Frozen In Time: The True Fate of the Franklin Expedition

Frozen In Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition - Margaret Atwood, John Geiger;Owen Beattie, John Geiger

While reading Dan Simmons's The Terror, I wasn't aware that the story was based on a true expedition at first. I'm a poor student of history, and I honestly don't believe I was ever taught about it anyway. In the Victorian era there was Northwest Passage fever, and many expeditions endeavored to find the passage. Some ended in disaster or near disaster. Sir John Franklin's expedition is famous because it ended disastrously and mysteriously (and grimly), and this book describes more recent (1980s) attempts to learn what exactly happened to Franklin and his men in the arctic.

 

I wish I hadn't already read the gist of things on wikipedia because this book is written as a bit of a mystery itself. I imagine it would have felt even more feverish to read not knowing the findings to come. However, it's still engaging to learn the context of the expedition, see images and data, and track the history of followup efforts to find and save whatever and whoever was left from the expedition.

 

This book is a combination of history, archaeology, and science. The co-author made a few trips to the area where it was known Franklin and his crew wintered and possibly died. Previous efforts had discovered bones and relics from the expedition, plus heard stories from the Inuit about what they'd seen. Research in the 1980s discovered additional remains that were scientifically tested. In addition, the three crewmen who died and were buried in the ice earlier in the expedition were exhumed. Because they were buried in the ice and permafrost, their bodies were amazingly well-preserved. The photos are haunting. The descriptions of their exhumations are detailed and record the feelings of the scientists.

 

Frozen in Time is a quick read, very detailed about the work conducted (sometimes too detailed; I don't need to know everything about the plane's landing and such), and it reveals that even an effort as mighty as Franklin's--with two steam-powered ships and 120+ crew) can be felled by something less dramatic but deadly: lead poisoning from the ship's huge stores of poorly, hastily soldered tinned foods. The book ends on the note that, while in the past some have blamed individual captains or the sheer harshness of the conditions in the arctic, it was really something man-made that hastened the crew's death.