Sunday, July 3, 2011

Olive Murray Chapman

I had a call the other day from a TV producer in England. He was interested in what I knew about the British travel writer Olive Murray Chapman as his company was in the process of possibly creating a segment on her winter travels in Lapland for a documentary series on women adventurers. In the thirties Chapman visited a variety of countries and wrote books about her travels––Iceland, Cyprus, Madagascar, and Lapland––books that included photographs and watercolors. 

"The Lapp Market at Bossekop", watercolor by Olive Murray Chapman

Her book, Across Lapland with Sledge and Reindeer (1932) was one of the historical sources for my own book, The Palace of the Snow Queen. I liked Chapman’s courage and spirit. She set off alone by ship from England to Oslo (“The North Sea in February can be very unpleasant”) and then took a train north to Trondheim, the coastal steamer up to Hammerfest, and then a smaller boat down to Alta. Her intention was to visit the “Lapp market” traditionally held in Bossekop outside Alta, and then drive a reindeer pulka into the interior of Finnmark. While her views on the Sámi now seem outdated, Chapman made an attempt to summarize her observations and reading for the general reader and does a credible job. Her description of the Bossekop winter market is valuable, given that with the occupation of Norway by German forces in 1940, the centuries-old tradition came to an end and was never revived.

I pulled out her slender book to reread her accounts of the intense cold and the striking beauty of the Arctic in late winter when the sun is returning and it brought back many memories of my own journey—unhappily by dogsled—over sections of the Finnmark Plateau. I wish I’d had her furs and her “leather flying helmet” (I imagine Amelia Earhart traveling by reindeer) on my trip but I didn’t envy Chapman the blizzard she encountered on her way to Mollesjok fjellstue. Having been at Mollesjok during the last days of December years ago, I can attest that the tourist cabin, while not any more luxurious than seventy years ago, was still a very welcome sight to our group, just as it was to Chapman as she imagined "the joyous thought of warmth, food, and shelter..."

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