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Literature / The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket

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The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket is the only complete novel by Edgar Allan Poe.

Published in 1838, it chronicled the progressively incredible adventures of the eponymous character, from a stowaway berth to the South Pole. Pym's picaresque adventures are marked by ludicrously dark violence and gruesome deaths. The novel's events become increasingly bizarre and fantastical, moving from adventure tale to proto-Cosmic Horror Story.

The novel is also notable for having the (oft-overlooked) quality of being a very early example of post-modern fiction.

Can be read here.


Tropes in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym include:

  • Alien Geometries: Near the South Pole.
  • Alien Sea: Near the South Pole, the water is "of a milky consistency and hue", with violently flaring vapors and temperatures so high it's "almost unpleasant to the touch."
  • Apocalyptic Log: Played with. The entire novel reads as one, but editorial asides suggest that certain characters not only lived, but returned to civilization. How this could have happened is left unanswered.
  • Author Avatar: "Arthur Gordon Pym" and "Edgar Allan Poe" nearly echo each other. Pym's backstory also largely mirrors Poe's, from his falling apart with his family, the encounter with his grandfather, and the fraternal relationship with Augustus, who is loosely based on Poe's older brother. Both Poe's brother and Augustus share the date of their deaths.
  • Advertisement:
  • Cannibal Tribe: The natives of Tsalal.
  • Chandler's Law: The novel's preferred method of advancing the plot.
  • Continuation:
  • Cosmic Horror Story: One of the first.
  • Death by Irony: Parker's death. He proposes that the shipwrecked party draw lots and see who gets cannibalized to save the other three. Irony ensues.
  • Drawing Straws: See above.
  • Foreign Queasine: The island cannibals consider the intestines a delicacy... served complete with the original stuffing.
  • Gainax Ending: The events leading up to the big No Ending, that is.
  • Genre Shift: The novel starts out as a fairly realistic traveling account and high-seas adventure. However, the farther south Pym goes, the more fantastical the story elements get.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Pym and Augustus Barnard.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: An unsettling number of examples, both among major and minor characters.
  • Long Title: Everyone calls the book Arthur Gordon Pym, which is more than half a mouthful itself.
  • Mind Screw: Back before screwing minds was cool.
  • Mysterious Antarctica: The Trope Maker.
  • No Ending: The bizarre last chapters build to a crescendo that breaks off in mid-story. No explanation. No conclusion. Only Pym and Peters drifting through water too hot to touch, a rain of white ash, and the sudden appearance of a shrouded, chalk-skinned giant.
  • Plot Armor: Pym seems to have it, though being an Unreliable Narrator helps as well.
  • Plot Hole: The novel has several, very amateurish examples of this. Considering the skill of the author it's most likely intentional, though scholars can't agree on why.
    • One character would not tell Pym a certain fact until "many years elapsed." This character dies a few chapters later.
    • The paper which Augustus writes a message on seemingly has three sides, not to mention that the message written on it changes.
    • In Verne's non-canon sequel, the dog Tiger's collar is found on Tsalal, implying that he survived the sinking of the Grampus. If so, Pym and his shipmates earlier drew straws to see who'd get cannibalized, with the dog calmly looking on!
  • Scarecrow Solution: Used to scare mutineers into abandoning ship by convincing them it's haunted.
  • Stealth Parody: Poe has a lot of fun with the then-popular genre of travel narratives.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: By the time he died, Augustus appears to have been held together with stamp glue.
  • Troll: There is an interpretation that this novel was composed by Poe to troll all the fans of the then popular genre of travel narratives.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Arthur Gordon Pym, very likely, as hinted at by various inconsistencies in his narrative.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: After the wreck of the Grampus Pym's dog Tiger drops out of the story, with no further indication as to his fate.

Alternative Title(s): The Narrative Of Arthur Gordon Pym


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