A hundred years before release of James Cameron’s movie “Titanic“ (1997), American writer Morgan Robertson wrote a book called “Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan”. The book was about the sinking of an “unsinkable” ocean liner. No surprise there; it’s a story that’s been told over and over (there were 13 Titanic movies before Cameron’s, including one by the Nazis) but Robertson’s book was the first.
“Titanic” (1997), a fictionalized account of the sinking of the RMS Titanic
When the theatrical release of James Cameron’s Titanic was delayed from July to December of 1997, media pundits speculated that Cameron’s $200-million disaster epic would cause the director’s downfall, signal the end of the blockbuster era, and sink Paramount Pictures as quickly as the ill-fated luxury liner had sunk on that fateful night of April 14, 1912. Titanic would surpass the $1-billion mark in global box-office receipts, win 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Director, launch the best-selling movie soundtrack of all time, and make a global superstar of Leonardo DiCaprio.
Futility, or The Wreck of the Titan
“Futility, or The Wreck of the Titan” is a novella about the unsinkable ocean liner Titan, which goes down after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic.
Where it Gets Weird:
Morgan Robertson writes this book 14 years before the maiden voyage of the “Titanic”; “Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan” was published in 1898.
The Titan was described as “the largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men,” “equal to that of a first class hotel,” and, of course, “unsinkable”. Both ships were British-owned steel vessels, both around 800 feet long and sank after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic, in April, “around midnight.“ Sound like enough to keep you up at night? Maybe that’s why Robertson republished the book in 1912 just in case enough people didn’t know that he wrote it.
Where it Gets Even Weirder:
While the novel does bear some curious coincidences with the Titanic disaster, there are a few things that Robertson got wrong. For one, the Titanic did not crash into an iceberg “400 miles from Newfoundland” at 25 knots … it crashed into an iceberg 400 miles from Newfoundland at 22.5 knots. Wait, what the fu%k? That’s one hell of a lucky guess!
What 41.1 million square miles of Atlantic ocean looks like.
But maybe the weirdest thing about Titan were points that had nothing to do with the story, but check out after numerous inquires and expeditions to the Titanic wreck site.
The similarities between Robertson’s book and the Titanic disaster are so astounding that one has to imagine if White Star Line built Titanic to Robertson’s specs as a dare.
For one, both the “Titan” and the “Titanic” had too few lifeboats to accommodate every passenger on board; the “Titan” carrying “as few as the law allowed.” While Robertson decided to be generous and include four lifeboats more on his ship than Titanic, it’s an odd point to bring up when you consider that lifeboats had nothing to do with the story.
When Titan hit the iceberg (starboard bow, naturally), the ship sank immediately, making the point made about lifeboats inconsequential. Why the bother to mention this?… It’d be like HAL 9000 addressing the danger posed by O-rings at low temperature decades before the Challenger disaster.
The Similarities to the Titanic
Although the novel was written before the Olympic-class Titanic had even been designed, there are some remarkable similarities between the fictional and real-life counterparts. Like the Titanic, the fictional ship sank in April in the North Atlantic, and there were not enough lifeboats for the passengers. There are also similarities between the size (800 ft long for Titan versus 882 ft 9 in long for the Titanic), speed (25 knots for Titan, 22.5 knots for Titanic) and life-saving equipment.
Beyond the name, the similarities between the Titanic and the fictional Titan include:
- Both were triple screw (propeller)
- Described as “unsinkable”
- The Titanic was the world’s largest luxury liner (882 feet, displacing 63,000 long tons), and was once described by newspapers as being “practically unsinkable”.
- The Titan was the largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men (800 feet, displacing 75,000 tons, up from 45,000 in the 1898 edition), and was considered “unsinkable”.
- Shortage of lifeboats
- The Titanic carried only 16 lifeboats, plus 4 Engelhardt folding lifeboats, less than half the number required for her passenger and crew capacity of 3000.
- The Titan carried “as few as the law allowed”, 24 lifeboats, less than half needed for her 3000 capacity.
- Struck an iceberg
- Moving at 22½ knots,  the Titanic struck an iceberg on the starboard side on the night of April 14, 1912 in the North Atlantic 400 miles away from Newfoundland.
- Also on an April night, in the North Atlantic 400 miles from Newfoundland (Terranova), the Titan hit an iceberg while traveling at 25 knots, also on the starboard side.
- The unsinkable Titanic sank, and more than half of her 2200 passengers and crew died.
- The indestructible Titan also sank, more than half of her 2500 passengers drowning.
- Went down bow first, the Titan actually capsizing before it sank.
Robertson’s novel features a ship, the Titan, ‘…which was the largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men’. No expense was spared on making the ship luxurious and the steward’s cabin is described as being ‘equal to that of a first class hotel.’
The latest technology was used in the building of the Titan including the addition of ‘..nineteen water-tight compartments.. With nine compartments flooded the ship would still float, and as no known incident of the sea could possibly fill this many, the steamship Titan was considered practically unsinkable.’ Because Titan was considered unsinkable she only carried the minimum number of lifeboats required by law – 24 – able to carry 500 people. This was not enough for the 2000 passengers on board. Morgan Robertson’s Titan hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean and sank. 2987 people died in the disaster. Morgan Robertson republished Futility after the sinking of the Titanic with some notable changes suggesting that he was trying to cash in on the Titanic disaster. Nevertheless, the similarities between The Titan and Titanic are striking:
Comparison source: http://historyonthenet.com/Titanic/futility.htm
About the Book
Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan is an 1898 novella written by Morgan Robertson. The story features the ocean liner Titan, which sinks in the North Atlantic after striking an iceberg. The Titan and its sinking have been noted to be very similar to the real-life passenger ship RMS Titanic, which sank fourteen years later. Following the wreck the novel was reissued with some changes, particularly in the ship’s gross tonnage, to make it closer to the Titanic.
The first half of Futility introduces the hero, John Rowland. Rowland is a disgraced former US Navy officer, who is now an alcoholic and has fallen to the lowest levels of society. Dismissed from the Navy, he is working as a deckhand on the Titan. On an April night the ship hits the iceberg, capsizing and sinking somewhat before the halfway point of the novel. The second half follows Rowland, as he saves the young daughter of a former lover by jumping onto the iceberg with her. After a number of adventures, in which he fights a polar bear(suffering permanent physical disability due to wounds sustained in the fight) and finds a lifeboat washed up on the iceberg, he is eventually rescued by a passing ship, overcomes his addiction and, over several years, works his way up to a lucrative Government job restoring his former income and position in society. In the closing lines of the story he receives a message from his former lover, pleading for him to visit her and her daughter.
You can read this book online here:
THE WRECK OF THE TITAN Or, FUTILITY BY MORGAN ROBERTSON
The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Wreck of the Titan, by Morgan Robertson This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net
PS About the RMS Titanic
RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912 after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton, UK to New York City, US. The sinking of Titanic caused the deaths of 1,502 people in one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in modern history. The RMS Titanic was the largest ship afloat at the time of her maiden voyage. She was the second of three Olympic class ocean liners operated by the White Star Line, and she was built by the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. On her maiden voyage, she carried 2,224 passengers and crew.
RMS Titanic departing Southampton on 10 April 1912