Review by Frank Plowright
Can there really be any more enjoyable way for youngsters to learn about historical figures than Corpse Talk? Every year Adam and Lisa Murphy issue another themed selection of interviews with the corpses of the famous whose lives are explored in a fun and funny way, pointing out what official history texts will sometimes gloss over, and contextualising the times and beliefs.
The joy of this explorers section is how it contradicts what most people assume as truth. Christopher Columbus is credited with discovring the American contintent, but didn’t acknowledge he’d discovered a new continent, believing he’d evolved new routes to India and China, and his treatment of the people he met was appalling, although let’s not discount his achievement given the ships of the time. Plus, as we learn, Viking explorer Lief Eriksen is generally acknowledged as the first to set foot on the American mainland over four hundred years ahead of the Columbus voyage.
Many astounding revelations are provided, starting with early Greek explorer Pytheas having the knowledge to measure how far from home he was by studying the shadow from the midday sun on a planted stick. Murphy follows that with an explanation of why the sun never sets in the Arctic. This time he’s a little more flexible with the page allocation, rather than restricting every subject to the same amount, and as ever, this isn’t a Euro-centric version of history, with the inclusion of Arabic, Chinese and South American people. It’s also stressed that exploration came at a cost, not least in human lives, but also in the terrible conditions endured by the likes of Ibn Battuta, Ferdinand Magellan and cover star Ernest Shackleton. It’s is a first for featuring someone who may have actually resembled their Corpse Talk portrait before death. Contracting Shackleton’s horrific Antarctic journey into two pages actually does him a service by bringing out the continual intensity of what he faced and the indomitable spirit for survival it must have taken to keep going. “Epic” has become a cheapened term, but Shackleton’s journey qualifies.
A broad view of what constitutes an explorer is taken, with Alexander Selkirk’s explorations limited to the desert island he was stranded on, and the lesser known Isabel Godin Des Odonais undertaking even more random routes (sample art). Also featured is the greatest successful chancer in history Hernán Cortez. He explored in terms of forging through new country, but his only interests were subjugation and riches, and starting with an army of five hundred he pretty well wiped out the entire Aztec culture.
As ever, Murphy as interviewer is there to make Dad jokes, point out the historical bias, and prick the egos of the pompous and self-entitled while still providing a succession of absorbing history lessons. The selection closes with maps showing the incredible journeys of each interviewee. Every Corpse Talk release is a gem, and Ground-Breaking Explorers continues the Murphys’ own streak of quality.