100 years after the RMS Titanic disappeared beneath the surface of the murky Atlantic, we look back at the story and its impact on modern culture and Christian literature.
The Titanic Myths
To start, let's journey deep into Greek mythology. The majority of us are vaguely familiar with the story of Zeus, leader of the Greek gods, who resided on Mount Olympus and surveyed the world below. Less familiar though, is the story of the Titans, who preceded the Olympian gods.
According to the myth, there were twelve Titans born to Gaia (earth) and Uranus (sky). These powerful deities ruled the world during the 'Golden Age'. Two of them - Cronus and Rhea - were married, and in accordance with an ancient prophecy, the Titans were brought down by one of their children: Zeus. 'Why the story?' I hear you say, 'it may be interesting, but how is it relevant?' Here's why: RMS Titanic was named after the Titans - it's not difficult to fathom why: both were HUGE.
Ordered in September, 1908, RMS (Royal Mail Ship) Titanic - a passenger ship designed for translatlantic travel - was to be the largest ship ever built. After three years of construction in Belfast, the ship was completed on the 2nd of April, 1912, just a week before its maiden voyage. Able to carry approximately 3300 people including crew, RMS Titanic was 269 metres long, and 28 metres wide.
Due to a national coal strike, RMS Titanic's maiden voyage carried 885 crew and 1317 passengers. Though this was far from full capacity, there were only lifeboats available for 1178. At the time, this was above and beyond the legal requirements.
Setting sail on the 10th of April, RMS Titanic embarked on her maiden voyage, the destination: New York, America. The majority of her passengers and crew joined in Southampton, but some were picked up in France and Ireland along the way; the ship was too big to dock at either of these places, so passengers were transferred out by boat.
Three days into the voyage 'plain sailing' would be an apt description of RMS Titanic's progress.
On the 14th of April messages were conveyed to RMS Titanic about floating ice encountered by other ships. As was standard practice for a ship so large, RMS Titanic continued on at full speed. It is commonly said that the ship was called 'unsinkable' but this is likely to be a theory spread by those wanting to compare the ship to the Tower of Babel - another failed feat of man's achievement. Rather, the Captain declared that he could not 'imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern ship building has gone beyond that.' Certainly, Captain Smith had great confidence in the durability of his vessel.
Disaster struck as RMS Titanic has what has been termed a 'fatal rendezvous' with a colossal iceberg. Ripping into the hull, five of the sixteen watertight compartments were flooded with water. According to the ship builders, this was just one too many - had only four been flooded, then the ship may have been able to summon rescuers fast enough to prevent loss of life. However, as it was RMS Titanic sank beneath the waves within two and a half hours - 710 people survived while 1517 were killed, dying of hypothermia, cardiac arrest, or drowning in the freezing (literally, -2 degrees!) sea.
The story of the RMS Titanic disaster has been frequently told - with different slants, through different mediums - for almost 100 years. Survivors told their stories, speaking and writing about lost possessions, and often lost loved ones, too. Some preachers used the disaster to explain how the arrogance of man had led to God's taking him down a notch or two. While personally I think this is unlikely, it's a good example of the stories that built up around the disaster, creating a lasting legacy.
In 1985 the wreck of the RMS Titanic was discovered on the ocean floor - over 3700 metres below the surface. It was found that the wreck had broken in two, and a debris field stretched 5 x 3 miles across the sea bed. Since this discovery, many artefacts have been recovered and placed in museums, hotels, or even returned to survivors.
Well known to most of us is the Hollywood film 'Titanic' (1997) starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. This story - based on the tale of one survivor - explores a romance that happened on the voyage, with the disaster tearing the two apart as one dies. (Apologies if I've ruined the story for you.)
Christians have responded in different ways to the RMS Titanic disaster; as mentioned earlier, some see it as God's punishment. Others see it as sad and unfortunate and have responded by engaging with survivors, many of whom lost everything in the tragic event. Still more have entered into the story telling, as such a massive life and death situation can provoke strange and marvellous responses from those present.
Christian writers have described the disaster in novels, extrapolated lessons we can learn from the disaster, and have scripted the stories of survivors. Below are 7 titles stocked Eden.co.uk that tell the story of the RMS Titanic disaster in different ways, appealing to readers of all ages:
Titanic: The Ship of Dreams: - RMS Titanic was the ship of dreams that turned into a nightmare. But out of tragedy comes a glimmer of light. John Harper focuses on Titanic as a story of faith and courage and eternal hope. By Robert Plant.
S.O.S Titanic: (Faith Finders Series): - Chrissie and Luke Barwell are surprised to find themselves on their way to America aboard White Star Line’s newest ship, RMS Titanic. In this retelling for children, Jill Silverthorne follows Chrissie and Luke as they cope with unforeseen dangers. By Jill Silverthorne.
Hearts that Survive: - In this novel of the RMS Titanic, Lydia Beaumont is on her way to a new life on board the grandest ship ever built. This sweeping epic of love, heartbreak, and secrets spans three generations to show how God moves through our mistakes and our disbeliefs. By Yvonne Lehman.
Echoes of the Titanic: - Kelsey Tate’s great-grandmother, Adele, survived the RMS Titanic disaster, but did she leave a legacy or a lie? Pursuing mysteries past and present, Kelsey defends her family and livelihood rediscovering a faith she’d all but abandoned. By Mindy Starns Clark and John Campbell Clark.
Titanic Lessons: - Do historic realities predict problems for a growing church? When growth challenges the Church’s ability to serve the needs of all the people, does growth become a Titanic liability? Timely warnings for today’s super-sized churches. By Hollis Green.
The Band That Played On: - Extraordinary account the 8 brave musicians who went down with the RMS Titanic and whose individual stories have never been fully told. A new and moving viewpoint on the Christian background of the men and on their courageous sacrifice. By Steve Turner.
Harper the Hero: Titanic Sacrifice: - 28-page children’s comic tells the story of Baptist minister John Harper who became a hero on the sinking of the RMS Titanic in his self-sacrificial struggle to save his much-loved six-year-old daughter Nana. By Eikon Bible Art.
The 100th anniversary of the RMS Titanic disaster will be remembered on Sunday 15th April. The last survivor of the disaster died three years ago, yet it is remembered now by such a wide group of people because the public fascination with this event has led to a continual retelling of the story.
Literature relating to the RMS Titanic story has almost created its own genre, as readers have been moved, inspired and changed by reports and interpretations of the tragic events that occurred a full century ago.
I recommend that in remembering the RMS Titanic disaster that you seriously consider what significance it could have in your life; your perception of life and death, tragedy and response to tragedy.
April 15th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Peter Harrison