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Literature / The Terror

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The Terror is a 2006 Historical Fiction/Supernatural Horror novel written by Dan Simmons, detailing the Franklin Expedition, the doomed 1845 voyage by the ships HMS Terror and HMS Erebus to explore the Northwest Passage. In Real Life, the explorers died of starvation and scurvy, while in this novel they also have a mysterious man-eating monster to contend with. There is also a mysterious, seemingly mute Inuit woman the explorers christen "Lady Silence", who may or may not know something about the monster that is stalking the expedition.

It was adapted as a ten-part TV miniseries by AMC, starring Jared Harris as Captain Crozier, Ciaran Hinds as Captain Franklin, and Tobias Menzies as Commander Fitzjames, with Ridley Scott executive producing. The first episode premiered March 26, 2018.

Not to be confused with the 1963 horror film directed by Roger Corman.


This work contains examples of:

  • Abandon Ship: As in Real Life, the crew has to abandon the ships after they get stuck in the ice. It's a particularly big deal for Crozier and Fitzjames; as captains who abandoned their vessels, their naval careers are, appropriately, dead in the water.
  • Agony of the Feet: Goodsir’s toes are removed a few at a time by Hickey for refusing to do his bidding.
  • The Alcoholic: Crozier.
  • Ambiguously Human: The corpse with rodent-like teeth that Crozier finds on board the wreck of HMS Terror, lying in his bunk.
  • And I Must Scream: Hickey’s ultimate fate, frozen to death and staring into nothingness, surrounded by death, as even the Tuunbaq refuses to kill him. Not that Hickey minds; his final moments are spent insisting he is a god who controls the world around him.
  • Animal Motif: Hickey is constantly compared to a rat.
  • An Arm and a Leg:
    • Blanky loses first his heel, then the rest of his leg in encounters with the Terror. When his peg leg keeps breaking, he realises I Will Only Slow You Down and decides to Face Death with Dignity.
    • After The Mutiny, Hickey taunts Captain Crozier by throwing the severed arm of his most loyal supporter among the crew (his 'strong right arm') in front of him. Later he has Manson sever various toes when Goodsir refuses to co-operate.
    • The creature snatches two sentries off the deck of HMS Terror, then returns the upper half of one and the lower half of the other.
    • When The Tuunaq kills Franklin, it first tears off his legs before dumping him into the sea. The crew is left with only the severed legs to bury.
  • Anyone Can Die: Many anonymous crew members are eaten by The Thing, and several important characters are mentioned as having died in passing, with little to no fanfare. By the end of the book, the remaining crew is not even bothering to bury their dead.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Goodsir's diary. By the end, as he's dying from the effects of self-administered poison, it's very hard to read.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Usually during the various burial ceremonies or Sunday service. Crozier causes some confusion when he quotes from Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes instead.
  • Babies Ever After: Crozier, the sole survivor, and Lady Silence have two children in the book's epilogue.
  • Bears Are Bad News: Especially when they are demonic supernatural beasts with a taste for human flesh and fear.
  • Bear Scare: Crozier and Fitzjames hear something stalking them in the fog. It turns out to be a hungry bear cub who flees when Crozier fires a pistol over its head. The two officers break down in laughter.
  • Bittersweet Ending: For Crozier at least. He lost his entire crew and that of Erebus (while he knows they're likely all dead, he'll never know their specific fates) his career and his tongue, and can never return to England, but he's made a new life with Silence/Silna, their children and their extended family.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: Mentioned several times with the Terror; one character thinks of a shark.
  • Body Horror: Dan Simmons does not skimp on how dreadful and debilitating scurvy was; not only do the crew lose their teeth, but their muscles go pudding-soft and they start leaking blood from their hair follicles!
  • Burial at Sea: Somewhat subverted, as the sea is so deeply frozen the crew members can only dig holes in the ice to bury their dead in.
  • The Captain: Crozier. At least he becomes so after the death of the incompetent Franklin.
  • Cool Old Guy: Sir John Ross, who promises in the backstory to come and find the expedition if they go missing.
  • A Crack in the Ice: After years of thick ice blocking their escape, a scouting party reports open water, which has frozen over by the time they haul the boats there. They then have to haul the heavy sledges and boats across the thinner ice, looking for an open lead, knowing that if they fall through they'll drown as they are stuck in harness. Captain Crozier orders Hickey and his malcontents to haul the lead boat. They survive, but a tent-full of his marines drowns when a crevice opens under their tent at night.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Downplayed, but the elements are there. The expedition stumbles across an abomination left over from an ancient war fought between the Inuit gods. It's a hopeless fight as the crew cannot even comprehend what the monster is, let alone harm it. And it's implied the Tuunbaaq is only the tip of the iceberg and there are thing much worse lurking in the frozen north. All while the crew is slowly losing it from both the horror of the monster and their compromised food stores.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Sir John Franklin has his legs torn off by the creature and is thrown into the freezing water. Somehow he maintains the presence of mind to swim towards the hole in the ice, only for the creature to appear and bite his head off.
  • The Darkness Gazes Back: Or in this case, the snow gazes back. While waiting in the blind to ambush the creature, Sir John notices two black objects in the snow. As he watches, they blink and Franklin realizes it's the eyes of the creature that has been watching them the whole time.
  • Dated History: The book contains two examples:
    • Perhaps the bigger example is the ultimate fate of HMS Terror. When Dan Simmons wrote the book, popular belief held that the vessel was destroyed, most likely by pack ice. At the end of the book, Crozier sets Terror ablaze after returning to the ship to find it abandoned by its skeleton crew and finding... something inside his cabin. In Real Life, not only was the sunken wreck of Terror found in Terror Bay in 2016 (a full decade after the book was published) but it was in such pristine condition that it can be hypothetically raised and made seaworthy again after restoration.
    • James Fitzjames is a Flat Character owing to the fact that little was known about his background at the time the book was written, hence no Character Development beyond his true-to-life perchant for heroics. However, a few years after the book was published, a biography of Fitzjames was released which detailed Fitzjames's origin as an illegitimate bastard who bluffed his way into the Royal Navy with help from his foster family. This new dimension to Fitzjames was later incorporated into his character's portrayal in the 2018 television adaptation.
    • Curiously enough recent studies published after the book indicated that lead poisoning was likely not a major factor in the expedition's failure.
  • Diary: Dr. Goodsir keeps a diary and most of the chapters centering on him consist of his diary entries.
  • Dedication: Perhaps fittingly, to the cast of The Thing from Another World.
  • Defiant to the End: Goodsir is kidnapped by Hickey’s cannibalistic group to cut up bodies for their food, but refuses to do so or partake in human flesh. He loses all of his toes as punishment but does not give in. When Manson is dealing with a gutshot wound, Goodsir not only lies about the severity of it, but also empties his painkiller bottles into one and fills the rest with water, so that Manson doesn’t get any (this is the only thing Goodsir regrets; not out of sympathy, but because it’s the only time in his life he has violated the Hippocratic Oath). Finally, fed up with it all, he takes the bottle containing all the painkillers to kill himself, and as a final “Fuck You” to his captors, pins a note to his chest telling them exactly what he’s done, daring them to eat his poisoned flesh. No one does.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The expedition members attitudes towards the natives. Sir John Franklin is genuinely puzzled that Dr Goodsir tries to save one after he's been accidentally shot.
  • Determinator: Captain Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier. Also Icemaster Blanky, who successfully escapes being eaten by the creature twice. The creature ends up eating the man only because he finally sits down and allows it to.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Captain Fitzjames crosses it after Franklin's death.
  • Door Stopper
  • Downer Ending: Per history, everyone on the mission dies in ways ranging from the sad to the grotesque to the horrifying, save for Crozier. Even though he earns his happy ending, he has to endure a lot of trauma to get there, and ultimately has to set the wreck of HMS Terror alight to kill the evil that's been growing in it, finally destroying his old life.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Crozier does this while recovering from quitting drinking and going cold turkey, activating his Second Sight.
  • Driven to Madness: With the power of life and death over his followers, Hickey becomes convinced that he is God. Their deaths from hunger, murder and cold don't affect him in the least, as he's convinced he can resurrect them at any time. Then the Terror turns up.
  • Driven to Suicide: Dr. Harry Goodsir kills himself rather than endure torture and cannibalism at Hickey's hands.
  • Dumb Muscle: Magnus Manson, who acts as Hickey's enforcer.
  • Dwindling Party: The expedition, as scurvy, murder, and the monster take their toll.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Thing on the Ice qualifies — its motives are incomprehensible; seemingly For the Evulz rather than a beast that kills for food. It shows unanimal-like intelligence and cruelty, has apparently supernatural abilities, and according to Inuit legend is an ancient living weapon created during a war between gods.
  • Eldritch Location: Downplayed, but the frozen ice field where the expedition are trapped is very weird, to the consternation of Crozier and the other veterans of the ice. The spring thaw never happens, the wild life that should appear in the summer never do, and unnatural storms and sounds keep battering their ships. It's implied it has something to do with the presence of the monster.
  • Everything's Deader with Zombies: Crozier discovers a mummified body lying in his own cabin on HMS Terror, with the hatches firmly battened as if to prevent it getting out. He pointedly doesn't look back on hearing movement from the bunk when he's retrieving matches from his desk, instead setting fire to the ship.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Icemaster Blanky and John Bridgens; both of them don't wish to slow the party down, so the former sits and waits for The Thing to catch up, and the latter walks out into the wilderness and peacefully freezes to death after watching an Arctic sunset.
  • Fatal Forced March: Naturally features the moment where the crews of both Erebus and Terror were forced to abandon ship and flee south on foot across the ice. However, along with disease, starvation, cannibalism, mutineers and bad weather, the crew are also being picked off by a monstrous supernatural predator that appears to be actively cutting off their escape route.
  • Foil: Franklin and Crozier. Franklin is soft - Crozier is tough. Franklin is a fool - Crozier is competent. Franklin is religious - Crozier is an atheist. Franklin is an aristocrat - Crozier is low-born. Franklin is a teetotaler - Crozier is an alcoholic. Franklin is a family man - Crozier is a loner. Franklin is polite - Crozier is a jerk. And most notably, Franklin dies early on-Crozier survives the ordeal as the last expedition member standing.
  • Foregone Conclusion: For anyone who knows about historical Franklin's expedition. However, unlike probably Real Life Crozier actually survives the story (there are Inuit references to a man who appears to have been him surviving past 1848 and being seen further south), but chooses not to return to Western civilisation.
  • From Bad to Worse: Say, would you like to be stuck in the Arctic for several years? How would you like to be stuck in the Arctic for several years with your food running out and scurvy setting in? OK, how would you like to be stuck in the Arctic for several years with your food running out, scurvy setting in, and a terrifying sea monster stalking you?
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Lieutenant Irving encounters Hickey dancing naked and assumes he's gone insane. When he goes to tell Hickey to Get A Hold Of Yourself Man, Hickey cuts his throat with a knife. Being naked meant he didn't get blood on his clothes, and the dancing kept him from freezing in the cold.
  • Gentle Giant: Manson, at least unless directed otherwise.
  • A God Am I: Hickey believes this of himself, even as he watches The Thing devour his band of cannibal mutineers.
  • Gorn: Goodsir gives a lengthy description of how to cut up the human body for eating, to deter those who are tempted. He's shocked to find himself salivating during the speech.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Sedna, the Spirit of the Sea. Ambiguously. She created the Tuunbaq and loosed it upon her enemies, the Spirits of the Air and the Moon; killing either one would have thrown all creation into primordial chaos. When this failed, she trapped it on earth, but bound it to the North Pole, where there still existed shamans who could contain or satiate it.
  • He Knows Too Much: Hickey decides John Irving must die after he catches him and Magnus Manson with their pants down. Irving isn't interested in denouncing them, but Hickey carries out his plan anyway, to all their detriment.
  • Hen Pecked Husband: Lady Franklin is described, even by her husband, as "domineering". Sir John going on the expedition is more due to her pushing than his own want.
  • Historical Domain Character: Many of them, including Charles Darwin.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Little is known about the real Cornelius Hickey, except that he was from Limerick, Ireland, and was 24 when the expedition began. Unless surprising evidence turns up, it's probably safe to assume he wasn't the Ax-Crazy madman depicted in the book.
  • Hero of Another Story: The crew members who returned to Terror and successfully navigated her through the ice, only to Abandon Ship after their own apparent encounter with another supernatural horror. Crozier encounters the aftermath, and can only speculate what happened.
  • Hope Spot:
    • A mutiny is averted when a scout party returns with news of open water in the ice, on which they can sail the boats they've been man-hauling. The open lead turns out to be a mere lake, on which the Terror is waiting in ambush.
    • Lieutenant Irving makes friendly contact with an Esquimaux hunting party, who can catch food and teach them how to survive in the Arctic. He's then murdered by Hickey, and the Esquimaux are massacred in the belief they were responsible, dooming the explorers.
  • Hostile Weather: Shortly before they encounter the monster for the first time, a scouting party on King William Island is bombarded by a fierce lightning storm from which they can only cower in their tents in terror (after throwing away the metal poles, meaning that with the canvas collapsed they get pummeled black and blue by hailstones). However that doesn't prove to be as fatal in the long run as the lengthy winters that leave them icebound and drive away any animals they could hunt. For some reason the spring thaw never happens.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: During the chaos of the creature's attack on the carnival, Dr. McDonald is accidentally shot and killed by the Royal Marines. Along with Dr. Peddie's and Dr. Stanley's death by fire, this leaves Dr. Goodsir as the only medical professional in the expedition.
  • Interesting Situation Duel: Blanky is trapped on the deck of the ship with the creature, and has to climb the ice-slippery rigging in the dark, leaping from one mast to another while the Terror tries to knock them down or shake him off.
  • It Can Think: After the first attack, the marines set up a camouflaged hunting blind to ambush what they assume is a large and aggressive species of polar bear. Instead The Hunter Becomes the Hunted.
  • Kill It with Fire: At the end of the book, Crozier pours gunpowder over the abandoned HMS Terror and sets her alight, convinced she’s become a Haunted House and a danger to anyone who tries to salvage from her. Considering what he found in his cabin...
  • Kill Her Now Or Forever Stay Your Hand: On hearing of a conspiracy among the crew to murder Lady Silence in the belief that she's a witch working in league with the monster, Crozier assembles his officers and men and challenges them all to do it then and there; if they're going to commit murder, everyone must share the guilt to avoid conflict afterwards.
  • Leave No Man Behind: Played straight at first, with search parties going out into the winter dark to find crewmates taken by the Terror. Then averted as things get more dire.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: To the extent that when even the more important ones start dying off or being killed, it's given relatively little acknowledgement.
  • Love Before First Sight: Turns out the reason Silence is near the Erebus and Terror in the first place, and continues to hang around, is because she saw in a vision that Crozier would be her husband.
  • Magical Native American: Justified — Silence has actually been bred as a spirit-governor by the Inuit to communicate with the Tuunbaq, and takes Crozier as a husband because he also has the Second Sight.
  • May–December Romance: Crozier and Lady Silence eventually become husband and wife, having two children in the end. Crozier is 53. Lady Silence's exact age isn't known, but she estimated to be around thirty years his junior.
  • Mindlink Mates / Talking in Your Dreams: Crozier and Lady Silence.
  • Music Soothes the Savage Beast: Inuit-throat singing placates the monster. As Lady Silence doesn't have a tongue, the monster breathes into her mouth, using her vocal cords as an instrument.
  • Naked Nutter: Subverted; upon encountering Mr Hickey stark naked and dancing around in the Arctic wastes, Lieutenant Irving assumes that the caulker's mate has finally succumbed to Polar Madness. However, when he approaches, Irving realizes too late that Hickey has a very practical reason for being naked: he's planning on killing Irving; he got naked because he didn't want to get incriminated by blood on his clothes and the dancing was to keep himself warm until Irving got within reach. Full-Frontal Assault ensues.
  • The Neidermeyer: Franklin is an incompetent jerkass, who barely puts any thought into planning when given a mission, merely presuming his superiors have given him everything he needs. He's quite rude to the civilian volunteers of the expedition and not much better to his own men. After he dies, the men mourn the extra money he promised them, but not Franklin himself.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: Even Crozier contemplates having to eat their dead; Hickey, though, doesn't wait for them to die of natural causes.
  • No Respect Guy: Franklin is known as the officer everyone likes, but no one respects as result of his disastrous Coppermine expedition and failed governorship of Van Damien's Land.
  • No-Sell: The creature is able to shrug off point blank shotgun fire and long range hits from muskets.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Hickey becomes obsequious after Irving puts Manson in a separate team. Turns out Hickey is more than capable of committing murder himself.
  • Only Sane Man: Crozier often comes across as this, and even he has issues with fatigue, depression and alcoholism — and makes mistakes accordingly.
  • Our Werebeasts Are Different: There's some speculation among the officers that Lady Silence and the Terror are the same, enough to contemplate killing her.
  • Polar Madness: The crew of Erebus and Terror begin to fray under the pressure of being trapped in Arctic ice for years on end, especially with an unknown disease whittling away at their numbers and a hideous polar monster preying on them in the dead of night. Even the attempts to improve morale through improvised carnivals only seem to make the eccentricities even worse. By the end of the story, mutinies have torn the camps apart, people are stripping naked and stabbing each other to death, cannibalism has become distressingly common, and one particularly demented mutineer fully believes himself to be God.
  • Pink Elephants: Crozier has severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. However, his sickness-induced visions prove to be prescient.
  • Psychic Link: Crozier eventually develops this with Lady Silence.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Hickey more or less rapes Magnus Manson, as Manson is a literal manchild who cannot understand or consent to their relationship.
  • Regret Eating Me: Dr Goodsir takes a fatal overdose rather than be forced to participate in cannibalism by the mutineers, but leaves a note on his chest saying he took poison and anyone who eats his body will die. No-one dares do so.
  • Riddle for the Ages: How did Crozier survive after being shot several times? Who, or what, was the corpse on HMS Terror, and why was the ship abandoned a second time?
  • Rule of Threes: Blanky escapes two encounters with the Terror, but knows he won't do it a third time. Thinking the creature is after him personally, he decides to sit and wait for it to catch him.
  • Running on All Fours: Inverted — the ability of the Terror to walk on its hind legs is what's creepy.
  • Saw It in a Movie Once: The idea for the Carnivale comes from a crewmember who read the story in a pulp book in the United States, but can't remember how it ended.
  • Shout-Out:
    • An in-universe example, one of the crew members suggest the Grand Venetian Carnivale tents be designed in the same manner as the colored rooms in Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death".
    • The creature is often referred to as The Thing.
  • Shown Their Work: Simmons meticulously researched everything about the Franklin expedition, and a fair amount about Inuit culture and beliefs. Even Crozier surviving has some historical justification, since there are (unverified) Inuit reports that he and two other expedition members were seen many miles to the South in the 1850s.
  • The Smart Guy: Doctor Harry Goodsir, who's constantly trying to figure out what's causing the illness of the crew.
  • Smug Snake: 'Sea lawyer' Hickey.
  • Spanner in the Works: Hickey, and how! His murder of Irving causes the massacre of the Inuit group who otherwise could have helped the Franklin expedition to survive and get back to Canada.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: Once the crew is in the Tuunbaq's sights, it does not give them up. Even after they abandon ship and begin marching south, it continues to hunt them. It even kills any other animals in the area to deny them food.
  • Swarm of Rats: Hundreds of rats are devouring the corpses in the Dead Room.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: The expedition has enough tinned food to last them years if needed. Unfortunately they were bought from a dodgy contractor who failed to cook the ingredients long enough or seal the tins properly, so most of it has spoiled or has dangerously high levels of lead.
    • Wather Source Tampering: The other theorized source of lead poisoning. The desalination system installed to support the locomotive engines aboard the ships (which required fresh water to operate) would have produced water with a dangerously high lead content.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Hickey, Magnus Manson, and Richard Ayelmore are sentenced to fifty lashes as punishment for the carnivale debacle. The book doesn't skimp on describing how brutal a punishment it is.
  • The Teetotaler: Sir John Franklin.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • Who could think that organizing a carnival intentionally modelled after the carnival from "The Masque of the Red Death" is a bad idea?
    • In-Universe when someone speculates that as the creature hasn't attacked them for a while, maybe it's just lost interest and walked off. Everyone immediately touches wood in invocation of this trope.
  • That's No Moon!: An exploration party in a small boat is returning up the open lead to tell the rest of the expedition what they have found, but one is concerned to see a serac (basically a large pile of ice) next to the lead’s entrance, as it wasn’t there before. Then the “serac” turns to face them...
  • Tongue Trauma: Lady Silence has her tongue chewed off by the creature, so she can't reveal his secrets to others. Crozier endures the same fate so he can stay with her.
  • This Is as Far as I Go: Icemaster Blanky and John Bridgens realize the futility of the situation and decide to die with a modicum of dignity. Blanky is eaten by The Thing; Bridgens' fate is not written but certainly he dies as well.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The Carnivale.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Goodsir starts off as naive and ineffectual, but is hardened due to what he endures.
  • Too Spicy for Yog-Sothoth: The Tuunbaq rejects Hickey's soul in distaste.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The map of the area that the ships Terror and Erebus and their respective crews are traversing in the novel — placed before the story even begins — is marked with the burial locations of a number of characters, by name. When characters with these names begin showing up, it's not hard to realize who's not going to survive.
  • Villain Teleportation: The monster has an uncanny ability to appear and disappear out of the fog or from under the ice, despite its huge size. This is later revealed to be because it is a killing spirit banished from the spirit realm to the far northern wastes by the inuit goddess of the sea.
  • The Voiceless: Lady Silence, since she doesn't have a tongue. Though by the end she and Crozier can communicate telepathically.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It isn't revealed what happened to the other groups of men who either tried to keep marching south or return to Terror itself, after Hickey apparently murdered Crozier. History necessitates that they obviously died (and the book suggests that those who got back to the ship encountered something even worse than the Tuunbaaq) but we aren't given the details.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Hickey has nerves of steel when it comes to anything but disease, which fills him with fear and disgust.
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men: A bit of a deconstruction. Skill and willpower isn't nearly enough to overcome circumstances in this story, and the ships themselves are first damaged and then destroyed by the Arctic environment.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Hickey murders his Co-Dragons so they won't usurp his power.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Crozier decides to stay with Silence rather than return to England in disgrace as the Sole Survivor, or start a new life under another name in America.
  • Young Future Famous People: Sir John Franklin's wife is smitten with a Peter Mark Roget. Sir John dismisses his plans of writing a "silly dictionary."

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