Friday, June 3, 2011

Essential Franklin Reading

My very first post here at Franklin's Ghost was a listing of what I considered to be some essential reading on the lost Franklin polar expedition and its participants. I promised then to eventually post a comprehensive bibliography of Arctic and Franklin related readings. I still plan (hope!?) to do that.

For now though, with so many new titles in the last 3 years and since I've read so many more on the list that I had not yet read back then, I'm going to simply update my essential reading list. The list is also now a little more comprehensive and a start on that bibliography. I've also reorganized the list a bit into different sections which are hopefully a bit more reader-friendly.

Consider the list your basic first course in Franklin related literature.

Feel free to suggest others or argue against any of them in the comments. The big gap in the list is Inuit accounts

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

General Surveys on Arctic Exploration and the Search for the Northwest Passage

  • Berton, Pierre (1988) The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the Northwest Passage and the North Pole, 1818-1909 -- If you were to pick one book to start with, I strongly recommend The Arctic Grail, the classic book by the iconic Canadian writer historian Pierre Berton. It is an excellent survey of arctic exploration and the central role the Franklin Expedition and, more importantly, the search for Franklin had in mapping and exploring the Arctic.

  • Fleming, Fergus (1998) Barrow's Boys -- Sir John Barrow, the Second Lieutenant of the Navy and the author of the Navy report that documented the story of the mutiny on HMS Bounty, was the driving force behind the many British expeditions of discovery in the North but also throughout the world. This is tale of his "boys" who sailed the world, and chief among them Sir John Franklin.

  • Sandler, Martin W. (2006) Resolute: The Epic Search for the Northwest Passage and John Franklin, and the Discovery of the Queen's Ghost Ship -- Despite the title, this is a good updated general survey of the search for the Northwest Passage, including a re-telling of the Franklin expedition and the searches for him, but one framed in the retelling of the fascinating tale of the ship Resolute which was abandoned after being beset deep in the northern Canadian archipelego in the ice while searching for Franklin but miraculously freed itself and was discovered in the Atlantic by whalers. The ship was returned by the US government to England and, years later when decommissioned, was used to make the famous Oval Office desk used by US Presidents since Kennedy.

  • General Franklin History

  • Beattie, Owen, and Geiger, John (first published: 1987, updated paper back edition: 2004) Frozen in Time: Unlocking the Secrets of the Franklin Expedition -- Groundbreaking archeological work that re-opened research and interest into the lost Franklin expedition. The 2004 paperback edition updates their research to subsequent theories.

  • Cookman, Scott (2000) Iceblink: The Tragic Fate of Sir John Franklin's Lost Polar Expedition -- While subsequent research has shown that it is highly unlikely that tinned food and food poisoning played any significant role in dooming the expedition, the rich and descriptive detail of Cookman's narrative style of writing and research almost puts you right into the hull of the Terror and Erebus.

  • Woodman, David C. (1992) Unravelling the Franklin Mystery: Inuit Testimony -- Woodman is one of the first to recognise the profound importance of the Inuit testimony and to analyse it in depth (John Rae or Charles Francis Hall should probably be recognized as the first, but Woodman is one of the first contemporary researchers). He concludes from his investigations, among other startling discoveries, that the Inuit probably did visit Franklin's ships while the crew was still on board, that there were some Inuit who actually saw the sinking of at least one of the ships, that the crew survived far longer than believed and actually split into two groups. Consider also Woodman's harder to find follow-up Strangers Among Us (1995) in which Woodman re-examines the Inuit accounts taken by Charles Francis Hall in the light of modern scholarship and re-evaluates the importance of Inuit oral traditions in his search to reconstruct the events surrounding Franklin's expedition.

  • Biographies

  • Cyriax, Richard J. (1939) Sir John Franklin's Last Arctic Expedition -- There has been an abundance of good biographies in recent hears, but anyone truly serious about learning about Sir John Franklin will need to eventually read Cyriax's 1939 biography. I still think the definitive biography of Sir John has yet to be written, but this remains, in many respects, still the most comprehensive and a good starting point.

  • Lambert, Andrew (2009) Franklin: Tragic Hero of Polar Navigation -- The first comprehensive biography of Franklin really since Cyriax's Sir John Franklin's Last Expedition in 1939. Lambert sets about re-casting Franklin's image of a bumbling sailor to a seasoned explorer and scientist. The latter especially is a too neglected part of Franklin's life. I reviewed this book here.

  • McGoogan, Ken (2002) Fatal Passage: The True Story of John Rae, the Arctic Hero Time Forgot -- Rae uncovered the true story of Franklin and his career and reputation was doomed for being honest about it. McGoogan tries to re-place Rae into his rightful place in history. I reviewed this book here.

  • McGoogan, Ken (2005) Lady Franklin's Revenge: A True Story of Ambition, Obsession and the Remaking of Arctic History -- The story about Sir John Franklin cannot be fully understood without knowing about his ambitious and opinionated wife, Lady Jane Franklin, and her efforts to mount and continue the search for her husband. More than that, McGoogan brings her and Sir John, and the events that led to his command of the fateful expedition, to life.

  • Smith, Michael (2006) Captain Francis Crozier - Last Man Standing? -- The first (and only) comprehensive biography of Captain Crozier, captain of the Terror and, after the death of Franklin, commander of the expedition.

  • Battersby, William (2010) James Fitzjames: The Mystery Man of the Franklin Polar Expedition -- The first (and only) comprehensive biography of Captain James Fitzjames, Commander of the Erebus and third in command overall. I reviewed this book here.

  • Affect on Art & Culture

  • Atwood, Margaret (1995) Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature -- A survey of the writing and literature about Franklin and how it has created a fundamental Canadian myth.

  • Potter, Russel (2007) Arctic Spectacles: The Frozen North in Visual Culture -- Potter illuminates the nineteenth-century fascination with visual representations of the Arctic and brings us closer to understanding why the Arctic has held such magnetic appeal through history.

  • Moss, Sarah (2006) The Frozen Ship: The Histories and Tales of Polar Exploration -- A truly sweeping survey of art, culture, polar exploration and the human imagination from Medieval Norse sagas to Winnie the Pooh and children's polar fiction. Sometimes reads like her doctoral thesis upon which it is based, but I'm quite sure she's missed very little.


  • Franklin is not reserved only for the serious research and study of non-fiction writers. Someday I'll write up my own "essential" Franklin fiction reading list. The criteria for what is a "must read" is entirely different. For now, I'll leave you with a link to Professor Russell Potter's quite comprehensive list of Franklin-related fiction.

  • ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    For anyone already emersed in Arctic and Franklin writing, this list is obviously hardly the start of it. But they are a good start. Feel free to let me know your favourite, or to provide your own review or suggestions for further reading, in the comments or by email. You may also want to browse this quite comprehensive list of Franklin links and this comprehensive regularly updated bibliography of Franklin fiction and poetry, thanks for both to Professor Potter.

    Scanning this list you might notice something quite remarkable: just how much of the literature covering this nearly 200 year old event is so very recent. With new discoveries and expeditions every summer, comprehensive government-funded searches for the ships, ever more on the way. To say nothing about the plethora of fascinating blogs dedicated to all things Franklin.

    We are truly in the midst of a genuine renaissance of writing on the lost Franklin Expedition. I hope to help foster that interest with this website. And you have just become a part of it by visiting.

    No comments: