January 06, 2023

#08-274: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym

"There arose in our pathway a shrouded human figure,"
illustration by A. D. McCormick 1898 (Wikipedia)

Note: In his only novel, Edgar Allan Poe seems to get a little lost--like his protagonist--in trying to horrify the reader.

Get Ready: This novel, like many of its kind, is set against a background of unknown lands. Where could we set such a story today?

Edgar Allan Poe is justly famous for his fantastical and macabre short stories and poetry. In fact, he is known to have written only one novel and, while he tried to keep it realistic, it got away from him and became rather bizarre, like his other works.

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket tells the adventures of a boy born on a seafaring-and-whaling island on the coast of Massachusetts. The first chapter is a sort of prologue foreshadowing the main story: Pym and his friend Augustus get drunk and try to sail a small boat; they have to be rescued from the sea.

The book's first section tells of Pym (along with his dog, Tiger) stowing away on the "Grampus," a whaling vessel commanded by Augustus's father. Augustus (who travels with the crew, and does not stow away) will provide him with food and water until they are far enough from land that Pym won't be sent back when he reveals himself.

But for a long time, Augustus doesn't appear, and Pym runs out of supplies. It turns out there had been a mutiny: Augustus's father and some others were cast adrift in a small boat, and Augustus survived by befriending Dirk Peters, one of the mutineers. Through disguising Pym as a ghost, the three seize control of the ship from the superstitious mutineers. After many misadventures--some quite gruesome--only Peters and Pym survive, and a British ship, the "Jane Guy," rescues them, commencing the second part.

They join the Jane Guy's crew and hunt seals for fur, while Pym studies the sea birds of the southern islands. When the crew goes ashore near the Antarctic regions, the local people slaughter them all--except for Peters and Pym again, leading to the third and final part.

Those two survivors escape in a small boat stolen from the natives, taking one of the tribe with them. The weather turns supernatural, and the native dies when a huge white figure appears before them.

The novel ends abruptly here, with a short note added that Pym was killed in an accident, and speculating that his final chapters were lost with him. Peters survives, living in Illinois, but cannot be reached for comment.

Some scholars believe Poe's novel inspired Melville's Moby Dick, French author Jules Verne's novel Around the World in Eighty Days, and H. P. Lovecraft's 1936 novel At the Mountains of Madness, among other books.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. abruptly
  2. adrift
  3. ashore
  4. foreshadowing
  5. justly
  6. misadventures
  7. speculating
  8. stow away
  9. superstitious
  10. vessel

  1. misfortunes; unlucky events
  2. believing in the supernatural
  3. suddenly; without warning
  4. hinting at future events
  5. guessing
  6. on land
  7. without a means of moving or being guided
  8. fairly; properly
  9. hide on a ship to travel without paying
  10. a ship

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for January 6, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. c; 2. g; 3. f; 4. d; 5. h; 6. a; 7. e; 8. i; 9. b; 10. j