What happened to the H.M.S. Terror, a la Dan Simmons? Please?
August 21, 2009 2:16 AM   Subscribe

Please help me understand aspects of the ending of the novel "The Terror" by Dan Simmons! Super spoiler-icious details inside (definitely don't read unless you've read the book, or are sure you never want to)...

It's driving me crazy! Who sailed the Terror 200 miles south of it's original ice-locked position near the Erebus? Who was the rat-toothed corpse in Crozier's bunk?

Am I wrong in understanding that the top-deck hatches had been nailed shut from the outside? And this would indicate that the (apparently) single remaining seaman aboard had been locked inside either for the protection of others, or for his own protection?

Failing the possibility that the mystery corpse was one of a party of rescuers (and I reject this theory because the ships were never found in real life), logic dictates that he would have had to be one of the three - Reuben Male, Robert Sinclair, and Samuel Honey - who set out cross country to return to the Terror. Simmons is specific that the corpse in the bunk is about the height of Crozier, but elsewhere, Reuben Male (the more significant character of the trio) is described as shorter than Crozier, and there is almost no mention or development in the novel at all regarding Robert Sinclair or Samuel Honey (who is not Honey, the carpenter, but a blacksmith with the same last name who is basically never mentioned except for being included in that group that chose to try to return to the Terror).

However, one detail seems to suggest that it wasn't one of those three: the corpse is swathed in heavy clothes and blankets, which puzzles Crozier, since if the three had managed to make their way back to the Terror, it would have still been summer. (I mention this because it's specifically pointed out in the narrative. In fact, since this discovery happens 2+ years later, they could have returned, sailed the ship out during summer, and then this individual could have died at a later time.) Earlier, much was made of checking every nook and cranny of the ship before abandoning it, which seems to have been explicated especially to put aside any notion that whoever the corpse was (and whoever sailed the ship and nailed the hatches shut) weren't sailors who had surreptitiously stayed aboard. The constant head-counting by Crozier also indicates that nobody is unaccounted for after the crew leaves the ship.

Simmons is also quite specific that the Terror was anchored in a place that didn't make any sense; instead of harboring in the shelter of the various nearby inlets, it is anchored in open water (later, ice), leaving it exposed to the terrible storms. Was this, again, an effort to isolate the one left on board? Or was it just an indication of extreme incompetence? (Wouldn't pretty much any sailor know to seek some kind of safe harbor?)

And wtf, the rat teeth?

It also makes me crazy that Simmons writes this:

How Terror could have ended up here, almost two hundred miles south of where she had been frozen fast near Erebus for almost three years, was beyond Crozier’s powers of speculation.

He would not have to speculate much longer.

eh? Why not? He doesn't seem to have reached any conclusion (or none that were shared with us poor readers) about this after inspecting the ship.

It just doesn't make sense to me that Simmons would have put all these extremely specific details/clues - not to mention the relocation of the Terror at all - just to leave it all as a hanging mystery. Why? Why? What am I missing?
posted by taz to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting, you've really gone into it. I just (foolishly?) assumed it was the unpredictable movement of the ice which was responsible for dragging Terror all that way. I can't remember who I thought the corpse was. Favourited, will read with interest!
posted by smoke at 2:43 AM on August 21, 2009

Response by poster: Heh. I've already made it so long that I didn't want to mention much more, but Simmons is also quite specific that navigating the ship into that position at all would have taken skill, because it would have to be maneuvered into the "leads" or areas where the ice was broken up enough to allow passage, so it would be like sailing through a maze. There was no way, for example, that any the Hickey group could have achieved that. (You remember him - the nasty little homicidal guy with the big idiot friend?) The overland hikers Male (fo’c’sle captain)/Sinclair (foretop captain)/Honey (sailor before becoming a blacksmith) were far more skilled and experienced - though it remains unclear to me if any crew of only three could actually sail the ship at all.
posted by taz at 2:54 AM on August 21, 2009

This is not helpful, but I loved the book and was similarly puzzled by this turn of events as well. I will read this thread with interest - unless all the answers are people going, "Hey, I loved the book, I'll read this thread with interest."
posted by kbanas at 5:21 AM on August 21, 2009

Yeah, that hanging mystery bothered me, too. Eventually, I came to think that it's simply unsolvable and that Simmons himself may not really have worked out exactly what happened. Here's how it came to look for me: at the end of the novel, we're seeing the scene mostly through the eyes of Crozier, who has come through a completely unforeseen and unbelievable chain of events. The world (especially the world above the Arctic Circle) is stranger and more full of old, inexplicable powers than he had ever imagined. Now, at the end, he comes upon the final remains of his old shipmates, the remains of his past life. They, too, clearly had their own chain of bizarre happenings only, in their case, they did not survive to tell their crazy story, the details of which only someone who experienced it could possibly know.

In the end, Crozier has no answers for what happened to them, but can only "solve" the mystery by putting an end to speculation and finally severing these last reminders of his past (by burning the ship). That's how I took the phrase "He would not have to speculate much longer." That speculating about the whys and wherefores of his old life will not bring him any closure or answers and that he has to let it go for good.

You have obviously pored over the clues that are available and I've read the book a few times myself and came no closer to being able to figure it out. My final take is that the lack of concrete details is part of the point. But, dammit, now I want to hear other theories!
posted by otolith at 6:34 AM on August 21, 2009

I loved that book, I too was puzzled by the end. The final chapters are when Crozier experiances things that turn his world upside down. I wonder if it is not Crozier's corpse in the bunk, in my mind that makes sense although the writer never explains it. Crozier went through a rebirth of sorts at the end of the book, maybe the old Crozier was left aboard the ship? Great question anyways.
posted by ionized at 7:28 AM on August 21, 2009

It's been a few months since I read "The Terror." I agree with Ionized - I thought that the corpse represented Crozier's old life. So many mysterious things happen to Crozier towards the end, that I thought the corpse could have been Crozier.
posted by parakeetdog at 10:09 AM on August 21, 2009

While I think the end is intentionally mysterious (either because Simmons couldn't figure out how to explain it or because he could and but wanted to maintain the tone of the end of the book), the Franklin Expedition was so full of incompetence it becomes the default explanation for just about everything. An added factor is lead poisoning. In both the book and the real expedition, it was responsible for a whole spectrum of bizarre behavior. Combine the two and just about anything could happen.

Or perhaps imagined to have happened. We're led to believe Crozier's "after life" with the Eskimo actually happened because we see it from his viewpoint, but did it?
posted by tommasz at 10:29 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

We're led to believe Crozier's "after life" with the Eskimo actually happened because we see it from his viewpoint, but did it?

Can we just say it did? Anything else will make me break down weeping.
posted by Evangeline at 10:45 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I had considered that the corpse was supposed to be his at least in some metaphorical or supernatural sense... that Crozier's "after"-life was indeed the afterlife... But Crozier while alive had three repetitive dreams: the fake spiritualist sisters; the two skeletons in the boat; the communion dream, as well as dreaming of specific members of Franklin Expedition rescue expeditions.

The spiritualist sisters were a weird bit, but they existed in life, did claim to have information about the lost expedition, and one of them was involved with Elisha Kane (also appearing in Crozier's dreams), who also was the leader of a real Franklin rescue expedition.

The two skeletons in the boat were Hickey and Manson; Manson a tumble of bones after the monster gobbled him, and Hickey left intact because the monster was disgusted by his soul. These two skeletons were found by rescue expedition members, so this vision was also real. The specific rescuers and rescue expedition boats Crozier dreamed of were also real.

The communion dream refers to the ritual in which the creature takes Crozier's tongue, which obviously happens after he is ambushed and shot by the Hickey group, and was saved by and living with Silence/Silna. It's clear that the communion dream is about this:

But something is strange. The grey-haired priest looming over him in his white robes is dripping water on the floor and altar rail and onto Crozier himself. And the priest is too large even for a child’s point of view — huge, wet, muscled, lumbering, throwing a shadow over the kneeling communicant.

He is not human.

And Crozier is naked as he kneels, sets his head back, closes his eyes, and extends his tongue for the Sacrament. The priest looming and dripping over him has no Wafer in his hand. He has no hands. Instead, the dripping apparition leans over the altar rail, leans far too close, and opens its own inhuman maw as if Crozier is the Bread to be devoured

So... the fact that all the other second-sight dreams he has all turn out to be true events/people makes me think that his dreams of this ceremony/ritual in which he becomes a "spirit-governor" (as well as a dream of living with Silence in an igloo) is also a real event (as far as the book is concerned), and that his life with Silence is not an afterlife dream. However, the fact that his rescue by her is never explicated does argue in favor of the death/afterlife theory. Hickey, et al, search for him for three hours, seeking any sign of blood or even any slight mark in the snow to indicate that he wasn't drowned, and find nothing. Yet, we know that Silence can lift Crozier (she does it several times later), that her sled is silent, and that with her second-sight she could have been prepared to whisk him away and leave a trail of blood to the pool (with his coat thrown in to solidify the illusion).

*sigh* I just don't know.
posted by taz at 12:52 PM on August 21, 2009

I loved this book. Dang it, now I need to re-read!
posted by mdiskin at 2:38 PM on August 21, 2009

Wouldn't Silence discard his coat as useless baggage? His clothing was inadequate for his new life; it's a symbolic and practical solution.

I must reread the book, perfect for hot Summer days!
posted by Allee Katze at 2:39 PM on August 21, 2009

Response by poster: She would find his coat useless baggage, definitely - but, I'm saying, also useful as a false indication that he had perished in the pool.

If, in fact, he did really die - dragging himself to the pool, I suppose, to keep his body from desecration/cannibalism by Hickey, it's hard for me to imagine how the coat came off. I have trouble getting my coat off while fully healthy, mobile and unadulterated by shot and bullet holes. Of course his coat was also perforated by same, but still... either with arms forward (more likely; he was crawling) or arms by his sides, I don't see the whole coat falling or slipping off. Of course, maybe I'm thinking about all of this a lot more than the author did, which... well... I hope isn't true.

perfect for hot Summer days

Exactly why I was reading it! It was one of the books suggested when I asked for recommendations for "cold fiction" last year. :)
posted by taz at 3:20 PM on August 21, 2009

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