Study Guide

The White Darkness

By Geraldine McCaughrean

The White Darkness Introduction

Mother Nature isn't always a caring, benevolent force; sometimes she's just a cold-blooded murderer. While that's tough luck for Sym, a fourteen-year-old introvert who suddenly finds herself thrust in the role of an Antarctic explorer, it's great news for readers who love a good adventure.

A story of survival, The White Darkness is about what happens as Sym navigates difficult, hostile terrain. The book is remarkable because it contains not one, but two, richly imagined worlds—the external one that is the cold and beautiful landscape of Antarctica, and the internal one that's in our protagonist's head. The physical challenges Sym confronts in reality mirror the emotional drama she tries to bury in her heart. Facing off against the elements, she slowly comes to terms with some hard truths about her own life, including her father's death and her budding sexuality.

The White Darkness is a different beast from many of its peers in the young adult category. Though it's a fictional story set in contemporary Antarctica, author Geraldine McCaughrean finds an inventive way to weave in the story of a real person from history: Captain Lawrence "Titus" Oates, an adventurer who died during an expedition to the South Pole in 1911. He's the Sym's imaginary boyfriend, in case you're wondering. They have long conversations that help us understand what Sym's thinking.

If you're thinking this sounds a little ridiculous, think again. First published in 2005, The White Darkness won a fancy award from the American Library Association, and it was also short listed for the Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread Award. In other words, this book's no joke.

What is The White Darkness About and Why Should I Care?

It's a pretty safe bet that, as he froze to death in 1911, Captain Lawrence "Titus" Oates did not envision himself as a heartthrob in a young adult novel. A far cry from Edward Cullen's whole so-cold-he's-hot thing, Titus was cold in the literal hands-and-feet-destroyed-by-frostbite sense of the word. Still, in The White Darkness, published almost a century after his death, author Geraldine McCaughrean envisions him as a leading man… of sorts.

The parallels that the author explores between the life of a long-dead explorer and that of her fourteen-year-old protagonist, Sym, speak to the relevance of history to our lives today. The point is not that Sym is an "old soul" or out of step with her peers (though she often feels that way); it's that two people who may seem wildly different on the surface can have far more in common than you might think, and that sometimes looking to the past can help us find our way forward.

As a reader, it might be hard to relate to Sym's trek through the Antarctic—it's a trip most of us will never make. But you can almost certainly relate to the emotional challenges she faces, like feeling lonely or dealing with the death of a loved one. And as you watch her find strength from a long-dead figure, you just might find yourself turning to history to help you get through a rough patch, too.

The White Darkness Resources

Websites

Geraldine McCaughrean's Official Website
The author's totally authentic web presence. You can find her free online books, bio, latest news, and more here.

McCaughrean's Blog
The author also has an official tumblr. There's cool art to be found here, as well as fun facts about Lawrence "Titus" Oates and much more.

All Things Antarctic
Think you could hack it on the ice? Lonely Planet has the lowdown on Antarctica and what it takes to visit this chilly location. Be sure to check out the Terra Nova Hut where the real Oates stayed.

Articles and Interviews

Super Insightful
This is a hybrid review of the book/interview with the author that's totally worth checking out.

Hey There, Big Deal
How do you know you've arrived as a writer? We're thinking being commissioned to write the sequel to J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan is a pretty good marker. And sure enough, McCaughrean has done just that.

The Scoop on Oates
Hungry to know more about the real Lawrence "Titus" Oates? Check out this article. Dude sounds pretty noble.

Video

Say Hello
Curious about what the author sounds like? Well, today's your lucky day.

Audio

An Excerpt from the Audiobook
As read by… Mary Poppins? We kid. But it sure does sound like her.

Images

Meet McCaughrean
This may win for best author photo outfit of all time. Just sayin'.

Behold the Book Cover
Here it is, in all its glory. Can't you just feel the isolation?

Here's the Real Lawrence "Titus" Oates
That's him on the far left, in a picture taken shortly before his crew's death.

There Must Be a Pun in Here Somewhere…
We're having a hard time thinking of it, but perhaps it will come to you when you check out this picture of Oates with some ponies.