With James Cameron’s Titanic sailing back into cinemas towing an extra dimension author David Kowalski gives his thought on the hold Titanic has in popular culture, with particular reference to the depictions of the disaster in movies and in fiction.

You can visit David’s website here for details on his work and inspirations and there’s a link to find out more about his book at the end of this post.

The earliest recollection I have of the Titanic in fiction was Clive Cussler’s Raise the Titanic.

The title alone was enough to excite me. It’s one of the early Dirk Pitt novels and a lot of fun. I remember seeing the film, and dated as it seems by today’s standards, there is something stirring about seeing the ship rising from the depths.

A Night to Remember is probably my favorite retelling of the story. Black and white, it opens with the launching of the Titanic. She backs in to the water, then the credits roll over a seascape at sunrise. It’s based on Walter Lord’s famous book of the same name – still probably one of the most entertaining and informative books on the subject.

There is a German film, made by the Nazi’s in 1943, that I would be intrigued to see. It was made by their propaganda department and displays the ship’s crew as useless and ineffectual, with the exception of a lone German sailor, who is the film’s only hero. Are you at all surprised?

One of the most intriguing pieces of fiction, relating, somewhat loosely, to the sinking, was written 14 years before the actual event! Morgan Robertson’s Futility features an ocean liner called the Titan, which sinks after striking an iceberg. There are some astonishing similarities between the fictional account and the true events that followed. Like the Titanic, the Titan sank in April in the North Atlantic. Also, there were not enough lifeboats for the passengers. There are similarities between the size of the vessels and the speeds they were travelling at. The Titan is described as the largest ship afloat and unsinkable, and when she sinks the loss of like is also similar to April 15, 1912.

And drifting on the subject of precognition, William Stead, journalist, editor, writer and self-styled mystic also wrote two works, before the sinking, on very similar subjects. Stead is said to have claimed he would die from either lynching or drowning. He wrote two pieces that touch on our topic. In his How the Mail Steamer Went Down in Mid-Atlantic, by a Survivor (1886) an ocean liner collides with another ship, with high loss of life due to lack of lifeboats. In Stead’s From the Old World to the New (1892), a vessel, the Majestic, rescues survivors of another ship that collided with an iceberg. Twenty years later, Stead was able to see his visions realised first hand aboard the Titanic. A fascinating man, he plays Greek Chorus to the events that occur in The Company of the Dead.

Finally, Cameron’s Titanic returns to our screen this year in 3D. Will it be any good? As spectacle, I’m sure it will be amazing. In terms of story…so many fascinating things happened on board the ship that night. The focus on Rose and Jack, for me, is a distraction from what I want to see.

Am I going to watch it? You betcha…

David’s book The Company of the Dead can be ordered from Titan Books here.