The Discovery of the Titanic

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

When Ballard, as part of a joint American-French expedition, discovered the Titanic, the news swept through the world media like a storm. Seventy-three years after the majestic ship had slipped beneath the cold waters of the North Atlantic, the headlines proclaimed, TITANIC FOUND.

One year later, Ballard returned to the Titanic to explore and photograph it extensively with state-of-the-art undersea technology. The images he brought back from the dark, two-and-a-half-mile-deep water are weird and haunting: chandeliers seen through the “swimming-eye” of the remote-control robot camera as it descends the grand staircase; a pair of shoes lying side by side on the ocean floor, their occupant long since consumed and vanished; a statue of Artemis the huntress that had once graced the mantel of the luxurious first-class lounge, now jutting out of bottom mud in the glare of artificial light. Many archival photographs of ship details are fascinatingly matched with murky images of the sunken wreck.

In narrative and pictures, the reader sees how the Titanic was conceived and built, how it left on its maiden voyage carrying members of the elite of American and British society, and how, through a fateful confluence of negligence and error, it narrowly missed a head-on collision with an iceberg only to split its seams as it brushed by that great wall of ice. It sank within hours, taking with it more than 1,500 passengers.

Ballard’s long struggle to fulfill his dream of finding the Titanic is well told, from his first efforts at getting funding, the near success of rival expeditions, and the frustration of equipment failure under the ever-present pressure of time, to the final triumph when the video view of featureless bottom mud from the unmanned submersible Argo suddenly gave way to images of wreckage.

Readers will find this a fascinating glimpse into the new world of deep-ocean exploration opened up by the robot and video technology advocated and pioneered by Ballard.