This is a fictionalised version of the first ascent of the Matterhorn.
Rudi's father was a famous alpine guide killed while attempting the summit of unconquered mountain The Citadel and Rudi's grieving mother cannot bear the thought that her son might also die. But all Rudi wants to do is climb and he repeatedly truants from his job washing dishes in a hotel kitchen to climb lower slopes and plan an attempt on the Citadel. On one such jaunt he saves the life of a visiting mountaineer who has fallen into a crevasse; this man wants to take Rudi on his attempt to climb the mountain to the top. But can Rudi overcome his family objections, his impetuosity, his inexperience and the formidable mountain itself?
Although this is a children's book it goes into vast descriptive detail - it reminded me of the technical passages in the Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome which are just as challenging for the non-expert. Ullman was himself a mountaineer and he uses his deep knowledge of the subject. This makes the book incredibly realistic.
The analyses of the plot contains spoilers:
The plot is a classic example of the Hero's Journey. Rudi is a version of Luke Skywalker. The call to adventure is both from the mountain itself, calling to Rudi through the hotel window, and, more literally, from the mountaineer trapped in the crevasse. His boss in the kitchen used to climb with Rudi's father and plays the role of the ancient mentor (Obiwan Kenobe), repeatedly helping to clear obstacles from Rudi's path. There is also a spirit guide in the example of Rudi's dead father. Rudi has three sorts of challenge to overcome: his family, the mountain, but most of all his character. There are repeated trials of his character and, true to hero form, he fails on the very first. But his final triumph lies in overcoming his selfishness and doing what his dead father would have done.
The plot is also a classic four-part (three act) structure. Rudi's failure on his first challenge comes at exactly the 25% turning point. At 50% he has a chance to redeem himself and although he repeats the selfish behaviour that led to his first failure, this time he is successful. At the 75% mark his slender body means that he cannot climb with the men and has to be pulled up on a rope ... but almost immediately his slender body means that he can go where the men can't and so he turns the table to become the helper. The key moment of moral decision come at the 85% mark, almost exactly half way through the last quarter, and he makes the wrong choice but again he has the opportunity to redeem himself at 95% and he does, at the cost of failing to achieve his dream. There are only two pages to go when this apparent failure is redeemed with the words "It is Rudi's mountain", words which, even when writing this blog, make my eyes fill with tears.
Some great lines:
- "You cannot put out a fire by wishing it. You cannot bottle the wind." (Ch 3)
- "His, he well knew, had been the worst of all sins that a mountaineer can commit. He had made others risk their lives to save his." (Ch 6)
A brilliant boys' adventure story. June 2021; 206 pages