Out of this fairy world, in course of time, the calm and sober lines of the northern landscape appeared. With unspeakable labour the eye of man has forced its way gradually towards the north, over mountains and forests, and tundra, onward through the mists along the vacant shores of the polar sea—the vast stillness, where so much struggle and suffering, so many bitter failures, so many proud victories, have vanished without a trace, muffled beneath the mantle of snow.
When our thoughts go back through the ages in a waking dream, an endless procession passes before us—like a single mighty epic of the human mind’s power of devotion to an idea, right or wrong—a procession of struggling, frost-covered figures in heavy clothes, some erect and powerful, others weak and bent so that they can scarcely drag themselves along before the sledges, many of them emaciated and dying of hunger, cold and scurvy; but all looking out before them towards the unknown, beyond the sunset, where the goal of their struggle is to be found.
We see a Pytheas, intelligent and courageous, steering northward from the Pillars of Hercules for the discovery of Britain and Northern Europe; we see hardy Vikings, with an Ottar, a Leif Ericson at their head, sailing in undecked boats across the ocean into ice and tempest and clearing the mists from an unseen world; we see a Davis, a Baffin forcing their way to the north-west and opening up new routes, while a Hudson, unconquered by ice and winter, finds a lonely grave on a deserted shore, a victim of shabby pilfering. We see the bright form of a Parry surpassing all as he forces himself on; a Nordenskiöld, broad-shouldered and confident, leading the way to new visions; a Toll mysteriously disappearing in the drifting ice. We see men driven to despair, shooting and eating each other; but at the same time we see noble figures, like a De Long, trying to save their journals from destruction, until they sink and die.
Midway in the procession comes a long file of a hundred and thirty men hauling heavy boats and sledges back to the south, but they are falling in their tracks; one after another they lie there, marking the line of route with their corpses—they are Franklin’s men.
After the memory of its existence had practically passed away, it was again one of our countrymen who, on behalf of a Norwegian company, founded the second European settlement of the country.
It is poor, this land of the Eskimo, which we have taken from him; it has neither timber nor gold to offer us—it is naked, lonely, like no other land inhabited of man. But in all its naked poverty, how beautiful it is! If Norway is glorious, Greenland is in truth no less so. When one has once seen it, how dear to him is its recollection! I do not know if others feel as I do, but for me it is touched with all the dream-like beauty of the fairyland of my childish imagination. It seems as though I there found our own Norwegian scenery repeated in still nobler, purer forms.
It is strong and wild, this Nature, like a saga of antiquity carven in ice and stone, yet with moods of lyric delicacy and refinement. It is like cold steel with the shimmering colours of a sunlit cloud playing through it.
When I see glaciers and ice-mountains, my thoughts fly to Greenland where the glaciers are vaster than anywhere else, where the ice-mountains jut into a sea covered with icebergs and drift-ice. When I hear loud encomiums on the progress of our society, its great men and their great deeds, my thoughts revert to the boundless snow-fields stretching white and serene in an unbroken sweep from sea to sea, high over what have once been fruitful valleys and mountains. Some day, perhaps, a similar snow-field will cover us all.
在十九世紀期間，英、美等各國探險隊，積極地朝北極探勘，期望能解開北極的神祕面紗，挑戰北極點。在本書主角弗瑞德約夫．南森之前，已有英國探險家麥克林多克（Francis McClintock）、奈爾茲（George Nares）、帕利（Edward Parry），美國探險家格里利（Adolphus Greely），瑞典探險家諾登舍爾德（Adolf Nordenskiöld）前仆後繼，率隊前往北極探險。其中也有如英國富蘭克林（John Franklin）探險隊於一八四七年失蹤，一百二十九人殉難，沉船與船員屍骨直到十年後才被尋獲的憾事。極地探險始終是考驗人類體力與意志極限的艱難試煉。
一八八四年，挪威探險家弗瑞德約夫．南森偶然在報上閱讀到氣象學者摩恩（Henrik Mohn）的文章，受摩恩的啟發，南森推論船隻可透過凍結在浮冰中，隨著北極洋流自然漂流，來接近北極點。十年後，一八九三年七月二十四日，南森實踐了他的推論，率領一支經過仔細挑選的探險隊員，朝位處極地的新西伯利亞群島（New Siberian Islands）出發。他們所搭乘的「法蘭姆號」（Fram）是一艘經過特殊防壓設計的船艦，共有三層外殼，可被凍在北極附近的冰塊中，然後隨著洋流漂至北極點。在探險過程中，當南森發現船艦可能無法漂流到他所預期的目的地時，他轉而嘗試以皮筏和狗拉雪橇方式攻占北極點。一八九五年四月七日，南森與同儕強森抵達北緯八十六度十四分，打破當時人類的北行紀錄。《極北之旅》一書正是他對這場為期三年的探險生活的真情記述，《紐約時報》當時評論道：「（南森與他的隊員們）的確是維京人的後代。」為南森立傳的亨特福更認為南森「具體具體實現了文藝復興時期的『全人』理想」。
出版社 馬可孛羅 (城邦)