Spirit of the Ti­tanic

The Compass - - OPINION -

As a child liv­ing in ru­ral New­found­land in the early 1960s, to make our own en­ter­tain­ment on those long, drawn-out dog days of sum­mer, we friends and sib­lings sat on the fence rail­ing and tried to outdo each other by telling ghost sto­ries. By the time dark­ness fell, I would be al­most too fright­ened to run across the garden and duck in­side the house, fear­ful of be­ing chased by a “spirit.”

Of course, we’d vow and de­clare to never again tell such scary sto­ries … un­til the next night and the next and the next. It seemed we couldn’t sa­ti­ate our long­ing for ghostly tales; the scarier the bet­ter.

I think I would have en­joyed fright­en­ing my com­pa­tri­ots with the spell­bind­ing story Ni­cola Pierce tells in her book, “Spirit of the Ti­tanic.”

Sa­muel Joseph Scott, 15, plunges to his death while help­ing to build the Ti­tanic. In­deed, his death was the first tied to the ill-fated ves­sel. Now, as the world’s great­est ship crosses the At­lantic Ocean, he finds him­self on­board, but as a ghost. His spirit roams the ves­sel, shar­ing the ex­cite­ment with trav­ellers on their way to a new life in Amer­ica. When dis­as­ter strikes and the Ti­tanic be­gins to sink, a por­ten­tous ques­tion arises: Can Sa­muel’s spirit reach out and save a fam­ily trapped be­hind locked gates?

The writer, who was born in Ire­land, faced a quandary … how best to craft a novel which deals with such a tragic event and make it both suit­able and an en­joy­able read for ju­ve­niles.

In this, her first book for chil­dren, Pierce de­vel­ops the idea that Sa­muel’s ghost tells the story of the sink­ing, along­side his own story.

Ex­plain­ing her method in an on­line in­ter­view, Pierce says, “I needed some­one who could travel all over the ship … If I used the ghost of Sa­muel he could be in the Crow’s Nest as they sighted the ice­berg, fol­low key characters around … and not get in the way of the story.”

She nar­rates a fic­tional story based on true events, in­clud­ing real peo­ple, along with ac­tual di­a­logue, as she found them in her re­search. How­ever, she also takes lib­er­ties here and there, as be­fit­ting a nov­el­ist.

“I sup­pose Sa­muel, like many oth­ers on board, had his own per­sonal jour­ney to make,” Pierce says. “Yes, he is taken up with his sense of iso­la­tion, and then hope­less­ness to do any­thing of worth, af­ter the ship hits the ice­berg. He won­ders why he has ended up where he has, but, as it turns out, there is a rea­son he’s there — two rea­sons, in fact. He is about to make a colos­sal con­tri­bu­tion to a Third Class fam­ily, and then, when all is over, he has the most im­por­tant job of all, to bring ev­ery­one home safely.”

Early in the book, two stew­ards, who have been sweep­ing the deck, stop to ob­serve the coast slowly fade into the dis­tance.

“His friend shud­dered, caus­ing him to look up in sur­prise,” Pierce writes. “What’s wrong with you?” The friend’s face was a pic­ture of con­fu­sion.

“I, I don’t know. Just felt a chill, or some­thing.”

Of course, the reader knows why the stew­ard “felt a chill, or some­thing.” Sa­muel’s ghost too is on deck, des­per­ately wish­ing he can join the stew­ards as they leave for a bite to eat.

“I sud­denly didn’t feel right, ei­ther,” Sa­muel muses. “As I stared over the rail­ings into the ocean, I no­ticed the ship’s re­flec­tion bub­ble up and down un­der the water, con­stantly chang­ing in shape and colour. Noth­ing lasted for­ever or stayed the same. Where did I hear that be­fore, in school or in church? That’s why, I sup­posed, we had to keep mov­ing for­ward and try our best not to look back.”

Pierce uses real­is­tic nar­ra­tive and de­scrip­tive lan­guage, which are bound to hold the at­ten­tion of chil­dren and, I might add, chil­dren at heart. She writes in a cap­ti­vat­ing man­ner, with a keen eye for de­tail, re­lay­ing the all-too-real ter­ror of that un­speak­able night. The reader feels she’s ac­tu­ally on the Ti­tanic, fight­ing with the other trav­ellers for a seat in a cov­eted lifeboat.

Be­cause Pierce prefers happy end­ings, she con­cludes her book on a hope­ful note, de­spite the tremen­dous loss of life in this mar­itime tragedy. “I felt en­veloped by love,” Sa­muel thinks as the story winds down.

If I had read such a book as “Spirit of the Ti­tanic” as a boy, I think I could have scared the livin’ day­lights out of my brother, sis­ter and friends in our garden in Ham­p­den.

“Spirit of the Ti­tanic” is pub­lished by Boul­der Pub­li­ca­tions of Por­tu­gal Cove-St. Philip’s. Free­lance jour­nal­ist Bur­ton K. Janes lives in

Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at

bur­tonj@nfld.net

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