The Mountain World: A Literary Journey

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9780871568984: The Mountain World: A Literary Journey

Whether we climb them or view them from afar, they continue to pull at us, calling us home, those mountains." So writes editor Gregory McNamee in his eloquent Introduction to this compelling new anthology, in which he has gathered mountain-inspired literature from sources as varied and far-flung as the peaks themselves.

The writings take all manner of literary forms: folktales of the Ashanti and myths of the Aborigines; essays; journals and travelogues of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century travelers; poetry of both ancient and modern times. We hear from familiar voices -- Whitman, Muir, Dickens, Chekhov, Conan Doyle -- and from those not so familiar but equally fascinating, including Russian naturalist Nikolai Prejevalsky and English "lady" adventurer Isabella Bird.

The mountain experiences described in these works are enormously varied as well. They range from the powerful altitude-induced vision of Simón Bolívar atop Mount Chimborazo to a pleasure trip in the Alps as recounted by Mrs. H. W. Cole, to V. K. Arseniev's tale of survival and rescue in a Siberian mountain storm. Yet whether they speak of profound spiritual journeys, easy pleasure trips, or face-to-face encounters with death, all these voices are raised in collective celebration of the glories and terrors of the most awe-inspiring of Earth's natural treasures.

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Review:

In this artfully assembled anthology, editor Gregory McNamee gathers writings inspired by mountains that might be summed up by Abu El Fadel's observation of African peaks: "Whoever looked at them became attracted and stuck to them until they died." El Fadel calls this attraction "Human Magnetism," and indeed, as the collection reveals, people across the ages have felt the magnetic pull--represented in these pages by writings from five continents and a diverse assortment of cultures. John Muir describes thunderstorms in the Sierras and the way "the noon sky seems abandoned without them, as if Nature was forgetting something"; Estonian folklore tells of how "the Dog-Snouts at the edge of the world dwell behind a great mountain." Equally varied are the forms of the pieces, including poetry, prose, and folk songs, to name a few. Each work offers a different experience of mountains and provides its own lens through which to perceive their significance. The result is a collection as shifting in content and tone as the world's jutting topography. That McNamee's anthology has grown from a deeply personal place is clear, as is his skill as an editor. Though some readers may find themselves lamenting what he has not included, most will rejoice in what he has, for somewhere amid the Chilean Andes as described by Charles Darwin and the mythical rocks where Namarudu the lightning spirit sealed a sleeping family to dream forever, McNamee captures a few notes of the mountains' siren song and a sense of their sublimity. --Rene Henery

About the Author:

Gregory McNamee, former editor-in-chief of the University of Arizona Press, is a distinguished translator and editor and the author of many books, including In the Presence of WolvesGila: The Life and Death of an American River. He has also written more than 800 essays and reviews for such periodicals as Audubon, The Nation, The Washington Post, and The Bloomsbury Review. McNamee makes his home in Tucson.

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