More on Titanic

Mom,

First of all, a major quibble of my own – I’ve definitely seen A Night to Remember.  It was one of those films (like A Bridge Too Far) that Dad and I would watch endlessly.  Loved it.

I haven’t, however, read Lord’s book, so my primary exposure to the Titanic has been through fictional means–James Cameron’s Titanic film, The Watch That Ends the Night, and probably some others I can’t remember–until Titanic: Voices From the Disaster.  Like you, I think the subtitle is tremendously misleading.  It seems like a pretty straightforward nonfictional narrative of the Titanic’s construction and only voyage, using completely appropriate primary sources as part of its research.  As such, I thought the book was phenomenal.  I knew the overarching story, and a great many specific details, but the way Hopkinson brings them together and makes them really live was wonderful.  And those Browne photographs were a great addition.  There are so many great nonfiction books this year, but this one is definitely near the very top of that list, along with Bomb and We’ve Got a Job.

So, your quibble.  I agree that it’s certainly a mistake to call the man Father Browne since he was not a priest at the time of the disaster. On the other hand, one could argue that the captions are being written from the present day, saying something like “a picture from Father Browne’s collection”–I’m sure that’s what you had in mind when you mentioned that you “make a good argument that all of the captions I object to here are technically correct, when looked at in a certain way.”  Still, it’s worth noting, especially when coupled with what I think is a much bigger problem, which is the tables in the back matter.  At least one, and maybe more of them were completely incomprehensible to me.  Wendy Burton mentioned the same thing on Goodreads, so I know I’m not the only one–I’m pretty sure at least one table either had typos or was missing information.  To me, that’s pretty huge, especially since those tables tell some very interesting stories.

One of them seems to show that something like 95% of first class women and children made it onto the life rafts and a full 50% of the third class women and children (I’m pulling these numbers from memory).  That is pretty impressive and definitely jibes with the more historically accurate picture of a very respectful (and very British) evacuation (as contra the received wisdom from James Cameron that people were panicking througout the ship, firing guns willy nilly, etc.).  But if I’m not reading that table right because of errors, that changes a lot about how I perceive what happened aboard the ship, at least in some ways.

So, what do we make of these errors?  I can’t imagine that the table will not be corrected in future editions (like the typo you mentioned in your post).  Father Browne? Probably not enough people will notice for there to be a change, but probably you are right that it is a minor enough detail not to dwell over.  Still, I think it is worth noting these types of errors because they show us 1) in the case of the Browne captions, a possible blindspot on the part of the author – for example, I might not be terribly excited to see Hopkinson writing a book in the future that prominently featured Catholics or Jesuits; and 2) in the case of the table, a little peek into the publishing and editing process, which I think is always worth being aware of.

Finally, I can’t let this opportunity pass me by to mention the other Titanic book I read recently which was called Deck Z: The Titanic: Unsinkable. Undead by Pauls and Solomon (yes, that’s two colons and a period in the title).  This is a tremendously stupid fictional account of the Titanic.  A German scientist who’s been working on a cure for a rare strain of the plague realizes that the German government (in preparation for World War I) wants to unleash the plague against the Russians.  The scientist flees, with the last remaining vial of the plague strain, to England and thence to America via the brand new ocean liner Titanic.  Predictable, the plague is unleashed and it just happens to turn everyone on board into zombies.  Much grotesquery ensues.  As I said, it’s pretty dumb, but I was most disappointed because it missed out on a great idea.

If you’re going to have zombies on board the Titanic, then there’s no need for an iceberg: you should have Capt. Smith and Andrews contrive a way to scuttle the ship to kill off all the zombies.  The survivors get in the lifeboats, and are all instructed to tell American officials that they hit a berg: instant conspiracy!  Instead, Pauls and Solomon keep the iceberg and just make it an incredibly useful tool for the crew to kill off the remaining zombies.  Deeply disappointing.

In any case, I will definitely get a hold of the Lord book and finally read it (and probably make Rena watch the movie with me) so I can properly compare Hopkinson’s style to Lord’s.

– Mark

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6 Comments

Filed under Books, Movies, Teens

6 responses to “More on Titanic

  1. Zombies and Titanic. Whoa. But the Lord book is well worth reading.

    • Make that a re-read. I just read your previous post.

      Have you ever read the Titanic Inquiry Project, which has the transcriptions from both the British and American investigations? Good stuff.

  2. So, I think it’s a mistake (but understandable as you haven’t read the book, and you have a big treat in store when you do) to equate the movie of A Night to Remember with the book, at all. I could say that it just borrows the title, and it’s the same event, but that makes it sound like the connection is even more than it is. Lord’s book is a factual recounting of before/during/after the disaster, beautifully researched, with great back matter. I’m certain that everything in there that we may now know to be not quite true was the truth as it was known at the time. The movie is a fictionalized version of the disaster, not so fictionalized as the Cameron movie, but not the documentary that a movie based on Lord’s book would have been. Anyway.

    I think Hopkinson said somewhere that Browne was known as “Father Browne” (on the ship, was my impression), and I assumed that was why she credited the photos to “Father Browne”, much as she probably used other nicknames throughout the book–Jack Thayer and so on. It did make me pause for a moment and wonder what it said about society or Jesuits or something, that people would call someone “Father” who wasn’t yet a priest, and that he would let them–but I don’t think it’s truly an error. These days by law you can’t call yourself a “nurse” (my profession, which is why it comes to mind) unless you’re a currently registered (or licensed practical) nurse, but I don’t blink at all the older books and historical fiction books that use that title for students or Civil War volunteers.

    I honestly think this book is better than Moonbird and the equal of We’ve Got a Job, or perhaps better (as I’ve said several places, it’s difficult for me to judge these books, though your mom sounds like she ought to have the same problem–she manages more perspective than I do), but I haven’t read Bomb yet.

  3. Mark Flowers

    Thanks Wendy – I didn’t actually mean to equate the movie and the book, except in a humorous way (don’t worry – I’ve seen the movie!) -also it’s probably been 20 years since I’ve seen the movie so I don’t trust any memory I have of it so thanks for the info. I have a hold on Lord’s book right now, so I may have more insight on Hopkinson after reading that.

  4. Wendy

    I forgot to make my other comment. I think what you’re extrapolating from the tables is, perhaps, too much; my impression is that at different times within the 2.5 hour period, and at different places in the ship, everything was orderly except when chaos reigned. It’s definitely true that a shot or two was fired. Early on the lifeboats were neatly loaded, but later things got much crazier. 50% of steerage women and children isn’t impressive, it’s pathetic! But my point isn’t to get into a Titanic trivia thing; just that I don’t think you can hold the table against the book as far as interpretation goes–just for actual errors. I can’t decide how much to balance that one table that doesn’t make sense with the good stuff in the rest of the book. It left a slightly bad taste in my mouth because it’s at the end, because I (chose to) put rather a lot of time into trying to figure it out, and because I felt stupid for not getting it–until I mentioned it to my sister, who knew just which table I was talking about and didn’t get it either. But it IS just one small table in a fairly hefty book.

    • Mark Flowers

      Fair enough. Thanks for the thoughts. It’s always fascinating to see the way different people react to children’s and YA nonfiction books based on how much they know of the subject matter (see: my and Monica’s somewhat vicious fight with Jonathan Hunt over Fleischman’s Sir Charlie a couple years ago). I clearly need to read more about the Titanic.

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