Spirit of the Titanic
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