For those of you who don’t know, Robert Falcon Scott was the British antarctic explorer who botched his bid to be the first to reach the South Pole. Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer, beat him to it by 33 days.

Every once in a while, when I’m flicking channels, I come across some documentary that catches my eye.

I’ve always been an extremely curious person. I learn all kinds of stuff, just because it catches my fancy.

A few days ago I clicked on a BBC story about scientists using pressure pads to determine how rhinos feet could support their heavy bulk–not because I’ll ever have a use for it in a story–although you never can tell–but just because I found it curious.

Anyway, I caught this documentary on Scott and Amundsen on some educational channel and since I’ve always been fascinated by the Arctic and the Antarctic, I decided to watch it.

Isn’t it funny? Today happens to be the 100th anniversary of the day Scott arrived at the South Pole. Just found that out while I checked his wikipedia page.

Honest, I didn’t plan that.

Anyway, the story goes that Scott wanted some fame and glory and decided to launch this expedition to the South Pole, but he found the idea of using dogs kind of old-fashioned or something. He wanted to use ponies to pull sledges to the South Pole and he also wanted to get machinery so they could ride their in comfort–with the dogs.

When he got to Antarctica, while they were unloading the machines, one of them fell through the ice–a  bad omen.

Then the extreme cold caused them to malfunction.

The ponies weren’t used to the cold and for a number of reasons the preparations for the ‘Discovery expedition’ were not going according to plan. The main deficiency was where they located a crucial supply point, called ‘one ton depot’ was planted 35 miles north of where it was supposed to be. It was supposed to be at 80 degrees south. But for that single failure, you’ll see that Scott and his men probably would have survived the return journey. 

So Scott gets to the South Pole only to discover that Amundsen, using a team of dogs, very efficiently, and without fuss, got to the South Pole before him and returned safe and sound.

Then Scott and his fellows turn around and start the long 800 mile slog back. Starving and ill equipt, they nevertheless make it to within eleven miles of one ton depot when they’re forced to wait out a raging blizzard for nine days during which they perished. If they’d put one ton depot where it was supposed to be, they would have reached it 24 miles ago.

Scott and the others are buried in the tent in which he died which in turn has become encased in the Ross ice shelf and with the nature of glacial ice being fluid, it’s slowly inching its way towards the antarctic ocean and one day the whole thing will break off and plunge into the sea.

The British, on the other hand, kind of sneered at Amundsen’s victory. They thought it was ‘unsporting’ and one lord Curzon even raised a glass and saluted the dogs that carried him.

But who is the famous one? Who’s the one they made a movie of? Not Amundsen, the winner, but Scott the silly loser.

The Brits turned Scott into this amazing hero. They showered money on the widows of the five men who perished. He was knighted and all that.

I find it simply fascinating.

And it was interesting, a while ago, when I was in Denmark and I got a chance to get to know Barbara Reid better, we had a bit of a discussion about this very topic.

Barbara Reid is an amazing talent! She does the most beautiful children’s book illustration with plasticene!

Her latest book at the time was called Perfect Snow and she said how she’d been so touched by the story of Scott that she’d named her protagonist none other than Scott.

I laughed but she pointed out to the death of Oates, one of Scott’s companions who knew he was dying and knew he was slowing the others down, he said to the others, “I am just going outside and may be some time.”

“Oh brother!” I told Barbara, although deep down I had to admit it was rather stoic and even a bit romantic and I found that irritating.

But still! Why would Amundsen be penalized for being efficient?

Why did the Brits, and it seems the world, cling to Scott’s story as being more intriguing?

I really don’t get it.

I’m thinking that it has to do with the prestige of the British at the time of this event. This was Victorian England and the Brits boasted that the sun did not set on the British empire.

But there’s something to be learned from this. Even when a story has a negative outcome–or perhaps especially when a story has a negative outcome–it can be spun (and let’s not kid ourselves, there’s no better word for what the Brits did with Scott’s epic failure) into a compelling yarn.

Which reminds me of the movie Moneyball.  It’s quite a compelling story, even though it has a lot of information in it.

It’s a little like The Social Network in that regard, that movie about Mark Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook.

What surprised me about Moneyball was how unrecognizable Brad Pitt was in it. I don’t mean you couldn’t tell it was Brad Pitt, but rather that he didn’t act like Brad Pitt, he acted like this character and he did such a thorough job, you forgot you were watching Brad Pitt and you really were emersed in the story of this character.

Without giving anything away, it’s worth looking at the ending of Moneyball and examining how they couched what really happened in such a way as to make a compelling story.

Maybe there’s a caveat that should be added to the old saying that history is written by the victors.

Maybe we should add that history is also written by those who tell the best tale.