Study Guide

The White Darkness

The White Darkness Summary

The book opens with a nice surprise: "Uncle" Victor Briggs, a family friend, has planned an impromptu weekend for Sym Wates and her mother in France. Sym is thrilled. So thrilled, in fact, that she's able to overlook the fact that Victor steals her mother's passport, thus leaving her behind in England. In Paris, sans Sym's mother, Victor reveals a second surprise: Their final destination is actually the South Pole. As in Antarctica.

Now, there are a lot of things the average person might feel if her weekend jaunt to Paris turned into an epic Antarctic adventure. Alarmed, for instance, or perhaps disappointed. Not Sym, though—she just feels delighted. She's eager to put some distance between herself and her real life, which hasn't been so good lately. Sym doesn't have many friends, for one thing, and for another, her father recently died from a grisly illness. It's time to chill. Literally.

At the South Pole, Sym and Victor set up base camp with a travel outfit called Pengwings. There, they join forces with a pair of con men, Manfred and Sigurd Bruch, who are posing as a Viking filmmaker and his son. Oh goodie.

Unbeknownst to everyone, Victor blows up a plane and drugs almost everyone at camp so the four can steal off in the night. Victor's secret agenda is to find Symmes's Hole, an imaginary portal to the center of earth that he's been obsessed with for years. Manfred and Sigurd's secret agenda is to steal Victor's money. Sym's secret agenda is keeping everyone else's secret agenda a secret from herself. Through her conversations with Titus Oates—her 125-year-old imaginary boyfriend and alter ego (who, incidentally, died on an expedition in Antarctica), we know that she's observant and suspects things are not as they seem. She willfully ignores these misgivings, though, to Titus's chagrin.

After a harrowing car ride across thin ice, Manfred admits to his con. Victor, who is fully cracked, just murders him and keeps on truckin'. For Sym, the expedition goes from bad to worse when Victor admits to a series of betrayals (including murdering Sym's father and swindling her family out of a lot of money) and sends her and Sigurd out in front of the vehicle to scout for cracks in the ice. It's nerve-wracking work, to say the least, but not nearly so nerve-wracking as when Sigurd manages to steal the vehicle, leaving Sym and Victor for dead in the snow.

Soon after all that, good old Uncle Victor throws himself down into the abyss he takes to be Symmes's Hole. Whoa.

Sym's learned a lot of difficult truths about Victor just before she watches him plunge to his death, and at first she's unable to deal. Overwhelmed by her feelings, she wants nothing so much as to lie down in the snow and die. Fortunately, Titus manages to talk her out of this terrible plan and helps lead her to safety, or at least some approximation of it: Sigurd, whose vehicle has stalled out in the snow. Sigurd takes Sym in, shoots her up with some adrenaline from the first aid kit, and she comes back to life.

From there, everything's pretty much easy street. In the hopes they'll be spotted by rescuers, Sym blows up the broken-down vehicle. No one sees it, but they're rescued anyway. On the long boat ride home, as she recovers from her arduous journey, Sym learns she has an admirer: Mike, one of her fellow travelers from the Pengwings tour. Much to her surprise, he asks her out. She's not ready to date yet—she's only fourteen—but she knows she will be someday soon.

  • Chapter 1

    "Titus"

    • The book begins with a declaration of love: Sym, our narrator, is in love with a man named Titus Oates. And he's been dead for ninety years.
    • Sym says that, in her head, she and her dead boyfriend talk about anything and everything. As you do with your dead boyfriend.
    • Titus wasn't married when he died, Sym tells us, so while he may be undead, he is not committing adultery.
    • Sym tells us her Uncle Victor doesn't want her to get married. That suits Sym. She's got Titus, after all.
    • So Sym really admires this Uncle Victor guy. He's very smart, for one thing; he used to help her with homework when she was little. Interestingly, Sym's teachers thought Victor had the answers wrong. Huh.
    • Sym says her teachers don't know anything about Antarctica. Sym does, though. She's a little obsessed with it, in fact.
    • She recalls the night when her shelf of Antarctica books collapsed on her bed. It was the same night her dad was taken to the hospital.
    • Sym says Victor is the one who gave her most of these books. She never mentions all her special knowledge at school, though, because she knows people would make fun of Titus.
    • Unfortunately, she knows this out of experience: Once Sym mentioned Titus to her friends and they made fun of her mercilessly.
    • Sym describes a time when she felt super uncomfortable. Her friends were talk about snogging (that's British slang for "kissing," BTW).
    • Sym told her friends she didn't care about snogging; she was more into imagining. Her friends thought this was a real hoot (at Sym's expense), which made Sym, already an introvert, retreat into herself even further.
    • Surprise. Victor has arranged a treat for him, Sym, and her "mum" (we're in England, remember): They're going to Paris.
    • Sym's mum seems uneasy with the idea. She's worried about money, and she doesn't want Sym to miss school.
    • Victor is not worried about money or school, however, and Sym isn't either. She just wants to go to Paris.
    • Sym tells her friend Nikki she's missing their chemistry exam because of her trip. Nikki is jealous.
    • Nikki is reading a magazine. Titus (who, remember, is just in Sym's head) tries to figure out what some of the modern words mean.
    • Sym hasn't given her teacher her mother's note about the trip yet. She thinks her teachers don't like her because that's what Uncle Victor said.
    • In fact, Victor frequently visits the school for things like parents' nights. When he does, he always argues with the teachers.
    • Oh, here's Sym's friend Maxine. When she learns Sym's going to Paris, she asks if it's for a "dirty weekend," which she knows will make Sym uncomfortable. Cool friend, Sym.
    • Maxine talks about the Moulin Rouge and all the rich men she'd like to meet, while Sym grows more and more uncomfortable. Why do her friends want to talk about this stuff?
    • Nikki diplomatically tries to change the topic to museums. Good old Nikki.
    • Sym's at the train station with Victor and her mum. Uh-oh… Her mum's passport is missing.
    • So Victor and Sym leave her mother behind. Apparently the train tickets were for a particular time and they can't be changed. So, um, bye?
  • Chapter 2

    Freeze-Frame

    • Sym recalls the day Titus arrived in her head. It was when she watched an old TV show about him.
    • Her dad was in the hospital at the time. Sym found herself totally absorbed by this program—so much so that it felt more real than her real life.
    • It was during this immersive experience that Sym "met" Titus. She had read about him before, but now that she was seeing him on DVD, he came to life, so to speak.
    • Soon after she finished watching the program, Sym's mum called to say her dad had died.
    • Sym wasn't exactly surprised; his death had been on the horizon for a while. Also, she says her father never liked her.
  • Chapter 3

    Freeze-Frame

    • Sym recalls the day Titus arrived in her head. It was when she watched an old TV show about him.
    • Her dad was in the hospital at the time. Sym found herself totally absorbed by this program—so much so that it felt more real than her real life.
    • It was during this immersive experience that Sym "met" Titus. She had read about him before, but now that she was seeing him on DVD, he came to life, so to speak.
    • Soon after she finished watching the program, Sym's mum called to say her dad had died.
    • Sym wasn't exactly surprised; his death had been on the horizon for a while. Also, she says her father never liked her.
  • Chapter 4

    Dreams

    • Sym reflects on all that Victor has done for her and her mother since Sym's father died, including mowing the grass. Which, by the way, he cuts in a certain direction so the grass doesn't twist as it grows. (Did we mention Victor's crazy?)
    • He's also helped with money stuff. Sym thinks Victor must have been wiser with money than her father. The two men worked together in better times.
    • When he died, Sym's father left a lot of debt—so much so that her mum couldn't get a loan or extend the mortgage.
    • In Paris, Victor wants Sym to buy fancy clothes so she'll fit in on the trip, so she tries on a red silk outfit that makes her feel like a million bucks.
    • As Victor pays, a store clerk takes Sym aside to ask if Victor is her father. She seems worried. We know the feeling.
    • Now Sym and Victor are at a storage facility, where they pick up a new, huge bag that Victor evidently sent ahead. So he's been planning this for a while…
    • Victor dumps their old suitcase in the river, and with that, it looks like they're leaving their old life behind.
    • Sym is more than happy to leave that life behind. Things were hard for her at school, where she was known as a big nerd.
    • Her friend Hilary helped cement this reputation. One time, when Hilary came over after school, Victor told her Sym wanted to be home-schooled… even though he was the one who wanted it.
    • He also left a germophobe note in the bathroom about hand washing that Hilary thought was Sym's work.
    • Victor and Sym are on a plane now. It's been an eight-hour trip so far; they're having a conversation about dreams.
    • Sym tells us she prefers daydreaming. Her whole life is built around the daydream of Titus, after all.
    • She's having a hard time daydreaming on the flight, though, since she has a headache that even Victor's herbal medicines can't touch.
    • Victor's really into herbs, by the way. He has a mail-order degree in allopathy and everything. His herbs helped soothe Sym's dad in the months leading up to his death.
    • As Sym tries to work up a good daydream, she notices Victor making calculations about the plane's velocity on a napkin. Yep. Still crazy.
  • Chapter 5

    Sigurd

    • Sym dozes a bit on the long flight to Buenos Aires. Uncle Victor does not.
    • Victor doesn't sleep that much, and when he does it's in a weird chair that vibrates to improve circulation.
    • The chair is back at the house with Sym's mum. Evidently Victor moved in to help with the mortgage.
    • In Buenos Aires, going through customs, Victor's teabags cause a bit of a commotion when the drug dogs sniffed them out. The customs officers just wave them through, though, thinking an Englishman's tea seems innocent enough.
    • Here's Jon, the trip leader. He's rounding up the other people who will be going to Antarctica.
    • The tour group drives around Buenos Aires, taking in some sights. Victor is not into it at all.
    • Sym has the terrible realization that she is going to have to talk to other humans during this trip. Dun dun dun…
    • Sym studies her fellow passengers. They mostly seem old and rich.
    • Many of these passengers are vaguely cartoonish: a British birdwatcher, a retired colonel and his young wife, and two blond Vikings.
    • The latter are a father-and-son pair, Manfred and Sigurd Birch. Sigurd, the teenage son, is of special interest to Sym, as you may have noticed from this chapter's title.
    • Oh, here's Madame Mimi Dormiere-St.-Pierre. She's fake French and wearing a pink snowsuit… in Buenos Aires.
    • Sym is looking forward to retiring to her room. When she asks Victor if she can call her mum, he says no.
    • Back in the room, there's an invitation to the evening's entertainment, an event called the Icebreaker. Sym is painfully shy and is not looking forward to breaking the ice.
    • Titus gives Sym a quick pep talk to the tune of you're going to have to meet these people at some point anyway.
    • Sym arrives at the Icebreaker. She wears hearing aids, and the racket of the party is overwhelming.
    • The whole gang is here, including Mimi, who's changed out of her pink snowsuit. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves—well, except Sym.
    • Sym watches the elder Viking work the room. He's very good with people, she notes. Meanwhile, the younger Viking, Sigurd, brings her an orange juice and makes polite conversation.
    • Sym is very bad at polite conversation, though, and she soon drives Sigurd away.
    • Feeling ill, Sym goes out to the stairs for a quick conversation with Titus. He cheers her up.
  • Chapter 6

    The Ice

    • By traveling through different time zones, Sym has gained almost a day.
    • She reflects on days she wish she could erase from her life: when the dog died, when she first got her hearing aids, when the family car was repossessed, and when her father no longer recognized her.
    • Her father's illness slowly took his faculties. He started getting injured, forgetting things, and even got into a car crash.
    • Back on the excursion, Sym's fellow travelers have started a series of lectures. First up is the birdwatcher, on birds.
    • Sym is super bored so she chats with Titus and tries to get excited about tomorrow, when they'll arrive in Antarctica.
    • Victor must be bored, too, because he's falling asleep. Sym wakes him so he won't snore.
    • Now the travelers are on another plane, flying over the Southern Ocean. Sym gazes out the window upon an iceberg.
    • When the plane hits the Antarctic Circle, it's palpable—it becomes cold in the cabin of the plane.
    • Sym tries to look at Antarctica, but it's hard to see because the white is so dazzling. Jon, the trip leader, passes around sunglasses.
    • As Sym looks upon all this wonder, she notices Victor out of the corner of her eye. He's concentrating on keeping the plane in the air, of course.
    • Sym feels extra grateful for the trip knowing what a strain it's been on Uncle Victor. What a guy right?
    • The plane lands. Everyone seems really nervous except for Sym. She was born for this.
    • The passengers make camp. Sym tries to take in all the nothingness, picturing Titus on his journey there ninety years before. She feels happy, or at least like happiness is a possibility.
  • Chapter 7

    Talk

    • Sym explains that she's not good at talking. Thinking, sure, that's fine; but talking is something else altogether.
    • She's finding it exhausting being with a group all the time, and sometimes she skips the group activities to go stare at the snowdrifts by herself.
    • The week passes with a few excursions to see local animal life, including elephant seals, whales, and penguins.
    • Here's Sigurd. Sym is so used to having conversations with Titus in her head that only about half of what she means to say actually makes it out of her mouth.
    • Sym is suspicious about Sigurd's attention toward her; she assumes he's just being polite. Anyway, everyone finds him charming, including Sym.
    • Uncle Victor, on the other hand? Not so charming. He's always interrupting people on the trip, which (surprise) they find annoying.
    • The group is having a swish barbeque with champagne and shrimp cocktail. It's thirty degrees below zero, but they're eating outside.
    • A fellow passenger, Mrs. Pogsbaum, has an idea: Sym should perform or do something fun in front of the group. Sym is mortified.
    • After some cajoling, Sym tells them a bit about Titus's expedition. Then she recites a poem.
    • The poem moves Uncle Victor to tears, and everyone thinks he's a lunatic except for Manfred Bruch, who bonds with him.
    • Manfred and Victor retreat to the Hagglund, an Arctic terrain vehicle, to chat. Sigurd and Sym accompany them.
    • Surprise: Manfred and Victor already know each other. But Manfred wants their friendship to continue to be a secret from the rest of the group.
    • Manfred is impressed with Victor's genius. Or maybe obsessed is a better word… Turns out Manfred's wife (Sigurd's mother) left him because of this obsession. This is news to Sym, but not to Victor.
    • Sym basically has no idea what's going on. Nor does Shmoop. Go team.
  • Chapter 8

    Worlds Within Worlds

    • Sym learns from Victor and Manfred that the world is hollow. Sounds a bit suspect, right? Like the whole "the world is flat" thing?
    • The hollow earth theory is the work of a real dude named Jon Cleeves Symmes. He lived 140 years ago, which is presumably back when people thought the earth was hollow.
    • Symmes's Hole, as its called, is the object of Victor's obsession, and after fifteen years of looking, he thinks he's found it. This seems plausible to Sym, who thinks Victor is a genius.
    • Manfred, who is a film director, is on the trip to film Victor's journey to find Symmes's Hole—that's how they know each other. Also, it seems they've been planning this for a while.
    • Sym describes Symmes's Hole as a portal that leads to an underground labyrinth. Oh sure, sounds legit.
    • Victor tells Sym that explorers—including Titus (her Titus)—have been looking for the portal for years. It's just that no one has been successful. Yet.
    • Sym is having a hard time believing all this, but if Victor said it, it must be true… right?
  • Chapter 9

    Solar Corona

    • Manfred Bruch has proof that Symmes's Hole exists. Guess that settles that.
    • Manfred and Victor met through a website called Thoughtextreme.com. It's like a chat room for crazy obsessed people.
    • Manfred has been through a lot since he met Victor. To help with the project, he mortgaged his house, lost his wife, dropped other projects; in other words, he's all in.
    • Through Thoughtextreme.com, Victor told Manfred he was looking for a fossil that provided evidence of "interior life," or hole people, if you prefer.
    • And wouldn't you know, Bruch found someone selling just such a fossil on eBay. Again, sounds legit. This Manfred guy is just 2 legit 2 quit.
    • Also legit sounding? The photograph of Symmes's Hole that Manfred obtained through a friend who works at NASA.
    • Victor wants to see the photo; Manfred hands it over with a melodramatic flourish. Everyone cries. Now Victor wants the coordinates. Manfred will hand them over… but there is the small matter of his payment. Victor hands him a check.
    • The money is to finance Manfred's film. Mmhmm, totally legit. The crew is flying in on Thursday.
    • Here's Jon, the trip leader. He asks the co-conspirators to get out of the Arctic vehicle, which is off limits.
    • Victor almost loses the slip of paper with the coordinates, but saves it.
    • Uh oh… All the passengers are sick with catastrophic diarrhea. Also vomiting. The resident doctor thinks it might be food poisoning.
    • Sym is not sick, though, so good for her.
    • Sym's been thinking she really needs to get in touch with her mother. She's not sure how much her mom knows, which worries her.
    • She's also not sure where all the money to finance this trip has come from.
    • Sym confides all her concerns and doubts to Sigurd, who's very reassuring. He believes in Victor's genius, and he also doesn't think Sym should contact her mum.
    • Enough conversation. Sym decides they should go for a spin on the Ski-Doo. At the end Sigurd kisses her. It's her first kiss—swoon.
    • Titus has been notably absent. Sym wishes he'd come around so she could ask him about Symmes's Hole. She knows he couldn't really tell her, though, because he only knows the things that she knows. After all, he lives in her brain.
    • Sym was so distracted by the Ski-Doo and the kiss that she never did call her mum. When she wakes up the next morning, the camp radio is on the fritz. Someone poured whiskey all over it.
  • Chapter 10

    A Slight Change of Plan

    • Sym's writing postcards to Nikki and her mother, using special Antarctic stamps and everything.
    • Sym hears a sound—Mimi Dormiere-St.Pierre is crying in the bathroom. She and Sym bond over her loneliness. Poor Mimi lost her fancy phone, so she can't even call home.
    • Sym suggests Mimi go home on the next plane; so many people have been ill that Sym thinks she'll have company.
    • Mimi, who's a writer, says that Manfred is going to film one of her books. What a coincidence…
    • Mimi tries to gossip a bit about Sigurd. When she tells Sym that he's cute, Sym's enormously embarrassed.
    • When they hug it out, Sym tucks her postcards in Mimi's back pocket. Why is she being sneaky about it? Unclear.
    • After a chat with Titus, Sym is back in the tent. Everyone's asleep, and she's reflecting back on the days before her father died. He was drunk and mean.
    • Sym's been thinking about it, and she's pretty sure that Sigurd only likes her because of Victor. She's maybe overestimating Victor's appeal.
    • Sigurd has been hanging around a lot lately, which makes Sym think of a practical joke Maxine played on her once.
    • The joke was that Maxine told some boy that Sym would sleep with him. Great joke, Maxine.
    • Sym wonders if there's something wrong with her. Why isn't she more into boys? She finds them vaguely disgusting.
    • Anyway, Sym's glad to have Sigurd around. She talks to him about Symmes's Hole, and while he doesn't have a lot of answers, he is a good confidante.
    • Sigurd is still convinced that Sym shouldn't call her mother. (Why does he care?) Oh, and they're making out all the time now.
    • Everyone in camp is still ill. Everyone, that is, except Victor, Sym, Manfred, and Sigurd.
    • People are lining up to take the next plane back—they're ready to get home—while Manfred and Victor are there, ready to meet the film crew.
    • Except the film crew isn't there. Hmm… Seems a bit fishy. Manfred says he'll just go fetch them and come back on the next plane.
    • Victor seems pretty indifferent about the whole thing; he says Manfred will just have to catch up.
    • There's a meeting for all the explorers. Sym goes to fetch Sigurd, but he doesn't feel like coming.
    • Sym notes with some surprise that he's packing up. Evidently he's going back with his father for the film crew.
    • In the men's tent, Sym finds one of Uncle Victor's notebooks. It has tiny crazy person calculations and writings in it.
    • Oh, here's Manfred. And guess what? Everyone's going back to civilization. The trip has been cut short because everyone's so ill. Sym seems ambivalent; she's relieved and disappointed at the same time.
    • Sym sets off to find Victor. He seems to be in good spirits.
    • As they walk back to camp, they hear an explosion. It's the plane. Oh dear.
    • One of the passengers, a journalist, was killed in the explosion. We were never even told his name, so R.I.P. nameless guy.
    • No one knows exactly what happened. Understandably, people are upset; one woman even faints twice. The only person who seems okay is Victor. He decides to make everyone some tea.
    • A few hours later, everyone's asleep. Sym decides they're exhausted from all the fear, though she also notes all the empty teacups by each sleeping traveler. Interesting.
    • Sym feels afraid, but she's not sure why. She confident they'll be rescued. She's just afraid.
    • As she tries to get some sleep, she has a quick conversation with Titus: Sym wants to know if he ever worried he would die. He doesn't answer.
    • Sym is interrupted by a masked man. It's Victor, in a special facemask designed for blizzards. He says it's time to leave for Symmes's Hole.
  • Chapter 11

    The Heart of the Barrier

    • Another postcard to Nikki: Dear Nikki, Uncle and Victor and I stole the Arctic vehicle to go find a portal to the underworld. Love, Sym. The note goes something like that anyway…
    • Sym asks Victor if he left word at camp about where they were going. He doesn't answer, but Shmoop has a guess: no.
    • Inside the Arctic vehicle, things feel a bit unreal, like an amusement park ride.
    • Sym takes comfort in the flags they pass since they indicate that the terrain has been explored by other people. And then the flags stop.
    • Sym tries to have faith in Victor, but she can't help but notice that the GPS system says they're now driving over the sea. That means they're on an ice shelf that could crack at any time.
    • It's loud inside in the vehicle, so Sym can't communicate with Victor. She can hear him, though, because he's wearing some sort of special headset.
    • There's a TV, so Sym switches over to Days of Our Lives. Just kidding. She's watching Manfred and Sigurd, who are in the back. Sigurd is unconscious.
    • Back at camp, as they loaded the vehicle, Sym realized Victor used his special tea bags to drug everyone at camp. And yet she still went on the trip.
    • Sym asks Victor if Sigurd has been drugged, but he ignores her. Eventually, Sigurd wakes up. Sym watches him argue with Manfred on the closed circuit TV, but she can't hear them.
    • When Victor stops the vehicle, Sym gets out and checks on Sigurd. He's not happy with the situation—Manfred is trying to keep him under control.
    • Manfred makes a move to punch Sigurd, but Sym steps in between for some reason, which means she takes the punch. Manfred does not apologize. In fact, he says nothing.
    • Manfred moves into the front seat with Victor. Sigurd tells Sym he wants to leave. She advises against it, though—in case he hadn't noticed, the weather's bad, and they're very far from camp.
    • Sym suggests they leave a trail so people can find them. Clever girl.
    • Sym tells Sigurd she thinks this whole idea is a bit crazy and she doesn't endorse it. For a moment, she thinks Victor overhears and she feels disloyal. It's a false alarm, though.
    • Victor's asleep at the wheel. Sigurd tries to take over the driving, but Victor wakes up and tells him to buzz off. Sym doesn't think he's slept at all during the trip.
    • Victor continues to doze off in the driver's seat, which makes the ride pretty bumpy for Sym and Sigurd in the back. Fuel cans are rolling around everywhere.
    • Victor stops the car and Manfred goes to the back to help tidy the fuel cans. Victor takes a nap.
    • Here comes an aircraft. It's loud, but it's impossible to know if it's a passenger plane or a rescue crew or what.
    • Sigurd looks for a flare. Sym says that's a bad idea, given all the fuel that's spilled everywhere—they'd all go up in flames.
    • At this, Manfred pulls a lighter out of his pocket like a total maniac. For a minute, it seems like he's about to light it… but he doesn't. Phew.
    • In his panic about the lighter, Sigurd referred to Manfred as "Mr. Bruch," which is a weird way to address your father, in our humble opinion.
    • Sym is so panicked after the almost-fire that she falls into an intense daydream with Titus. She pretends to be Florence, a girl the real Titus almost went out with (but didn't).
    • It's an intricate fantasy wherein Sym (as Florence) elopes with Titus and travels with him around the world.
    • Sym seems a little defensive about this fantasy. She compares it to the Brontë sisters, who imagined a whole town full of people.
    • Titus points out that Sigurd called his father Mr. Bruch, so we know Sym noticed.
  • Chapter 12

    Glasstown

    • Sym's still talking to Titus; she's also talking to Sigurd, whom she shares the back area with. They chat and sleep as Victor and Manfred drive.
    • As they travel, Sym becomes less and less sure of reality. Did Manfred really almost start a fire before, or did she imagine that?
    • Meanwhile, Sigurd seems totally unfazed by everything that's going on. He's calm, cool, and collected. Sym's jealous—she knows enough about Antarctica to be very nervous.
    • To take her mind off things, she focuses on the trail they're leaving for the rescuers. (She's tossing empty fuel cans out of the back every so often.)
    • Sym's trying to be brave, so she poops outside as part of their trail, claiming it can be seen in the snow from a mile away. It's all very strange, and Sigurd seems unimpressed.
    • Sym's finding it difficult to talk to Titus because Sigurd wants to talk so much. They flirt.
    • During the conversation, Sym mentions that she knows Manfred wants to make a movie with Mimi. Sigurd seems alarmed. Sym notices.
    • Sym tries to apologize about the whole Uncle Victor drugging everybody thing, but Sigurd says it's no big deal.
    • As they chat, Sigurd makes a comment about Sym being rich. Thing is, Sym's not rich, and she thinks it's weird he'd say that.
    • After a brief interlude for kissing, Sym asks Sigurd about his dreams. He says he wants to be an actor.
    • The vehicle's stopped and Victor's in the back to refuel. Sym asks if she can move to the front seat. The answer is no.
    • Victor knows they've been making out and he thinks it's grand. Sym's a little confused. Shouldn't Victor care more?
    • They're back on the road. Sym lies and tells Sigurd she's had sex before, though she's not even sure why she's lying.
    • Sym hates herself a little for not being more into Sigurd and wonders if something's wrong with her.
    • She has a conversation with Titus about sex and he says something that surprises her. Sym thinks that's odd because he never surprises her—you know, since he's a figment of her own imagination.
    • Sym realizes that Sigurd and Manfred think they're going to make it home alive. Apparently, she does not agree.
  • Chapter 13

    Diamond Ice

    • It's really foggy—so foggy that Sym's sure they'll have to turn back. Except they don't.
    • Uncle Victor prepares a libation for everyone. You'd think Sym would have learned to be wary of Victor's drinks by now, but you'd be wrong.
    • Manfred really thinks they should turn back now, but Victor wants to keep pressing forward in the fog.
    • So they keep moving, and soon enough, they hit a ridge. Unfazed, Victor keeps driving. It's a wild and crazy ride. Also bumpy.
    • More crashing, but Victor keeps on truckin'. Well, until the ground starts to part beneath them…
  • Chapter 14

    "What Each Man Feels In His Heart, I Can Only Guess." –Scott

    • The vehicle is straddling a deep crack in the ice, but Sym has every confidence that Victor will get them out of this terrible situation.
    • Victor thinks they should evacuate. No way, Sym says—she read the vehicle's manual when she was in the back with Sigurd, and it says footfalls can break the ice more easily than the vehicle. Wait, what?
    • Victor, for the first time, seems concerned. Sym gives him a pep talk, telling him to think happy thoughts. It works.
    • Somehow they claw their way out of the crevasse. The GPS isn't working anymore, by the way, and they're in unmapped territory.
    • Victor decides that Sigurd should walk in front of the vehicle to help avoid any more brushes with the abyss.
    • In a rush of courage (or stupidity—your call, Shmoopers), Sym says she'll walk with Sigurd. They hold hands as they walk.
    • Sym thinks about the story behind her name and realizes that her father named her for Symmes's Hole, though she lies about it when Sigurd asks.
    • Sym realizes something else: Her father must have hunted for Symmes's Hole with Uncle Victor. It's all coming together…
    • The fog breaks and Sym and Sigurd are overwhelmed by all the colors and optical illusions.
    • Manfred thinks he sees a castle, but Titus tells Sym that it's just a mirage. She knows that Titus is right.
    • Finally, Manfred realizes the castle is a mirage; he stops driving, hugely disappointed.
    • Sym thinks Sigurd should comfort his father, but Sigurd hits him on the head with a frozen mitten instead.
    • Sans Norwegian accent, Manfred confesses that he has been lying this whole time: He is not a film director; he's a con man who's been trying to trick Victor out of his money.
    • Victor is not perturbed. He moves to fix some drinks.
    • Manfred keeps trying to explain himself, but Victor isn't paying attention—he doesn't seem to care at all. Manfred's going into all the gory details of his treachery. Why? Maybe because Victor refuses to react.
    • There was no guy at NASA, no special fossil, and above all, no Symmes's Hole. Victor's just like, whatever—it's still real and we're still going there.
    • Manfred admits that he almost killed all three of them back during his weird moment with the lighter. Of course, ultimately he didn't. What a prince.
    • Sym feels complicit in the treachery because on some level she knew things weren't right. She beats herself up about it.
    • Victor's ready to get back on the road. Manfred is totally horrified, though, and he offers to give back the money.
    • Now Victor admits to his own bit of treachery: There is no money—the check is bad. Ha.
    • Manfred laughs hysterically. Victor asks if he can go retrieve a mask that Sigurd dropped, and Manfred goes after it.
    • But before Manfred gets back to the vehicle, Victor starts to drive away—slowly, but not so slow that Manfred can catch up.
    • Manfred runs after the vehicle as Sym and Sigurd cheer him on. He almost catches up, but then he falls and breaks his ankle. Victor drives away.
  • Chapter 15

    Looking Back

    • Sym and Sigurd can't stop looking back for Manfred. Irrationally, they hope he'll catch up.
    • Sym promises Sigurd they can go back for his "dad." Of course, Manfred wasn't his dad, but Sym seems to be having trouble adjusting to this new information. She can't even take in Sigurd's real name.
    • Sigurd explains why Victor's ruse was so believable: Victor has been paying them thousands of pounds using checks that actually cleared. Also he paid for the trip.
    • Sym remembers that Manfred doesn't have his gloves, and somehow this detail makes his inevitable death seem more real. Sym begs Victor to go back for him.
    • Victor's all like, no worries—Manfred won't suffer because I totally poisoned him.
    • Now Sym's worried that Victor killed everyone back at camp. He tells her to chill, though; he just drugged them so they would sleep.
    • (Except for the journalist who died in the plane explosion—Victor definitely killed him, since he caused the explosion.)
    • Sym and Sigurd are walking in front of the vehicle again. Worst job ever.
    • To wit, they fall through a crack in the ice.
  • Chapter 16

    Underground

    • Sym and Sigurd are falling through the abyss. Fortunately, they're tethered to the vehicle, so eventually they're just swinging through the air.
    • Sigurd has accidentally swallowed snow, though, and he's not doing so well. Sym tries to keep her cool.
    • Oh, here's Victor to the rescue. Let's hope he doesn't screw this up…
    • Sym tries to distract Sigurd by telling him a story about Titus's expedition. Thoughtfully, she leaves out the part where everyone died.
    • To occupy themselves, Sym and Sigurd play a sort of music on the ice stalactites; Sigurd reveals that he plays the keyboards in real life.
    • One of the stalactites comes crashing down, brushing Sym's leg. Wonder if it cut her…
    • Sigurd's doing even worse than before—now he's changing color. Sym asks Titus to go show Victor how to reverse the vehicle.
    • Victor reverses the vehicle. Well done, Victor.
    • Though she almost died, Sym has to credit Victor with the plan to have her and Sigurd walk ahead. If they hadn't fallen into the crack, the vehicle would have—and that would have been far worse.
    • Momentarily setting aside the fact that he's a murderer, Sym's faith in Uncle Victor is restored.
    • Victor tries to warm Sym, and Sym tentatively brings up the idea of turning back.
    • Victor asks Sigurd if he wants to turn back. Sigurd says no way—he wants to find Symmes's Hole.
    • Sigurd has another announcement: He loves Sym. Sym's floored.
    • Victor's very pleased. He refers to Sigurd as Sym's "mate."
    • Sym realizes she has a deep cut on her leg. Also, she misses her mum. Fair enough.
  • Chapter 17

    Open Wounds

    • Sym tells us the climate in Antarctica is so bad that it can un-heal old wounds. It opened up Titus's scar from a bullet wound, for instance. Whoa.
    • Sym tells Titus that her father never loved her. Titus is like, "Um, says who? Uncle Victor? In case you haven't noticed, he's crazy."
    • Sym is pretty stoked that Sigurd is in love with her.
    • Sigurd says he didn't actually want to go forward to find Symmes's Hole—he just said that so Victor wouldn't murder him.
    • Sym's like, oh no, were you kidding about the being in love with me thing? Shoot.
    • Sigurd's like, no way, girl. I love you for real.
    • Meanwhile, Titus seems suspicious of Sigurd. Which means, of course, that Sym is, too.
    • Sym asks Victor if she was named after Symmes's Hole. The answer, as you may have guessed, is yes.
    • As Sym asks more questions, it begins to come to light that Victor murdered Sym's father for giving up on their quest to find Symmes's Hole.
    • The reason her father gave up on the quest, it turns out, was to keep Sym safe. So he loved her after all, even though he was ultimately murdered for it. It's a good news/bad news sort of day.
  • Chapter 18

    "If You Want to Please Me Very Much, You Will Fall Down When I Shoot You." –Oates

    • Sigurd and Sym are planning the perfect murder. The victim? Victor, natch.
    • Sigurd tells Victor that he and Sym are going to go to the back of the vehicle for a little hanky panky. Sym worries quietly about whether or not this is part of the ruse.
    • Sym and Sigurd are making out and they're about to have sex, but they encounter a problem after Sym removes about twenty layers of Antarctic gear: She has a deep cut in her leg, and it's bleeding.
    • When Sigurd fetches the first aid box, they find Victor's teabags. They're not sure which ones are poisonous, though, so they can't use them to murder Victor. Drat.
    • After some discussion, the pair settles on killing Victor with an ice axe. Yeesh.
    • They wait for Victor to fall asleep. In a dream, Sym checks in with Titus for some ice axe murder tips. (Poor Titus had to kill his pony with one.)
    • Sym wakes. She's no longer in the mood for murder. Nor is Sigurd. Oh well.
    • Sym and Sigurd are walking in front of the vehicle again. They're slipping in the snow quite a bit, and they're frightened.
    • Sigurd starts calling out into the wilderness, which creates an echo. He says he loves Sym, and she seems pleased, though she doesn't say it back.
    • A shot rings out. At first the couple thinks it's Manfred Bruch, but of course it isn't—the ice is cracking.
    • After a pit stop for lunch, Sigurd says he needs to use the bathroom and walks off into the wilderness for some privacy.
    • Victor shares some of his plans with Sym: He wants Sym and Sigurd to settle down in Symmes's Hole and raise their babies among the alien race that lives there. The usual.
    • After a long while, Sym and Victor hear Sigurd call out. He's found Symmes's Hole—hurrah.
    • Update: Sigurd did not find Symmes's Hole. He just tricked Sym and Victor out of the vehicle so he could steal it.
  • Chapter 19

    "Between You and Me, Things Aren't Quite as Rosy as They Might Be." –Oates

    • Sym and Victor have been walking for a while and are in rough shape.
    • Sym's talking to Titus about Sigurd. He tells her that people are weird.
    • Victor and Sym put up their tent. Things are so bad that Sym's back to imagining herself as her alter ego, Florence Chambers.
    • Meanwhile, Uncle Victor has planned a birthday party for Sym down in the inner spheres of hollow earth. Sym gets a load of this and quickly retreats to her fantasy world.
    • Sym's having a hard time breathing, and Victor stole her snow glasses.
    • Sym's brooding on Manfred and Sigurd's deception—it makes her think of Maxine. Instead of wishing her ill, though, Sym finds herself hoping Maxine's boyfriend treats her well.
    • She wonders if Maxine might even be lying about her Internet boyfriend. What if he's imaginary, like Titus?
    • Victor's talking a lot; Sym's sleeping a lot; their journey doesn't seem to be going particularly well.
    • Deep in a fantasy starring herself as Florence Chambers, Sym is rudely awakened by Victor. In a flurry of activity, the tent blows away and Victor blames it on her.
    • Sym's trying to be positive for a change, trying to rally herself into believe Victor may be right about Symmes's Hole. There is no chance she actually believes this, by the way.
    • Titus tries to force Sym to face the fact of his death. Over and over again, he asks her what happened, but she can't bring herself to say it.
    • Okay, now she'll say it: Titus died. He died. And also there is no Symmes's Hole. Sym has finally admitted to herself that Victor is crazy.
    • Titus says he's going to help Sym find her way out of this mess.
  • Chapter 20

    "It Was Not A Very Big Hole." –Oates

    • On the advice of Titus, Sym makes some compresses for her sore eyes. She's sunburned and scattered, unable to hold her thoughts together.
    • She wonders about her mother. Will she ever find out what happened to her and Victor? Victor says he and Lillian "have an understanding," but Sym doesn't buy it—she's no longer entertaining his lies.
    • Sym and Victor take shelter from a blizzard, and when they emerge, Victor thinks they're close to Symmes's Hole.
    • Reminded of Sym's father for some reason, Victor shares another fun fact: Not only did he murder her dad, he's also the author of her deafness. Hold up… what?
    • Victor was experimenting with antibiotics, see, and gave them to Sym in strong doses. This is what caused her hearing loss.
    • As they drag the sled along, Uncle Victor thinks he spots some of the alien people who live in the earth's hollow. Nope, it's just a mirage.
    • Sym realizes the ground they're standing on is hollow—there's just a thin sheet of ice between them and the sea. She tells Uncle Victor to move, but he's just waving at the alien people mirage like a lunatic.
    • Sym has another realization: They're in the Devil's Ballroom. And as the name suggests, this is a very, very bad place.
    • Victor begins hacking at the ground with an axe. Sym is freaking out. She hates Victor, so why's she still trying to save his life?
    • Victor has found some sort of ice formation that looks like a chimney. Ah, he thinks to himself. I should stuff myself down it like a deranged Santa Claus. Pure logic, yo.
    • Wait, scratch that: Victor wants to stuff Sym down the ice chimney first. Sym is not amenable to this plan, and she kicks him in the head.
    • Convinced they've found Symmes's Hole, Victor reverts to Plan A: stuffing himself down the chimney. Sym tries to convince him to wear a harness.
    • Victor wears the harness. Then he takes it off and disappears down the ice chimney. Presumably, that's it—he's dead.
  • Chapter 21

    "Oh! He Was a Gentleman, Quite a Gentleman, and Always a Gentleman!" –Tom Crean, of Oates

    • Sym surveys her situation. She tries to hate Victor, but it doesn't quite take.
    • She and Titus discuss her feelings: She's mad that Victor made her deaf and killed her dad, but on some level she also loved him. So what good does it do to feel mad?
    • Sym considers telling people that Victor actually found Symmes's Hole. In a way, she's still holding on to Victor's lies; it's all she has left.
    • Titus is all like, "Girl, no," so Sym gives up her bad idea. She just hopes Victor found peace.
    • Titus thinks they should make a move. Sym finds the snow goggles (Victor doesn't need them anymore).
    • Somehow Sym loses her sled, which is bad—really bad.
    • Now Titus really thinks they should make a move. Sym tries to make a sundial, but she's totally disoriented.
    • Sym is walking toward some flash of light, though she's not sure what it is. Oh, wait—it's the lenses to another pair of glasses Victor discarded earlier.
    • Sym experiences a flash of sadness for Uncle Victor; she falls to her knees, and tells Titus she can't go on.
    • Titus says she should definitely go on. He wants to help and tells her to give him her pain so he can carry it.
    • They argue back and forth about moving on. Sym wants to stay put; Titus says she's going to die out there, as he did a century before.
    • Sym contemplates her love for Titus. She thinks she finally understands what all the fuss is about, boy-wise. She understands love.
    • Sym really wants a nap, though, so she makes her case to Titus: His body was buried around here somewhere, so now they can be together.
    • Titus says his body isn't there, though; the shifting ice shelf knocked his body into the sea. He's pretty fierce about it.
    • Sym is horrified—the thought of being knocked into the sea does not please her. She decides she's not ready to die.
    • She stands up. Time to get going. Titus is still with her, carrying her pain; he uses his body to shield her from the wind.
    • Sym knows that she is dying. She reaches into her jacket pocket, which is technically Victor's jacket pocket—she took it after he jumped to his death—and notices there's something in one of the pockets.
  • Chapter 22

    Fire and Ice

    • Sym wonders if she's hallucinating since she sees the vehicle Sigurd stole in the distance.
    • She isn't (phew), but Sigurd isn't exactly happy to see Sym. He doesn't want to let her into the vehicle, but he does. Just before she passes out, Sym tells him she needs the adrenaline from the first aid box.
    • Good morning, sunshine—Sym's awake and the feeling is coming back into her limbs. Sigurd tells her about what he's been up to. He broke the vehicle, by the way.
    • Sym and Sigurd aren't doing so well in the broken-down vehicle; there's little food and no fuel. But hey, at least they're alive.
    • Suddenly, Sym wonders where Titus has gone. When she starts running around looking for him, Sigurd seems alarmed.
    • Sym remembers the item she found in Victor's pocket: It's Mimi's special phone.
    • The teenagers call the last number dialed because they're not sure what number will work. They get someone's answering machine, leave an incoherent message, then the phone dies.
    • Sym suggests that they have sex. Sym dismisses the offer; she'd just as soon die.
    • Over time, she realizes there's still fuel in the vehicle's tank. It's frozen, though, so she decides she's going to blow up the vehicle in the hopes that it will attract rescuers.
    • Making a fuse out of her own hair, Sym prepares her bomb and waits for the sound of an aircraft.
    • Oh, here's one now: Sym blows up the vehicle against the protestations of Sigurd. They wait by the fire, hoping they'll be rescued.
  • Chapter 23

    "I Do Not Regret This Journey." –Scott

    • Sym reflects on the size of Antarctica. Yep, it's big all right.
    • Guess what? She and Sigurd were rescued thanks to an airplane that was hit by the tent that blew away back when Sym was with Victor.
    • Sym's on a boat, convalescing as she makes her way back to civilization. She avoids Sigurd.
    • Mike, one of the guys from the tour, is watching over Sym as she rests. Meanwhile, Sigurd is busy trying to convince everyone that Sym is crazy. He's worried she's going to report his criminal behavior to the authorities, but Sym has no plans to do so.
    • Sym is having a hard time re-acclimating to the real world. She feels empty. But eventually, as she takes in the beauty of the world around her, she starts to feel human again, warm and curious once more.
    • A guy named Bob is trying to figure out where exactly Sym was in Antarctica. Sym doesn't give a hoot.
    • Sym starts to tell Mike about Titus. Amazingly, he doesn't laugh. Instead he listens—he's really into the story, and he wants to know more.
    • Sym has a question for Mike: Did Titus's real body actually fall into the sea? Mike says no one knows.
    • In fact, Sym herself didn't know what happened to Titus's body. She assumed it would always be frozen in place. Which is significant because, if you recall, back on the tundra Titus told her that it wasn't.
    • Sym wonders how Titus could have told her something she didn't know—that's not how their relationship works, given that they're the same person. Oh well, guess it'll always be a mystery.
    • Mike asks Sym if, when they return to civilization, she'd like to go on a date. She's like, yo, Mike, I'm a child.
    • Mike is appalled—he had no idea she was so young. In fact, lots of people back at camp had hoped to ask her out.
    • As he makes a hasty exit, Sym flirts with Mike a bit, going so far as to make a joke about it. This is astonishing given how closed-off and uncommunicative she's been through the entire novel.
    • Looks like Sym finally likes boys, so she no longer has to worry so much about being deficient. She's just underage, which is a problem that should resolve itself.
    • Mike leaves in total horror. Sym seems really pleased with herself. Fin.