• Jennifer Reinfried

The Franklin Expedition

Updated: Dec 12, 2019

There’s more than one reason I’ve continued to praise season one of AMC’s The Terror. Based on the Franklin Expedition, not only is it fascinating, well-shot, and full of some of the best acting I’ve seen in a long time, but it is (almost) all based on fact. No, there (most likely) wasn’t a soul eating monster in real life, but over 130 men did set sail from England in two ships, only to completely vanish.

Captains of the Franklin Expedition and their AMC actor counterparts.
(top to bottom) Sir John Franklin, Captain James Fitzjames, and Captain Francis Crozier (show vs. real life)

My good friend told me about this show a few months ago, and I slowly found my fascination growing with each episode. So much, in fact, that I not only read the book it’s based off of, but also started perusing the library for books on the actual Franklin Expedition.

To keep it short, Sir John Franklin commanded two British ships on an Arctic exploratory voyage in 1845 to find the then unnavigated Northwest Passage somewhere in the many islands above Canada. This was, if found, to expedite trade route to Asia. They had two repurposed war ships that were reinforced (eight foot thick hulls with iron plating added, for example, and steam engines) to slam through ice and rough waters. They were provisioned for up to three years at minimum.

Shortly after leaving a stop in Greenland, none of the men were ever heard from again. Not even their ships, the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, could be found.

The most that could be discovered from the few artifacts, letters, and eye witness accounts from the Inuit people that came across Franklin’s men was that the ships were trapped in deadly pack ice, locked in place and unable to move for over two years. The pressure was so great with the ice building up that it eventually crushed Erebus.

With hope of rescue dwindling, and their men slowly dying of disease and exposure, the captains had no choice but to leave the ships and try to walk over 800 miles to safety they couldn’t even know was there.

In temperatures that often reached below negative sixty degrees.

With quickly dwindling preserves.

AMC's The Terror Season One is about the Franklin Expedition
AMC rebuilt both ships based on their actual blueprints

Remains were found, yes, but very few, and the ones that were recovered have told stories of great suffering. Not just scurvy, botulism, TB, pneumonia, starvation, and exposure, either – some of the men had resorted to cannibalism.

Of course, other authors have already written about the doomed Franklin Expedition, the most recognized being The Terror by Dan Simmons, which is the book the AMC show is based off of (season one, at least).

I, however, couldn’t get my mind off of it. This, folks, is known as being bitten by the Franklin bug. It is an incurable obsession, and I’m full within its grasps. So much so that I’ve put my sci-fi on hold to start a brand new book in its place.

I’ve never done so much research for a book before. I’m loving every single minute. Together with my absolutely amazing editor D.W. Vogel, a leading authority on the Franklin Expedition, Harry's last surviving family member, and even a few Scottish natives to help with dialogue, I am weaving my own tale consisting of some happenings in the Arctic in 1848.

This is what the Franklin Bug does, folks. It latches on, filling you with wonder, and refuses to let go – and I hope it doesn’t.

The captains on the Franklin Expedition depicted in AMC's The Terror season one
Jared Harris, Ciarán Hinds, and Tobias Menzies

I want to keep these updates short, so I’ll feature who of these men is my main character in another blog post. Until then, if you haven’t seen season one of The Terror on AMC (I believe Hulu and Prime have it streaming, currently), I of course highly recommend it.

Jared Harris gives a hell of a performance as Francis Crozier. Tobias Menzies’ Fitzjames has brilliant character development, and Ciarán Hinds is fantastic as Sir John Franklin.

And then there’s the outstanding Paul Ready, bringing Dr. Harry Goodsir to life with his ever impressive and often heartwarming acting.

Paul Ready as Harry Goodsir in AMC's The Terror.

If anyone out there reading this is a Franklin enthusiast, please do comment below or reach out! Chatting about the Franklin Expedition is my new favorite hobby.

Stay tuned for more on my latest novel!

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