Man is an interesting animal; he can purport to be virtuous, but that often only holds as long as his creature comforts are left intact. Once put out into the wilderness, facing certain death horrifying creatures, man’s inherent goodness can often fall apart. However, it is most interesting when some among these men can hang on to their humanity. In The Terror by Dan Simmons, such a scenario occurs – during a long and arduous expedition, the crews of the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus go through what could literally be described as Hell; starvation, harsh conditions, and mysterious beasts are just some of the dangers they encounter. Captain Francis Crozier and Dr. Harry Goodsir, two of the major characters in the novel, are virtually the only ones who manage to maintain their dignity and humanity, when the journey itself threatens to doom the rest of the crew. In this paper, the nature of man as reflected in The Terror will be explored – comparing Goodsir and Crozier to the rest of the expedition, it will be clear that it takes a certain kind of man to weather such hazards and still come out with their morals and ethics intact.
At the beginning of the novel, Captain Francis Crozier is seen near the middle point of the narrative, where the two ships are trapped in ice, looking over the deck, a bit drunk. “Well…I’ve been drunk more often than not now for three years, haven’t I? Drunk ever since Sophia. But I’m still a better sailor and captain drunk than that poor, unlucky bastard Franklin ever was sober” (Simmons,. p. 4). Crozier’s alcoholism is a sign of weakness, to be sure, but a reasonable one – he is still confident of his abilities despite his condition, and always seeks to get the best out of his men. His decades of naval experience has warmed him to exactly what needs to be done, despite the potential loss in popularity he would experience among the crew.
Crozier’s benevolence is also seen in the decision to keep Lady Silence along on the crew. While many of the crew lust after her, Crozier refrains from doing so, as “Crozier…is too old for romance. And too Irish. And too common” (p. 11).
The other bastion of virtue in the novel is Dr. Goodsir, the junior physician on the expedition. He is still fairly new to the sea and eager to prove himself, though still humble and respectful of the chain of command. As he begins his diary during the journey, he writes, “All I know at this point is that my Expedition with Captain Sir John Franklin already promises to be the Experience of a Lifetime” (p. 48).
Meanwhile, Crozier is beginning to be smitten, yet perplexed, by Lady Silence. Despite his discipline and sense of duty, he does it mostly for the men, who need him to maintain décor in the face of this mysterious woman whom many believe is responsible for their current troubles. “On the ship, in front of the men, he is always polite and formal to this Esquimaux wench, but he is not on the ship or in front of the men now. It is the first and only time he and the damned woman have been away from the ship at the same time. And he is very cold and tired” (p. 93).
Crozier takes these claims that Lady Silence is a “Jonah” from the crew and attempts to dispel them, even in the face of the strange creature that intermittently attacks them. He is a good enough leader to attempt to assuage the crew’s growing concerns and flashes of panic. “I don’t believe in witches, James. Nor Jonahs much, for that matter. But I do believe that if we put her out on the ice, the thing will be eating her guts the way it’s devouring Evans’s and Strong’s right now” (pp. 120-121).
Of course, Crozier has an ulterior, practical motive for also keeping Lady Silence around - “Crozier’s reason for not immediately evicting the native woman was simple: his men were beginning the slow process of starving to death, and they would not have adequate stores to get through the spring, much less the next year. If Lady Silence was getting fresh food from the ice in the middle of winter – trapping seals perhaps, walrus hopefully – it was a skill that Crozier knew his crews would have to learn in order to survive” (p. 310).
Goodsir, at the time the least respected naval surgeon on the expedition, is thrust into a leadership role when the Venetian Carnivale wipes out all the other medical staff. In all this time, Goodsir has managed to earn the respect of the crew by acting swiftly and decisively when facing injuries sustained by attacks from the creature. After one particularly dramatic medical procedure, the crew finally call him “Dr. Goodsir.” “Goodsir had heard the ‘doctor.’ Franklin and his commander had almost never called the surgeons that, not even Stanley and Peddie, the chief surgeons. They – and Goodsir – had almost always been the lower ‘Mister’ to Sir John and the aristocratic Fitzjames. But not this time” (p. 422).
The primary counterpoint to the inherent goodness of man as presented by Crozier and Goodsir in the book is Cornelius Hickey. A short, devious man, he provides an outlet for a majority of the barbaric behavior performed by the men of the expedition. He kills Lieutenant Irving and the blame rests on the Eskimos. In the meantime, Goodsir must perform an autopsy on Irving, with whom he’d become close. However, his sense of obligation and duty allows him to override whatever personal feelings he had for the man. “However much I liked and respected Lieutenant Irving, I had to perform my Professional Duties and put all memories of Friendly Acquaintance aside” (p. 498).
Goodsir’s ultimate fate is not a pretty one, particularly for such a virtuous man as he; he is kidnapped by Hickey as part of the plan to foment mutiny among the crew. Knowing that he cannot escape, and gradually tortured, he takes ‘the Final Draught,’ an overdose of medications that allows him to kill himself. Choosing to end his life early instead of endure many more hours and days of pain and misery, he also robs Hickey of the leverage he wanted in order to encourage the mutiny or get Cozier to surrender the ship. His sacrifice showcases just how dedicated and loyal he was to what virtuous crew was still left.
Once the crew move from the ships to Terror Camp, the murder of Irving leads to an unprovoked attack on the Eskimos of the area by many of the men. Interrogating one of the officers later, Crozier maintains his sense of duty and order when the man refuses to go back out to investigate the murders. “You were the only officer present, Lieutenant Hodgson. For good or ill, it was and is your responsibility” (p. 497).
A large group of the men, spearheaded by Hickey, attempt to mutiny – given Crozier’s effective and sensible leadership, believing wholeheartedly that his way was the only way to potentially survive their situation, he is incredulous at the thought of a mutiny - “Crozier shook his head at the absurdity of it all and chuckled as if the men had come to tell him a particularly good joke rather than foment a mutiny” (p. 560). At first, he pleads with them to stay, and appeals to their sense of reason, poking obvious holes in their flawed strategy to just move on back to the Terror, which they hope has been released. Eventually, however, he realizes that he simply cannot waste energy appealing to their sense of rationality at the expense of keeping everyone else alive, and so chooses to let them go off on their own. “He reminded himself that this was what he wanted – it was past time to get rid of the malcontents and to save those others who trusted his judgment” (p. 618).
Eventually, everyone on the expedition dies, but for him and Lady Silence. He soon realizes, after carrying up a romantic relationship with her, that she is pregnant. With this in mind, and the growing realization that they share each other’s dreams, he understands that he is becoming ‘someone and something else,’ though “Francis Crozier…remains a rational man” (p. 735). He knows that “Life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. It has no plan, no point, no hidden mysteries that make up for the oh-so-obvious miseries and banalities” (p. 737). Of course, even as he says this, he begins to doubt himself, especially considering the bond he has begun to forge with Lady Silence, a romantic and close partnership that carries them through the remainder of the novel.
As conditions worsen and the cold sets in, he begins to test his options. “The only paths left now are surrender or death. Or both. All of his life, the boy and man he was and has been for fifty years would rather die than surrender. The man he is now would rather die than surrender” (p. 743). Crozier’s determination is finally exemplified when he and Silence finally make their way back to the Terror, sifting through its contents and deciding to burn it down. However, there was one last symbolic gesture he needed to perform - “Fixing this ship’s position one last time was perhaps the most useless thing he’d ever done in a long life of doing useless things. But he also knew he’d had to do it” (p. 762).
In conclusion, the characters of Crozier and Goodsir are practical, determined, morally upright individuals who seek to weather this most precarious situation with as much of their moral fiber intact as possible. They are not without flaws – Crozier’s tactless treatment of Lady Silence early in their relationship, Goodsir’s choice to kill himself – but they are eager to prove themselves and do right by those who are loyal to them. While the rest of the crew panic, kill, and lash out at whoever might be tangentially responsible for their plight, these two characters, for good or ill, refuse to give up, unless their own sacrifice can serve some greater meaning. With this in mind, the inherent goodness of man is exemplified in Crozier’s rejection of Hobbes’ nihilistic view of life being solitary, nasty, brutish and short. By working within those confines and making the best of things, always fighting for survival, he shows the true virtue of man, while most others are punished for their shortsightedness and impatience.
Simmons, D. (2007). The terror: a novel. New York: Little, Brown and Co..