In the early part of the 20th century, the challenges in mountain climbing got many people interested in the activity. It bred heroes in the same vein as Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart were in aviation. George Mallory was one such mountaineering hero, having gone on the first three British expeditions up Mount Everest, the tallest mountain on Earth. He was the one who famously responded, "Because it's there," when asked why he was trying to climb Everest.
In 1924, on his third expedition, he and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine vanished and were never heard from again. If they managed to reach the summit before disappearing, they would be the first humans to ever reach the peak, a honor that is officially held by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953, nearly three decades later! But because Mallory and Irvine were lost before they could speak to anyone about their attempt, their success has been a matter of speculation in the mountaineering community for the past three quarters of a century!
Mallory's body was eventually found in 1999. It was at a little over 8,100 feet above sea level, 600-some feet from the summit. Irvine's body has never been found, but his ice axe was discovered more than 8,400 feet up. The markings on Mallory's frozen body suggest that he and Irvine were still tethered together; presumably, one of them slipped, pulling the other with him. Mallory had gouge in his forehead that was about the size of his axe, which has led to the popular theory that, as the two men were falling down the slope, Mallory jammed his axe into the ice and snow to slow their fall; the axe caught a rock and bounced out, smacking Mallory in the head and killing him.
But that doesn't answer the question of whether or not they reached the summit. Were they still on their way up when they slipped, or on their way back down? Since it was 30 years before the next group was able to reach the peak, any evidence Mallory and Irvine may have left there would certainly have been blown away or destroyed by the elements. The only real hope of answering the question with any finality would be if someone found the camera Mallory and Irvine had with them, and were able to develop the film. But the camera, not surprisingly, has never been found.
Most of what I've explained so far is not in The Summit of the Gods. It's background information I looked up. Not because I needed to in order to understand the story, but because the story was so compelling that I wanted to know more.
The premise of Summit is that a young man finds what he believes to be Mallory's camera in a pawn shop in Kathmandu. It's stolen before he can do anything with it, and he's driven on an adventure to unravel the mystery. But that mystery is leads to another... and another. The classic "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."
The manga is actually based on a prose story by Baku Yumemakura, which was written before Mallory's body was found. But Jiro Taniguchi's storytelling makes the story, to me at least, incredibly engaging. Especially considering that all the mountaineering history makes sense, despite so very little of it actually making its way into the story. The artwork is gorgeous throughout and one really gets a sense of the bleakness people feel when they run into problems on a climb. That Ponent Mon publishes this on good quality paper with crisp ink makes it that much more an attractive package.
There will be five books in total. I have no idea where the story is going, but I've thoroughly enjoyed all three books so far. Certainly enough to spend a lot of additional time reading about Mallory and Everest, above and beyond what's presented in Summit. And I think that speaks to the story's quality moreso than any simple recommendation I could make.
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