March 30, 2011


Redmond O'Hanlon: A life in books: 'I feel that if I leave the ship for too long or go too far, it may sail without me, and that then I would be lost in the real world' (Paul Laity, 3/26/11, The Guardian)

[Redmond] O'Hanlon is celebrated most of all for his perilous jungle mountain treks and exhausting paddles through river swamps – for sucking out monkey's eyes and dancing, drugged, for local tribes. In short, for having a really, comically terrible time. Isn't a trip among scientists on a well-equipped clipper a little tame? Rather, as perhaps befits a 64-year-old, he's delighted with the comforts of film-making, in contrast not only to the rigours of previous adventures, but as a way of circumventing the agonies of writing: "It's all done for you: no more privations, no more suffering, never being alone, no chance to get really depressed, a lot of drinking. Wonderful."

Sailing around the world is, after all, still boys' own stuff, and O'Hanlon, mischievous and laddish but very learned, became popular with the crew. The series shows him as something of an eccentric throwback, contentedly leafing through Robert Chambers's Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, consulting Lyell's Principles of Geology on the shores of Cape Verde and lying in a hammock turning the pages of other august volumes, which turn out to be deteriorating rapidly in the sea air. He isn't even irked that the wind blew off several pages from his precious first edition of On the Origin of Species: "It was worth €40,000, and nothing now, but then again I got it for £5 in the 1970s, before Darwin had been rediscovered."

Each of the wonderfully recounted jungle adventures that made O'Hanlon's name is centred on a near-impossible quest – to find a rare rhinoceros (Into the Heart of Borneo, 1984), to reach one of South America's highest peaks (In Trouble Again, 1988), and to catch sight of Lake Tele's mythical dinosaur (Congo Journey, 1996).

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Posted by at March 30, 2011 5:53 AM

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