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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.


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Tropes in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym include:

  • 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.
  • Chandler's Law: The novel's preferred method of advancing the plot.
  • Continuation:
  • Cosmic Horror Story: The novel's fantastical final chapters, which feature Alien Geometries and an encounter with giant, chalk-skinned humanoid figure, are often acknowledges as a main influence on the cosmic horror genre. H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, which is also set in Antarctica, features some obvious references to Pym.
  • Death by Irony: Richard Parker proposes that the shipwrecked party draw lots and see who gets cannibalized to save the other three. Ironically, it is him who draws the shortest straw.
  • Drawing Straws: See above.
  • Foreign Queasine: The natives of Tsalal consider sea cucumbers a delicacy.
  • 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 have known each other since childhood and are very close to each other.
  • Hollow World: Near the South Pole, sea itself seems to slope downwards and open up into a "limitless cataract." Poe was likely inspired by 19th century theories proposing that the Earth was hollow and open at the poles.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Pym, Peters and Augustus are forced to resort to cannibalize one of the other survivors to prevent themselves from starving to death after they're shipwrecked.
  • Long Title: Everyone calls the book Arthur Gordon Pym, which is more than half a mouthful itself.
  • Mind Screw: The story turns increasingly bizarre and fantastical once Pym crosses the Antarctic circle, and even more so when he's nearing the South Pole in the final chapters.
  • Mysterious Antarctica: The Trope Maker. At the time, Antarctica was still largely unexplored, and Poe takes full advantage of this fact by portraying it as place full of strange, seemingly unexplainable natural phenomena.
  • No Ending: The last chapters build to a crescendo that breaks off in mid-story just as Pym and Peters drift through water too hot to touch and a rain of white ash towards the figure of a shrouded, chalk-skinned giant. This is followed by an editorial note stating that both of them returned to civilization, only for Pym to die in an accident that also destroyed the last remaining chapters of his account, with no explanation of the circumstances of their survival or any of the bizarre events in the final chapters.
  • Plot Armor: Pym survives a staggering number of near-death experiences through absurd coincidences and sheer luck while most of his companions die.
  • Plot Hole: The novel has several glaring gaps in its plot. 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: Pym dresses up as a ghost to scare the mutineers into abandoning ship by convincing them it's haunted. It's so effective that one of them is literally scared to death.
  • 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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