Literature / Raise the Titanic!

Raise the Titanic! was an early novel by Clive Cussler and his first best seller. The book was published in 1976, a full nine years before the wreck of the RMS Titanic was discovered, and as such, the plot unintentionally takes a few liberties with the plausibility of salvaging the doomed ocean liner (until the wreck was found, most experts assumed it remained intact after sinking rather than breaking in two).

Gene Seagram, top scientist for a heavily funded top secret government think-tank designs a defence system that would make it impossible for Russian missiles to hit any target in the continental United States, rendering the ICBM obsolete and shifting the balance of world power in America's favour. Unfortunately the device will only run on some Unobtanium, the only known supply of which went to the bottom of the ocean on April 15th, 1912 during the sinking of the Titanic. There's only one thing to be done...

Unfortunately, the Russians have caught wind of the true motivation behind the American's attempt to find and salvage the Titanic, and they're not exactly happy about it. Partly because the ore in question was originally mined in secret from territory that Russia had a claim to at the time, but mostly due to the aforementioned balance of power. They set out to sabotage the operation with the aim of reclaiming the stolen ore, or at least denying possession of it to their enemy.

The book was a notable success, launching Cussler's writing career. There was also a film made which is far more infamous and far less successful. The raising sequence is still worth a look.


This book provides examples of:

  • Ax-Crazy: Gene Seagram when he learns the byzanium was never even on the Titanic.
  • Big Bad: Andre Prevlov
  • Canon Discontinuity: After the Titanic was discovered in real life to have broken in half, and that raising it was impossible, the whole incident is erased from canon.
  • Could Have Avoided This Plot: It turns out the byzanium was never on the Titanic in the first place. The paranoid Brewster buried it with a fellow miner in England but afraid to tell anyone about it point blank. Pitt notes that had Brewster been more up front and/or the ship hadn't sunk, the ore would have been found earlier. But the sinking and his cryptic clues caused everyone to make the same wrong conclusions and go to the trouble raising the wreck instead of finding the burial vault.
  • Dated History: This story assumes the R.M.S. Titanic sank as a single piece, remaining intact enough to be salvaged. In Cussler's defense, this was the official position on the sinking until the ship was actually found, which was in 1985, almost 10 years after the book was written.
  • Deflector Shields: The Sicilian Project, for which the titular mission is launched.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The crew of the 'Deep Fathom' thought they had been abandoned to die when in fact said abandonment was a necessary element of Pitt's rescue plan. Unfortunately none of the radio communication equipment was in any sort of functional shape.
  • Graceful Loser: Although Prevlov loses his cool a few times in the climax, when he finally realizes how badly he's been Out-Gambitted he accepts it rather gracefully. Admittedly he'd been offered the chance to defect and continue to live a relatively comfortable life in America, which no doubt softened the blow of defeat a bit.
  • Humiliation Conga: Prevlov tries to inflict this on Dana by forcing her to strip in front of the NUMA excavation team. It doesn't exactly work the way he planned it out.
  • Karma Houdini: Andre Prevlov's ultimate fate ends up being forced to defect to the United States.
  • Love Triangle: Between Gene Seagram, his wife Dana and Dirk Pitt.
  • Mineral MacGuffin: Byzanium.
  • The Mole: Ben Drummond and Sam Merker are actually mercenaries currently under the employ of Soviet intelligence. On the other side, Prevlov's second-in-command is actually a surgically altered American agent who had infiltrated Soviet intelligence.
  • The Stoic: Captain Prevlov tries to be this really hard. He is usually successful.
  • Technology Marches On: When the novel was written, raising the ship probably did seem like the only feasible means of recovering its contents. Later advances in ROV design and control means it'd be much easier and cheaper to salvage the byzanium from the wreckage without otherwise disturbing the site.
  • Unobtanium: The ultra-rare byzanium, the only known deposit of which is on a remote Russian Arctic island, had been mined out in the early 20th century, and the entire output shipped out on a certain ocean liner to the United States.
  • Vehicle Title
  • Wicked Cultured: Prevlov
  • Worthless Treasure Twist: When they finally reach the ship's vaults everyone is stunned to discover the byzanium isn't there, the boxes filled with worthless rocks. A few weeks later, Pitt brings them to a cemetery in England as it turns out that Brewster hid the ore in the burial vault of one of his fellow miners. Pitt notes that had Brewster been less paranoid in his clues, they would have figured it out but the sinking caused everyone to jump to the same conclusion about the ore being on the ship.

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