer had guides nearly every step of the way…. But there was that one point — not nine days, perhaps only one day and night—when Ransom ran full-on into the mysterious, terribly elongated, precipitate, virtually alien landscape of Mars. Later, when Malacandra is no longer so strange to him he enters the mountains, initially without a guide.
Here’s where the further adventures of this reader come in: the experience of lostness in these books intersect. Donn might’ve been lost on Malacandra so fraught with alien harrowing experience was it. Ransom might have been lost on Katahdin for a similar reason. Precisely, what is this reason?
Wildness. The wilderness, the bewilderment of a person in these situations.
Intersections include, the human capacity for regret, madness or delusion:
Donn saw his father’s dark Oldsmobile, four beings cloaked, almost as in light with hoods, his own knees as hinged contraptions made of metal, his friend staring at him with eyes popping, unable to move. As for Ransom:
If only he hadn’t lost his nerve those sorns would have killed him by now. Then he remembered with inexpressible relief that there was a man wandering the wood — poor devil — he’d be glad to see him. He would come up to him and say, ‘Hullo, Ransom,’ — he stopped, puzzled. No it was only himself: it was Ransom. Or was he? Who was the man whom…?
Or consider the shared gratitude for what, if blessed, we ordinarily think the simplest of things: “Far more important was the problem of food.”
Ransom tastes of vegetation but can’t swallow because it is only something very like chewing gum. In remembering the warnings of his father, Donn, who came from populous suburban NYC Westchester County, had to forego eating plentiful found “blue” berries simply because he did not know which were safe and which not. (The warning was fortunate because this was not the time of year for real blue berries.)
The fetal position for sleeping was common to both: Ransom “drew his knees up and hugged himself; he felt a sort of physical, almost filial love of his own body.” And, Donn’s method of putting “one leg out and then the other” reminds me of Ransom’s “mechanical rhythm” used to betake himself through weariness and weather.
One initial difference involved creatures. Ransom had not been lonely enough, long enough, to embrace any fellow-creature feeling, and dreaded to encounter an animal. Not so Donn who found great solace in seeing chipmunks, deer, and even bear. He did not want them to depart, to go their own separate wild ways. But Ransom found, after a bit, that even an initially frightening herd of great slender herbivores, left him with “an infinitely comforting” feeling on their departure. Just to see them had restored much of what’s helpful to us humans in our distresses.
When Ransom finally got his guide in the mountains of Malacandra, it turned out to be a very strange rational creature shaped not too unlike an elongated human. Like the strong hands lifting and guiding Donn, the strange being carried Ransom to his destination.
As with Donn, Ransom also heard what seemed a disembodied voice urging him on his reluctant mission toward safety and the planet’s ruler. Ransom’s story, as shown by one of the planet’s inhabitants, an hross, who would turn it into poetry moves me to wonder if Donn’s story would have been utterly forgotten, or not quite totally real, had it not been for this great poetic rendering both on the page and in the audio performance.
Mr. King’s has been called a “psychological” horror story.
“The American Indians chewed resin made from the sap of spruce trees. The New England settlers picked up this practice, and in 1848, John B. Curtis developed and sold the first commercial chewing gum called The State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum.” [Wikipedia]
I wonder if Donn may have mistaken the red squirrel for a chipmunk?
Mine is an audio book reading of Donn’s story. I don’t have the text to check facts.