Monday, December 3, 2018

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe (novel #117)

…the probability being that the public at large would regard what I should put forth as merely an impudent and ingenious fiction. ~ Arthur Gordon Pym in the preface to his narrative

This is a very difficult work to categorize – for numerous reasons.

I usually think of Poe as a writer of short stories; this is his only complete novel. I also think of him as a writer of supernatural, macabre, or mystery, but this is a simple seafaring adventure. Yet the line from the preface that I quoted above had me hoping for some fantastical element – but no, a very exciting but entirely plausible adventure.

Well…until the very end.

It is the tale of Arthur Gordon Pym and his great adventure of going to sea. He is at first stow away and nearly perishes. Later, and to avoid his own certain murder he and two others must overthrow mutineers. Still later he is ship wrecked and turns to cannibalism to survive, and still later rescued by another ship, and becoming part of her crew he enters the most astonishing part of the story, an exploration of Antarctica.

Quite riveting, but completely believable. But then, Poe very slowly strays into descriptions inconsistent with Antarctica. I thought perhaps this was just result of ignorance both on his part, and 19thCentury sources. I’ve never heard of a race of dark-skinned peoples near the South Pole, nor the flora and fauna he describes, and most certainly not the temperate and warming climate as necessity drives the main character farther south.

Again, I thought this was just poor research or information until…

The very end, Arthur and two others in a canoe are swept along farther south on a warm ocean current when they most suddenly encounter…

Something? Someone? Decidedly NOT plausible, NOT natural.

I realized then, this WAS a tale of the supernatural, and Poe quite cleverly slipped into it very subtly, to make the force of the revelation all the more powerful.

But then, it ends quite abruptly.

There is a bit of metafiction, a fictional note by the fictional publishers of Pym’s narrative, that the final chapters have been lost, but that every effort was being made to locate them.

And the reader is left to wonder. And I am still wondering. I wonder if I liked it – or maybe I hated it. I wonder what happened after the abrupt astonishing ending. I wonder what happened to Tiger (inside comment – if you’ve read it, you get it). I wonder was this brilliant, or was it a poor attempt to write something that paid (Poe was not commercially successful at this point as a short story writer or poet). I wonder if it was somewhat autobiographical (pretty sure it was). I wonder if the name Arthur Gordon Pym was intended to have a sound and meter similar to Edgar Allan Poe.

Well, anything that makes me wonder (think) that much is worthy of

4 of 5 stars

This novel was what came up for me in The Classics Club Spin #19

I wonder, have you read The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket? I wonder what you thought of it? 

Coming soon...a sequel to The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Jules Verne



  1. I do like books that make you wonder. I felt the same way after reading Chaim Potok's The Chosen. What an excellent book but I pondered it for months afterward. This book sounds like a very different Poe but one worthy of investigation!

    1. I definitely recommend it. It was not what I expected.

  2. jules verne wrote a sequel to this: An Antarctic Mystery, in which he finishes the tale... i liked it quite a bit and did a post on it earlier this year...

    1. Oh I'm so happy to learn this. Thank you! And thank you Mr. Verne. Tennyson will have to wait.


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