The Terror (novel)

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The Terror
Terror simmons.jpg
The Terror first edition cover.
Author Dan Simmons
Country United States
Language English
Genre Thriller, Historical fiction
Publisher Little, Brown and Company
Publication date
January 8, 2007
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 784 pp (first edition)
ISBN 978-0-316-01744-2
OCLC 68416756
813/.54 22
LC Class PS3569.I47292 T47 2007

The Terror is a 2007 novel by American author Dan Simmons.[1] The novel is a fictionalized account of Captain Sir John Franklin's lost expedition of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror to the Arctic to force the Northwest Passage in 1845–1848. In the novel, while Franklin and his crew are plagued by starvation and scurvy and forced to contend with mutiny and cannibalism, they are stalked across the bleak Arctic landscape by a monster.[2]

The characters featured in The Terror are almost all actual members of Franklin's crew, whose unexplained disappearance has warranted a great deal of speculation. The main characters in the novel include Sir John Franklin, commander of the expedition and captain of Erebus, Captain Francis Crozier, captain of Terror, Dr Harry D.S Goodsir, and Captain James Fitzjames.[3]

The Terror was nominated for the British Fantasy Award in 2008.[4]

Plot summary[edit]

The novel follows a non-linear narrative structure, beginning at a point approximately midway into the novel's subsequent narrative. From the point of view of Captain Francis Crozier, the opening chapter deals with the Captain's attempts to force a seaman, who is too scared to venture into the lower decks, to follow orders. Crozier muses on the fate of the expedition and how HMS Terror and HMS Erebus have been trapped in sea ice, about 28 miles north-northwest of King William Island, for over a year. The weather has been much colder than normal, their tinned provisions are dwindling and often putrid and the sea ice and landmasses are mysteriously devoid of any wildlife that can be hunted. In addition to the natural dangers of the intense cold, disease and impending starvation, the crews face the horror of being randomly attacked by a monster on the ice. Resembling a huge Polar Bear, the creature is later revealed as a mythological Inuit demon called the ‘Tuunbaq’.

Simmons’ narrative frequently switches between past and present tense, to points in the story ranging from several years before the expedition to several years after, and the alternating point of view of different characters in each chapter. The fictional diary of Dr Harry Goodsir is a literary device that is also used by the writer. For instance, a diary entry describes how Sir John Franklin orders a number of exploration parties to set out in various directions across the ice. These are all doomed to failure. However, Goodsir’s party finds a mysterious Inuit girl (they accidentally shoot and kill her aged companion). On their return to the ships, Crozier names the girl ‘Lady Silence’, as her tongue has been ripped out in the past.

Following the death of Sir John Franklin at the hands of the monster on the ice, Captain Francis Crozier becomes the expedition commander, with Captain James Fitzjames as his executive officer. The two men attempt to deal with the threats of the monster, disease and starvation. The friendship of the two officers, from very different social backgrounds, is touchingly described by the writer.

Simmons goes into great detail describing an ill-fated ‘morale boosting’ New Year's Eve carnivale masque, during which a large number of the expedition, including three of the four surgeons, are killed by the Tuunbaq and Royal Marine friendly fire. Crozier lays the blame for this disaster on Caulker’s Mate Cornelius Hickey and two other men. They are punished with 50 lashes of the cat each. The narrative makes it clear that their existing mutinous feelings are exacerbated by this treatment, setting the scene for the later troubles that the expedition leadership have with Hickey and his compatriots.

The novel changes from a ship bound tale when HMS Erebus is eventually crushed by the ice and its crew decamp to HMS Terror for a short time, until all of the expedition survivors are forced to move to what is named ‘Terror Camp’—a tented refuge that they create on King William Island. It is here that Crozier and Fitzjames decide that they will attempt to escape by hauling the small boats of both ships south to the Canadian mainland and then down Back's River to an outpost on Great Slave Lake, an arduous journey of several hundred of miles.

Sealing the doom of the crew by removing any possibility of help from the native population, Simmons describes the brutal murder of Lt Irving by Cornelius Hickey. The murder is blamed on a band of Inuit hunters that Irving had, in fact, befriended. The Inuit are massacred in a later revenge attack by men of the expedition. From this point on in the novel, the native population is feared and avoided by the crew rather than sought.

The narrative now goes into highly descriptive detail of the men’s painful efforts to haul the boats across the sea ice and frozen gravel of King William Island. Many men die from disease, including Captain Fitzjames whose demise is described by Simmons in horrifying detail. There are rumblings of mutiny from Cornelius Hickey and his growing entourage and the Tuunbaq appears with deadly frequency.

The survivors eventually reach a position on the southern shore of King William Island that they name ‘Rescue Camp’. The novel concludes with mutiny, treachery, cannibalism, and the splitting of the survivors into several groups—all of which meet grisly ends. Captain Francis Crozier is the only survivor of the expedition and the last chapters of the novel describe how he becomes the lover of Lady Silence and joins her in her mystical role connected to the Tuunbaq.


Captain Francis Crozier
The expedition's second in command (he becomes commander of the expedition following the death of Sir John Franklin) and primary narrator of the novel. He is portrayed as a competent leader and skillful captain, though he suffers from alcoholism and a deep sense of insecurity stemming from his Irish ancestry and humble birth. He also is implied to possess latent psychic abilities. Towards the end of the novel he is shot several times during the betrayal and ambush by Cornelius Hickey near Rescue Camp. He is saved (in unexplained circumstances) by Lady Silence who uses native medicine to heal his many gunshot wounds. She gradually teaches him how to survive in the adverse Arctic conditions and the ways of the sixam ieua spirit-governors. After his initiation as a spirit governor and losing his tongue to the Tuunbaq, he ‘marries’ Lady Silence (Silna), they have two children and he joins her in her Tuunbaq duties. He adopts the Inuit name Taliriktug, meaning 'Strong Arm'.
Commander James Fitzjames
Third in command. He is an upper-class officer. At the start of the novel, Crozier is wary of Fitzjames and jealous of the apparent favouritism that is shown towards him within the Royal Navy. However, they become firm friends as the novel progresses. Following the death of Franklin, Fitzjames proves to be a very competent Captain of Erebus and an invaluable assistant to Crozier. Fitzjames dies, in horribly extended circumstances, of an illness that resembles Botulism.
Dr Harry D.S. Goodsir
Trained as an anatomist and signed on by Franklin as an Assistant Surgeon, he is considered the lowest of the four Naval Doctors who set out on the expedition. Following the violent death of the other medical officers at the Venetian Carnivale, Goodsir becomes the only doctor aboard either ship. His heroic and compassionate traits are explored at length in the novel, mainly via his diary entries. He eventually commits suicide by taking a cocktail of drugs after being kidnapped by Cornelius Hickey.
Lieutenant John Irving
A young officer who, as a personal favourite of Captain Crozier, is assigned the duty of protecting/investigating the mysterious Eskimo girl, “Lady Silence”. Whilst on a solo exploration of King William Island, Irving befriends an Eskimo hunting party. However, before he can return to camp and report his finding of the expedition's potential saviours, he is waylaid and brutally murdered by Cornelius Hickey in a revenge attack.
Caulker’s Mate Cornelius Hickey
Described as diminutive, devious and a sea lawyer, Hickey is, after the Tuunbaq, the main antagonist in the novel. Hickey takes a strong dislike to Lt Irving when Irving discovers Hickey and Seaman Manson having sex in the bowels of HMS Terror. His animosity towards Irving culminates with his horrific murder of the Lieutenant on King William Island. Hickey's various attempts at fomenting mutiny are finally successful at Rescue Camp. After Crozier grudgingly allows Hickey and his followers to depart from the main expedition rescue plan, he leads a group of disparate survivors towards Terror Camp (after ambushing Crozier and Dr Goodsir). Hickey is eventually killed by the Tuunbaq (the Tuunbaq rejects Hickey's soul).
Seaman Magnus Manson
A giant of a man with mild developmental disabilities, Manson is the lover of Cornelius Hickey. Hickey uses Manson as a sort of living weapon, setting him on people who get in his way. Manson is shot in the stomach by Captain Crozier during the mutineers' attempt to kill the expedition's commander. He survives for several weeks, despite his injuries. Dr Goodsir (who has been kidnapped by Hickey and Manson) ignores his Hippocratic Oath and, justifiably (considering Manson's murderous past), allows Manson to die without providing effective treatment.
Ice Master Thomas Blanky
A forthright, jovial and likeable man, Blanky is the only character who evades the Tuunbaq not once, but twice. Losing sections of one leg in the process, he is finally killed by the Tuunbaq when he develops gangrene in the stump of his severed leg and opts to remain on the ice whilst the rest of the survivors struggle on. The author describes his final encounter with the Tuunbaq as ordained.
Captain of the Foretop Harry Peglar
A respected member of the crew, Peglar is an ex-lover of Subordinate Officers' Steward John Bridgens. Peglar is dyslexic (hinted at in the narrative) and has a heart complaint that becomes evident later in the novel. He is killed by the Tuunbaq, along with several other members of the crew, in an attempt to explore a possible lead to open water.
Subordinate Officers' Steward John Bridgens
An elderly member of the expedition, Bridgens is the ex-lover of Harry Peglar. A learned man, he becomes assistant to Dr Goodsir for a while at 'Rescue Camp'. With starvation and disease the only prospect, Bridgens decides to simply leave the camp and walk into the low hills of King William Island. He is last mentioned in the novel falling peacefully asleep after watching a beautiful Arctic sunset.
Ship's Boy Robert Golding
23 years old at the close of the novel, Golding is no longer a boy but he is described as possessing a boy's gullibility. Despite appearing to be loyal to Captain Crozier he has secretly fallen in with Hickey's band. He conducts an elaborate, and rather funny, subterfuge to lure Crozier and Dr Goodsir to the Hickey ambush site (his attempts to pronounce the word polynya: polyp and polyanna, exasperate Captain Crozier). Golding dies along with the rest of Hickey's compatriots.
Lady Silence (Silna)
A young Eskimo woman who has a mysterious link to the Tuunbaq. She eventually becomes Crozier's lover. Silence's aptitude for survival is frequently compared to the expedition members' failure to keep warm and find sustenance in the harsh Arctic conditions.
Sir John Franklin
Commander of the expedition and Captain of HMS Erebus. He is portrayed in the novel as a pompous snob and buffoon. Franklin is killed by the Tuunbaq fairly early in the novel, whilst inspecting the site of an attempt to ambush and kill the monster.
The Tuunbaq
A soul-devouring God-monster from Inuit mythology, the Tuunbaq is an indestructible 'killing machine' that has taken the form of a massive polar bear with an elongated neck. The product of a war between the Inuit Gods that has been banished to the frozen northern wastes, the Tuunbaq preys on all creatures within its icy domain, but particularly likes to eat the souls of humans. Only the sixam ieua - spirit governors of the sky - a select group of Inuit shaman, specially bred for their psychic abilities, hold any sway over the beast. The sixam ieua forfeit their tongues as a sign of dedication to the monster but can summon the creature and pay homage to it with their throat singing and gifts of animal flesh. They communicate with it (and other sixam ieua) using a form of telepathy.


The novel received a mixed critical response. Some reviewers found the length of the novel off-putting. Terrence Rafferty, writing in the New York Times, was unimpressed with the Inuit Mythology chapters towards the end of the novel and, referring to the size of the book, quipped: "{reading} 'The Terror' won’t kill you unless it falls on your head.".[3] The Daily Telegraph review stated "…you need an ice pick to get through parts of the book..", but went on to say that the novel has "… a chilly power.".[5] The Washington Post said "Despite its Leviathan length, The Terror proves a compelling read."[6]

With AMC's success with the show The Walking Dead, the network is planning to make a horror TV series based on this novel.[7]

Publication information[edit]


  1. ^ "The Terror". Fantastic Fiction. Retrieved 2007-07-19. 
  2. ^ Gregory, Gwen (2007-04-24). "The Terror by Dan Simmons". Bookends. Retrieved 2007-07-19. 
  3. ^ a b Rafferty, Terrence (March 18, 2007). "Ice Men". The New York Times. Retrieved March 31, 2010. 
  4. ^ "2008 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-16. 
  5. ^ "Pick of the paperbacks". The Daily Telegraph. December 29, 2007. Retrieved July 6, 2011. 
  6. ^ Masiel, David (January 21, 2007). "The Thing on the Ice". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 6, 2011. 
  7. ^