Frozen in Time, by Owen Beattie and John Geiger

Frozen in Time, by Owen Beattie and John Geiger

Subtitled: Unlocking the Secrets of the Franklin Expedition

This slim volume offers revelations and surprises for anyone interested in the modern investigation into the ill-fated 1845 expedition of Sir John Franklin and crew to discover the Northwest Passage. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that distilling the story down to forensic data and clinical examination and testing does not rob the Franklin expedition of any of its historic and mythic resonance. Indeed, these new details add a poignant human dimension to the Franklin legend, including some cautionary reflection on man’s ongoing quest to push exploration and technological boundaries.

Most powerful in this account is the sensitivity with which the modern men of science connect across more than a century with the three men whose ravaged bodies revealed significant reasons for why the Franklin expedition met with calamity and death. Considerable emotion colours the descriptions of the exhumation and examination of the bodies of 20-year-old leading stoker John Torrington, 25-year-old able seaman John Hartnell and 36-year-old Royal Marines private William Braine, as presented by lead investigator Dr. Owen Beattie, assisted by journalist John Geiger. Because the three bodies were extremely well preserved in the Arctic permafrost, both as described and hauntingly captured by photographs included in the book, Dr. Beattie and his team were inescapably drawn into feeling very powerfully that they were dealing with almost living human beings in their investigation. In fact, Beattie describes tenderly lifting Torrington’s body from his coffin and feeling like the young man was merely unconscious, not dead for 140 years. The respect with which the investigators returned the men to their graves, and the awe with which Beattie ponders how the men helped in explorations undoubtedly beyond their wildest dreams, is very moving.

That Mordecai Richler went on to cite Frozen in Time as a valuable resource in his brilliant novel Solomon Gursky Was Here is testament to the power of both the Franklin story and how well it is told here.

Canada Reads 2012

Frozen in Time is one of the Canadian non-fiction titles I’ve recommended for Canada Reads 2012: True Stories. If you’d like to support this book as a possible Canada Reads finalist, you can vote for it here, as well as perusing some other great recommendations.

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