Full of eccentric characters, "Killing Dragons" is the story of the first British mountaineers to tackle the Alpine summits of Switzerland during the late 18th century. Originally the explorers of this area were poorly equipped, wearing ordinary shoes and no protective clothing. The British arrived intent on reaching every Alpine summit, and "mountaineering" was born. The title refers to the legend of dragons inhabiting these peaks: "here be dragons", quoted the old maps.
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(197mm x 130mm x mm)
Publisher: Granta Books
Country of Publication:
UK Kirkus Review »
So feared by the valley dwellers that they couldn't even bring themselves to give the peaks a name - 'alp' was merely their word for a high pasture - Europe's mightiest mountains were a terrifying enigma until the late 18th century. Only then did scientists begin dragging their barometers up the glaciers and ice walls, still half-expecting to confront the dragons said to inhabit those lonely, hostile summits. In their wake came the adventurers, and as the author of Barrow's Boys, an account of 19th century British Polar exploration, Fleming again demonstrates an indulgent fondness for those who blundered cheerfully into the unknown, unprepared and ill-equipped, fuelled only by what one Victorian critic called 'an unhealthy craving for excitement'. Swiss professors hosting balls on the glacier; whistling Englishmen in cricket flannels and 'light boating attire' hauling crates of champagne up sheer rock faces; aunts and nephews taking their dog for a walk that got out of hand - Fleming's glee as he runs through an improbable cast list is infectious. No less involving is the breathless relish with which he describes the increasing recklessness of the ascents, as a genuine spirit of enquiry dissolved into frenzied, nationalistic peak-bagging. Scores of Englishmen toppled off the Matterhorn or were pulped by avalanches, their awful deaths inspiring a spin-off contest as pioneering glaciologists competed to predict when the ice rivers would disgorge those eerily well-preserved remains. 'You have made racecourses of the cathedrals of the earth,' wailed Ruskin, but few listened. In a final burst of suicidal patriotism, a dozen of Jitler's lemmings sacrificed themselves aiming for the Alps' last prize, the Elger's north face. A rare combination of impeccable research and page-turning effervescence, Fleming's account of the nonchalant eccentrics who crossed Europe's final frontier is an appropriate triumph of swashbuckling understatement. Reviewed by Tim Moore. Editor's note: Tim Moore is the author of Frost on my Moustache (Kirkus UK)
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Author Biography - Fergus Fleming
Fergus Fleming is a freelance writer living in London W8 and Gloucestershire. Educated at Oxford University and City University, London, he trained as an accountant and barrister and has worked as a furniture maker. Fergus is also the author of Amaryllis, a portrait of his aunt, and of several children's books. His recent non-fiction book Barrow's Boys, is published by Granta Books.