With the upcoming series The Terror scheduled to air on AMC this March, I decided to take a look at the Dan Simmons novel which inspired it. This thriller about sailors stranded in the Arctic ice is based on the true story of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition in the mid-19th century. During an attempt to find and plot the so-called Northwest Passage, a treacherous venture through frozen territory, over one hundred crewmen and two British warships — one of which was HMS Terror — vanished in the ice.
None of the sailors on either the HMS Terror or its companion vessel HMS Erebus were seen or heard from again. No one knows exactly what happened to Captain Franklin and his men. Did they simply run out of provisions and freeze to death? Did they fall ill from the likes of scurvy or frostbite? Did the lead from the containers for their canned food leak out and poison them? These are all popular theories, each with some evidence to support them, but so far nothing has been proven. It wasn’t until 2015 that the wreck of Erebus was uncovered by the native Inuits in the area. Terror, on the other hand, has never been found.
One of the more outlandish, but most fun, theories is that there were wild, unnatural creatures in the Arctic, and these monsters surrounded the vessels and began picking off crewmen one by one. Now, while it is true that animals like, say, polar bears are not as cuddly as they look, and may have played a part in making life difficult for the members of the Franklin Expedition, they probably weren’t in danger from anything more dangerous than a large, hungry animal.
But the idea of a much weirder, almost supernatural predator, is at the center of Dan Simmons’ novel, and so it is also at the center of the upcoming AMC series. I for one am excited to see how this compelling piece of unsolved history plays out on the small screen.
Check out Dan Simmons’s The Terror at the Chesapeake Public Library here.