Three in Norway by Two of Them

One of the books that had a considerable effect on me was a travel book written in 1892 by James A Lees and Walter J. Clutterbuck. This is another book of which I own two editions. I bought the first in the Winter of 1974-75, an abridged edition, in Dovre, a small village in Norway, where it was one of two English language books on sale (the other was Time for Trolls, entertaining enough in its way).

Three in Norway is an account of a ” huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ ” trip to Jotunheimen in Norway by three English (actually two English and one Irish) gentlemen in 1882. It has no aspirations to great literature. For me, however, it was a fascinating new aspect of Victorian writing, and owed more to Punch magazine than to Dickens. I was greatly entertained by its dry humour and pleasant tone. It may have been the inspiration for Jerome K. Jerome’s much more famous Three Men in a Boat, first published six years after Three in Norway. It is a travel book of a unique kind. Some extracts:

This morning we found a merlin sitting just outside the tent door; it had evidently been stuffing itself with scraps of offal from the camp until it was perfectly stupid and could scarcely fly. Esau wanted to knock it on the head at first, but more humane feelings came over him, so he fetched his rifle and shot it for an hour or so, till at length the bird, wearied by the constant noise, retired into the birch woods, and we saw it no more.

… The whole is covered with a piece of muslin to keep off the villainous bluebottles. The muslin was brought to make into mosquito nets inside the tent, but in this happy spot the ‘skeeter’ is unknown, the sand-fly very rare, and the great greeneyed Møge—which bites a lump out of your leg and then flies to the nearest tree to eat it-—is conspicuous by its absence.

The only jarring note in the book is the amused patronisation of the various Norwegian helpers and porters that they used. Whatever their shortcomings, and they had many, the mockery heaped on these poor fellows in the book would not be tolerated today. However, there is no evidence that the three Brits actually showed any discourtesy to their casual employees’ faces. It’s also significant that the book is very popular in Norway to this day, and has been in print there for most of its 120 years.

Ivar is without doubt a perfect ass, and will never be able to do anything in the way of cookery, except perhaps boil a potato, and even in that enterprise we consider it would be six to four on the potato.

It had always bothered me that my modern paperback edition was abridged, and I was delighted when Ken Miller (a clever ideas man with whom we were working on an ill-fated computer game in 1984) gave me the 1888 edition. In the event, there is little difference between the texts, although the comment about the merlin, for example, is missing from the 1968 edition.

The 1888 Longmans edition

Title Page

Most recently, a print-on-demand version of the book is available from Coch-y-Bonddu Books Ltd.

The book is illustrated with woodcuts attributed to both authors.

In 1974 I imagined Three in Norway to be a forgotten gem. In fact, in Norway, it has never been forgotten. With this gem, which was also out of copyright, I originally planned to create a modern edition with photographs of the actual countryside. Surprisingly, a century downstream, nearly all the locations are still in place and unspoilt. Most of the area is now in a National Park.

Gjendin from Bessegen

© 2007 berg-radler at Flickr All Rights Reserved
(http://www.flickr.com/photos/berg-radler/ )

Russvatnet

© 2007 berg-radler at Flickr All Rights Reserved
(http://www.flickr.com/photos/berg-radler/ )

Back in 1974, we lived in Sweden, and it wouldn’t have been too difficult to organise a couple of weeks exploring in the area, with a view to photographing the locations. The project never took place, though, not for lack of enthusiasm, but through pessimism about a possible publisher for the illustrated book.

However, in 2004, the fly fishing journalist, Jon Beer, on reading the book, made a trip to Jotunheimen, retracing some of the authors’ travels. See here. Jon Beer has written a foreword to the Coch-y-Bonddu Books Ltd edition.

When the web arrived in the 1990s, I realised the possibility of publishing books with a limited readership. I’d have liked to return to the Three in Norway project, but, by that time, we were living in England, and it would have been difficult to do the photo-shoot in Norway. But it was the germ of the idea which became an amalgam of Three in Norway and Lord of the Rings, a project that I intend to complete real soon now.

In the meantime, you will have to be content with Three in Norway itself, which I confess is superior in every way, especially in originality. If you are interested in it, there is a “read online” version of Three in Norway here. (The accompanying text download is an imperfect OCR rendering of the scanned volume, not recommended, and the woodcuts have not been reproduced, as far as I can see.)

All in all, Three in Norway is an important book to me, and I commend it.

The authors – the “Two of Them” – were James A Lees and Walter J. Clutterbuck. They wrote, together, two travel books, the other being BC1890 – a ramble in British Columbia in which they explored a previously neglected area of Canada. This resulted in the following two peaks being named after the authors – Mt. Lees and Mt Clutterbuck. :

[later] Jon Beer tells me that Lees made a follow-up expedition to Norway and wrote Peaks and Pines – Another Norway Book.

Clutterbuck also wrote two more books which are available in archive.org:

They are: About Ceylon and Borneo: Being an Account of Two Visits to Ceylon, One to Borneo, and How We Fell Out on Our Homeward Journey (1892)

and

The Skipper in Arctic Seas (1890)

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