The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins


A couple weekends ago, I found myself between “required” reads and thought I’d give this book a try. The Frozen Deep actually began its life as a play, co-written by Collins and his good friend Charles Dickens, but what I read was Collins’ later adaptation of the play into a novella. I haven’t read much Collins before, either, though his most famous work, The Lady in White, is sitting on my bookshelf. I did read his short story, “A Terribly Strange Bed” as part of the 2011 edition of my Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge, but I think that’s about it.

I chose this novella, honestly, because of its title. “The Frozen Deep” seemed to fit in perfectly with the winter we’ve been having here in the American Midwest, and I had also realized I’d been reading (not consciously) a lot of “winter” material. (George R.R. Martin’s song of fire and Ice to name just a couple thousand pages)

It’s loosely based on the real life events of the English “Franklin Expedition” of 1845, which was charged with finding the Northwest Passage and disappeared to an unknown fate. (Later, not wholly substantiated reports from native Inuit people gave some hints of a perhaps grisly fate of the expedition.)

So, how to make a popular stage drama from all this? Its a simple recipe: Take one rising young officer (who declares his love for a charming lady on the eve of the expedition’s departure), then add a last minute volunteer for the expedition (who also had once entertained hopes in regard to this same young lady – hopes that were crushed also on the eve of the expedition), add a dash of the gift of “the second sight” to the young lady. Mix these ingredients together and place them in a large, remote and harsh wilderness lined with privations and conflict and let simmer for about 100 pages. Presto! You have the story “The Frozen Deep!”

I enjoyed the book for the most part. The conflict between “the spurned” and “the chosen” lay beneath the surface for the greater part of the book but blossomed nicely toward the end. An easy read also – perhaps you should make a note of it for next winter in case you find yourself with a spare couple hours on a cold and blustery day.

Have you read anything by Wilkie Collins?  What were your favorites, or what do you recommend by him?

(below: From wikipedia, a portrait of Wilkie Collins. I think he wrote remarkably well for being just a disembodied head…)