Jeffery Archer has just released a fictionalised account of the life of George Mallory that looks set to be made into a film.
LFTO got to talk to him about his book, Paths of Glory, and his inspiration for the film. Keep your eyes peeled for a review.
Most readers already know the ending, so what makes this a good story?
The two climbers, Mallory and Irvine, were last seen 600ft from the top of Everest and Mallory�s body was eventually found 2000ft down with a watch that had stopped some six or seven hours later. If the watch stopped as the accident occurred, they had time to make it to the top.
But had Mallory had a different climbing partner things could have been different?
George Mallory and George Finch were the finest climbers of their generation. What the RGS wanted was to put an Oxford and Cambridge man on the summit of Everest. They didn�t want that accolade to go to an Australian who was schooled in Switzerland. Finch was a highly intelligent man and the RGS showed prejudice of the worst kind in excluding him.
Did you speak to his surviving relatives?
I spoke to members of the Finch family. There�s a grandniece still alive in her 80s and her first words were: �If that awful man Hinks had let him go he would have been the first person to stand on the roof of the world�. His family still feels very strongly about the issue.
Just how good was Finch as a climber?
I spoke to Sir Chris Bonington who felt that Finch was actually a better climber than Mallory. He�d had access to Alpine club minutes and magazines. Mallory clearly had a rival to the top who may well have done better. Let�s not forget that at that stage Finch held the record for the highest ascent � he was the first man to climb over 8000m. There was no reason whatsoever to exclude him from the 1924 expedition.
What climbing experience did you have?
None. I did go up Ben Nevis three years ago because I wanted to get a sense of what Mallory did at the age of 13. I went up the tourist path on a clear day in the middle of summer something I�m sure Mallory wouldn�t have even troubled himself with.
What research did you do for this book?
I went to Cambridge and spoke to a number of people who are still alive who actually knew Mallory. I was able to view all the correspondence between Mallory and his wife Ruth and I went to the Rheged Centre to see the equipment that was used on the 1924 expedition first hand � their tents, ice axes, clothing and goggles.
What mountain literature did you draw from?
I read everything that I could on Everest: books that included Mallory but I didn�t want to read beyond 1924. I wanted to stay resolutely within that era and not introduce elements of climbing from later expeditions. So I made a point of not reading about Hillary and the 1953 expedition for example.
Mallory and Irving were seen on the second step (the last barrier before Everest�s summit), but this has been refuted.
They were seen on the second step by Odell who was 27 and didn�t wear glasses until much later, was an experienced climber and was a highly intelligent man. I have no reason to doubt that he knew what he had seen. The highly respected Everest historian Audrey Salkeld has reason to believe that Odell actually saw them on the third step.
Were there other climbers who could have partnered Mallory?
If Odell had partnered Mallory then they might have got up and back down. Odell was perfectly comfortable at 25,000 feet, he went to 27,000ft and returned to that altitude to look for Mallory. He was more experienced than Irvine who was 15 years younger than the other climbers and was from a different generation. Odell didn�t want to use oxygen but Irvine had no qualms whatsoever.
Irvine�s body has never been found and nor has the camera which might answer the mystery of whether they actually made it to the top.
If they found it, it would change everything. I don�t buy Hillary�s argument that you haven�t climbed the mountain until you get back down. If we can ever prove they made it to the top then they take the accolade. If the first people to land on the moon didn�t make it back safely it wouldn�t diminish their achievement.
The book is clearly packaged for Hollywood. Would you like to see it as a film?
Definitely, yes. We are in talks with three companies at the moment.