June 5, 2013
Whether it’s the candiru, the Amazonian toothpick fish that can swim up a man’s urethra, or Mokélé-mbembé, the living dinosaur that may still exist in the Congo’s Lake Télé, REDMOND O’HANLON (born 1947) visits his obsessions on us with magnificent style. An explorer in an age with ever fewer frontiers, he is equal parts eccentric scholar, foolhardy adventurer, and Falstaffian raconteur. Gloriously sideburned like a ribald vicar, Redmond (friends like Ian McEwan prefer “Redsie”) is a bibliophile, botanist, entomologist, anthropologist, birder, and writer. Briefly an Oxford don, he was dismissed after teaching his students literature from the wrong century. For 15 years, he was the Times Literary Supplement’s Natural History Editor. Darwin, Conrad, and Victorian naturalists remain his spirit guides. With tomes and reference books as his scouts, he has ventured from the far reaches of the Amazon to the waters of the North Atlantic. What makes Redmond’s books so funny and poignant is that no amount of erudition can ever prepare him for the expedition. Redmond’s account of his perilous and hilarious trek in search of a legendary two-horned rhinoceros became the bestselling Into the Heart of Borneo. His travelling companion the poet James Fenton declared after their grueling jungle ordeal, “I would not travel with you to High Wycombe.” The book put Redmond on the map. No mere travelogues, books like Borneo and No Mercy (Congo Journey in the UK) are profound journeys as much of mind as of place. When not exploring, Redmond lives in storybook chaos at Pelican House, his Oxfordshire wunderkammer crammed with books and specimens. Replete with talismans, his “fetish room” includes the charred foot of a self-immolating school chum. It has often been said that Redmond belongs in the 19th Century but we are blessed to have him stumbling around in our time.
ADVENTURERS as HILO HEROES: Katia Krafft | Freya Stark | Louise Arner Boyd | Mary Kingsley | Bruce Chatwin | Hester Lucy Stanhope | Annie Smith Peck | Richard Francis Burton | Isabella Lucy Bird | Calamity Jane | Ernest Shackleton | Osa Helen Johnson | Redmond O’Hanlon | Gertrude Bell | George Mallory | Neta Snook | Jane Digby | Patty Wagstaff | Wilfred Thesiger | Joe Carstairs | Florence “Pancho” Barnes | Erskine Childers | Jacques-Yves Cousteau | Michael Collins | Thor Heyerdahl | Jean-Paul Clébert | Tristan Jones | Neil Armstrong
READ MORE about members of the Blank Generation (1944-53).