This was some mouthful of book. But a pretty good meal, even if it did cause some stomach upheaval with the anxiety put forth in the pages.
Well before I met the classic monster of the novel, I was terrified. Simmons’ skill at painting such a bleak picture was completely unnerving, especially when he did so largely by characterizing the surroundings and other objects as living beings. Captain Crozier of The Terror saw his ship as a being just like himself, with body parts, feelings and thoughts. The icy expanse where he and his fellow shipmates were stuck also had feelings and ominous thoughts and goals. Pretty much from page to page, I devoured the descriptions and grew tense to find out what would happen next. Simmons did an admirable job of “ratcheting up the ‘oh, hell’ factor” for the characters. They faced obstacle after obstacle to surviving the expedition, until finally, there was only Crozier himself left. And then he still had to face the real monster.
Using a historical novel as the vehicle for this tale of horror was a pretty good move on Simmons’ part. The historical setting lent authenticity to the terrors the sailors faced. In the mid 1800’s, there was truly little known about such things as preventing and treating scurvy, the cause of foodstuff turning into poison and survival in extreme environments. Even the existence of an evil spirit embodied as a monster isn’t farfetched, because none of us here and now were around at that time. These things could very well have happened then as far as we know. In reading modern horror novels, I sometimes have a hard time suspending my disbelief for long periods of time because of the things I may know about what the author is saying about the creation of the monster. In The Terror, I had to pretty much take Simmons’ word for it that these events may have happened. Inserting historical facts into the story lent further credibility, because the story was put forth with the confidence of a scholar.
By the time the monster had to be faced, I was almost relieved that it wasn’t as bad as the other things Crozier had survived. I guess the book was rather anticlimactic that way, because I did think, “Oh, that’s all, now? He’ll be okay, then.” Of course the monster was a godlike being whose true destruction would bring about mass global warming. Of course it could be appeased with just a little sacrifice of tongues and reverence for a time being. It was a less scary monster than Sir John Franklin, who placed the lives of all his men in danger by refusing to consider abandoning his ship and his pride to save them, as well as less frightening than the mutinous Hickey who killed and ate just about everybody. And certainly not nearly as scary as Sophia Cracroft, who spurned Captain Crozier and drove him to drink and probably back into another expedition anyway.
I wonder if the point was that the “real” monsters were these so called civilized beings who would relentlessly seek out the territory of the monster in efforts to conquer, and thus destroy, it all.