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 through the overall plot. The narrative switches between multiple viewpoint characters and uses both third and first-person narrative (the latter in the form of Dr. Goodsir's diary entries). The story begins in the winter of 1847. HMS Terror and HMS Erebus have been trapped in ice 28 miles north-northwest of King William Island for over a year. The weather has been much colder than normal, the ships' 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 are being stalked and attacked by a monster on the ice, which resembles an immense polar bear. (The creature is later revealed to be a mythological Inuit demon called the ‘Tuunbaq’.)

In flashbacks set prior to the beginning of the story, the novel relates some of the backstory behind the expedition's current predicament. The Franklin expedition is the latest in a series of attempts to force the Northwest Passage, all of which have ended in failure. Sir John Franklin, having been recalled in disgrace from a government posting in Van Diemen's Land, views the expedition as his last chance for glory and recognition. Captain Francis Crozier, embittered by romantic rejection at the hands of Sir John's niece, seeks to distract himself from his heartache by again venturing into the Arctic. The rest of the crew have signed on for glory and adventure. Though the expedition begins auspiciously enough, three men die of disease during their first winter in the ice, and soon after, Sir John makes the fateful decision to travel around the northeast coast of King William Island, which results in the ships becoming trapped.

The flashbacks continue. In the summer of 1847, Sir John orders a number of exploration parties to set out in various directions across the ice, in hopes of finding open water. None of the parties succeed in this goal. However, one of the parties encounters a pair of Inuit on the ice, a young woman and an old man. They accidentally shoot the man, whereupon they are set upon by the Tuunbaq, who kills Lt. Graham Gore, the leader of the party. When the party returns to the ships, the girl follows them back. Crozier names the girl ‘Lady Silence’, as her tongue appears to have been bitten off in the past.

After the Inuit man dies aboard HMS Erebus, the Tuunbaq begins stalking and attacking the crews. Though it shows signs of intelligence, the men believe that it is nothing more than an unusually aggressive bear. This assumption leads them to underestimate the creature. Sir John is killed in a botched attempt to bait the creature out, and a number of other officers and men are killed as the months progress.

Following Franklin's death at the claws of the monster on the ice, Captain Francis Crozier becomes the expedition commander, with Captain James Fitzjames assuming the role of executive officer. Despite some initial tension between the two men, they gradually become firm friends as they attempt to deal with the threats of the monster, disease, and impending starvation.

As the narrative continues into 1848, the crews become further debilitated by the extreme cold and lack of fresh food, and the Tuunbaq continues to hunt and kill them. An ill-fated ‘morale boosting’ New Year's Eve carnivale masque ends with a large number of the expedition, including three of the four surgeons, being killed by the Tuunbaq and friendly fire from the expedition's Royal Marine detachment. 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. From this point on, Hickey begins to plot against the officers, especially Crozier and Lieutenant John Irving, who had earlier discovered Hickey copulating with another member of the crew in Terror's hold.

As spring 1848 approaches, the Erebus is eventually crushed and sunk by the relentless ice. Its remaining crew decamps to HMS Terror for a short time, until Crozier finally orders the ship abandoned. The 105 survivors of the expedition relocate to ‘Terror Camp’, a tented refuge on King William Island. After ruling out an attempt to reach the far side of the Boothia Peninsula, Crozier and Fitzjames conclude that their best hope is to man-haul 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 miles. Before they can set out, Lt. Irving is set upon and murdered by Cornelius Hickey. Hickey lays the blame for Irving's death on a band of Inuit hunters that Irving had in fact befriended, and the Inuit are attacked and massacred in revenge. From this point on, the native population is feared and avoided by the crews.

With all hope of outside rescue eliminated, the crews begin hauling the boats across the sea ice and frozen gravel of King William Island. The trek is brutal, and many of the men die from exhaustion, exposure, and disease, including Captain Fitzjames. There are rumblings of mutiny from Cornelius Hickey and his growing entourage, and the Tuunbaq continues to appear with deadly frequency, at one point slaughtering an entire boat crew as they explore an open lead in the ice. With no other options, the crew continues to press south, despite the mounting casualties.

The survivors eventually reach a position on the southern shore of King William Island that they name ‘Rescue Camp’. The survivors now splinter into several groups. Hickey and his faction declare their intent to return to Terror Camp, while another group opts to go back to Terror herself, despite the possibility that she has been crushed by the ice. Crozier agrees to let them go, but later he and Dr. Goodsir are lured away from the camp and ambushed by Hickey's men; Crozier shoots and fatally wounds Magnus Manson, Hickey's lover and chief crony, and is then shot and apparently killed by Hickey, while Goodsir is taken hostage.

Without them, the remainder of the crew decides to keep marching south. All three groups eventually meet with disaster. Hickey's crew, despite resorting to cannibalism, is stopped short of its goal by a blizzard, and most of the men either starve or freeze to death, while the remainder are murdered by Hickey, who has begun to suffer delusions of godhood. Manson dies of his wounds, Goodsir commits suicide, and Hickey is killed by the Tuunbaq. The other groups' fates are not revealed, but it is implied that they have all died as well, leaving Captain Crozier as the only survivor of the expedition. Lady Silence rescues him after the ambush, treats his wounds, and begins teaching him how to survive on the ice. They eventually become lovers, and he chooses to abandon his old life and become a sixam ieua, a shaman with a mystical connection 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 teaches him how to survive in the adverse Arctic conditions and the ways of the sixam ieua spirit-governors, and they become lovers. Crozier eventually joins Silence as a sixam ieua, and they have two children together. He adopts the Inuit name Taliriktug, meaning 'Strong Arm'.
Commander James Fitzjames
Third in command of the expedition and the de facto captain of Erebus prior to Franklin's death. He is an upper-class officer, described as handsome and charming. 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 Franklin's death, Fitzjames proves to be a very competent captain of Erebus and an invaluable assistant to Crozier. Throughout the novel, his physical condition steadily deteriorates, and he eventually dies of an illness (implied to be botulism) during the trek south across King William Island.
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 doctors who set out on the expedition, since he is technically a civilian and not a naval officer. Following the violent death of the other medical officers at the Venetian Carnivale, Goodsir becomes the only physician aboard either ship. Though he initially appears to be weak and effeminate, he is portrayed as a compassionate, strong-willed, and indefatigable man, who earns the respect of the entire crew. He is kidnapped by Cornelius Hickey's mutineers, who repeatedly mutilate him when he refuses to assist them in butchering their dead crewmates for sustenance, and eventually commits suicide by taking a lethal cocktail of drugs.
Lieutenant John Irving
A young officer who is assigned the duty of protecting/investigating the mysterious Eskimo girl, “Lady Silence”, with whom he has become infatuated. Irving is portrayed as a roguish and carefree womanizer, who has signed onto the expedition for glory and fame. Despite this, he becomes a favourite of Captain Crozier and is shown to be one of the most reliable officers on the expedition. Late in the novel, 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.
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 accidentally discovers Hickey and Seaman Manson having sex in the bowels of HMS Terror, and becomes enraged at all the officers when he is flogged in the aftermath of the Venetian Carnivale. 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, when he convinces a number of the crew to attempt to return to the abandoned Terror Camp. After Crozier grudgingly allows Hickey and his followers to depart from the main expedition, he attempts to return to Terror Camp, though he briefly returns to kill Crozier and kidnap Dr Goodsir. Hickey is eventually killed by the Tuunbaq, which rejects his soul.
Seaman Magnus Manson
A giant, physically powerful man with mild developmental disabilities, Manson is Cornelius Hickey's lover and chief crony. Hickey uses Manson as a sort of living weapon, setting him on people who get in his way. Despite this, Manson is well-regarded by the crew, as his immense strength proves useful for many tasks aboard the ship. 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 lies to Manson and Hickey about the severity of the injuries, ignoring his Hippocratic Oath, and allows Manson to die without providing effective treatment.
Ice Master Thomas Blanky
A forthright, jovial and likable man, Blanky is the only character who evades the Tuunbaq not once, but twice. In spite of his escape, he loses a leg and suffers other injuries, including frostbite, after which he receives a peg-leg. Despite this, Blanky continues to maintain hope of survival and rescue, until he develops gangrene in the stump of his severed leg during the trek across King William Island. Realizing that he is now nothing more than a burden to the crew, he opts to remain behind on the ice whilst the rest of the survivors struggle on, and he is eventually attacked and killed by the Tuunbaq, though it is implied that he dies fighting.
Captain of the Foretop Harry Peglar
A respected member of the crew, Peglar is one of the senior petty officers aboard HMS Terror, and is the ex-lover of Subordinate Officers' Steward John Bridgens. Peglar is dyslexic 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
The oldest surviving 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 eventually dies along with the rest of Hickey's compatriots.
Lady Silence (Silna)
A young Inuit woman who has a mysterious link to the Tuunbaq. After her companion is shot by a party from the expedition, she accompanies them back to the ships. When her companion dies, she remains aboard Terror, settling into a chain locker in the ship's hold, and comes and goes as she pleases. The crews are afraid of her, believing her to be a witch, and on at least one occasion her life is threatened by Hickey's faction, though Captain Crozier is able to defuse the situation. She apparently follows the men when they leave the ships behind and saves Crozier's life after he is shot by Hickey. She teaches Crozier how to survive in the Arctic, and they eventually become lovers. 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 the nominal captain of HMS Erebus. He is portrayed in the novel as a pompous snob and buffoon, seeking one last chance at fame and glory after several failed Arctic expeditions and his dismissal from the governorship of Van Diemen's Land. Franklin is killed by the Tuunbaq early in the novel, whilst inspecting the site of an attempt to ambush and kill the monster.
The Tuunbaq
A soul-devouring 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 allow the Tuunbaq to eat their tongues as a sign of dedication, but they 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. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (13 February 2013). "AMC Developing 'Terror' Drama Produced By Scott Free, TV 360 & Alexandra Milchan". Retrieved 2015-01-26.