Novel: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket

Author: Edgar Allan Poe, 1838
Genre: Adventure, Travelogue, Horror
Format: Ebook, 199 pages

Dear Mr. Poe,

Let me start by saying that you are my very favorite author (like EVAH). I must have looked like Wednesday Adams, all crawled up in the corner with one of your stories while other kids read My Little Pony. I own multiple copies of you works, managing to convince myself I need yet another Raven or The Fall of the House of Usher every time I visit a bookstore. I squealed of joy when my English professor declared you a genius of macabre and included several of your shorts in our study! Yes I am that much of your fangirl!

With that off my chest I can now get to the point of my letter – that being my complete and utter confusion after reading the adventures of your Mr.Pym. Let me follow the narrative to sum up some of the points which left me puzzled and longing for your explanation. Would you be so kind as to convince me why exactly you needed to write that first chapter? For the life of me, I do not see the benefit of its existence. So, two young drunk friends decide to have some more fun by going sailing at night. As a terrible storm starts they both pass out, which in turn results in them being run over by a huge whaling ship. By some miracle they survive the imminent death and are returned safely home without getting in trouble with their parents. The chapter almost looks like a short story you thought of writing one night, but decided to continue on with a new adventure as the first one ended. And so chapter two opens with Arthur convincing his friend Augustus to smuggle him on board of Grampus – a whaling ship belonging to Augustus’ father.

The following part is my most favorite, not only because it is well written and very much believable, but because it is truly an example of your macabre style. Here we see Arthur in his hiding place on board the ship – a narrow box (a coffin reference perhaps?) with little space, no light, and food enough only for a few days. It is tucked away in between the rubble that is the ship’s cargo, and the only way out is a small trap door that leads to Augustus’ cabin. Arthur spends his days in here without knowledge of time or access to fresh air. Soon he becomes delirious and paranoid, wondering if his friend has forgotten about him and has left him here to die. Honestly, Mr.Poe, I do believe that you have a strange fascination with being buried alive, as you have at least one more work dedicated to the occurrence, and even in this novel you mention it several times. Yet I love the part very much, as it gives me everything I expect from a horror novel.

Now, of course, there are mutineers, who take over the ship and kill everyone. I find it rather convenient that Augustus is the only one left alive and not thrown into the see. Be it the captain who lived, perhaps we’d never have a chance to see Arthur again! But all is good, and Augustus befriends one of the mutineers, Dirk Peters, and reveals Arthur’s presence to him. Because Peters rather regrets his actions on board of Grampus, he suggests that the three of them take the ship back by… and here’s the best part… killing everyone else. Yes, Mr.Poe, you love your blood-spilling and gut-wrenching! After all that is done, you are not giving our friends any break, do you? You decide to sink the ship and leave them in the middle of nowhere with no food or water.

In this part we witness a great example of what people are capable of when driven by necessity. The trio and one of the mutineers that survived (Parker) suffer thirst and hunger until the latter suggests killing one of them to prolong life for others. Somehow I knew that you left poor Parker live just to get the cannibalism theme going, only to make him draw the short straw and get stabbed in the back a few pages later. After all we don’t need undeveloped characters, right? However, I felt rather cheated, because moments after Parker’s body is digested by our heroes, Arthur remembers the place where he had hidden an axe that would help them to get to the provisions under the flooded deck! I bet Parker would roll in his grave, if he had one of course… Somewhere at this point I also felt Arthur getting very impersonal with his narrative, his writing lacking any feelings, while the events becoming more and more surreal. You can see an example of it when Augustus dies of his wounds, while Arthur is passively reporting, My friend just died in agony, his leg came off when we tried to put him to sea, and sharks devoured his decaying body right in front of me, yet I don’t even express any kind of emotion. What? What??!!

And speaking of surrealism, Mr.Poe, what is up with the ending? From an ordinary adventure story it turned into something Wells-que, a la At the Mountains of Madness. I do understand that at the time the book was written the Antarctic continent was equivalent to a mythical new world to explore,  which gives any author a license to invent whatever they want about it; however, the presence of strange color-changing water, white animals with red claws and teeth, and giant bullet-proof polar bears become all too fantastic in what seems to be a realistic narrative. Also, why is the ocean boiling when there are snows around? And who is that white figure that Arthur sees through the mist at the very end? Alas, you left me unsatisfied, Mr.Poe, and something tells me you are not about to explain yourself.

Finally, I have to thank you for arousing my interest in history of exploration of South Pole and educating me a little on the subject. I loved it that you kept it brief, but informative and well researched. Also, thank you for inspiring Jules Verne and others to venture into more marine fiction we all know and love! But please, please come back to writing about ghosts and creepy houses, and black cats, and fate, and death, and all that you are so good at!

Forever your literary admirer,


  1. Jamin Wells · ·

    Love the letter! I too read Pym for the first time this summer and put it down pretty confused. Have you read Mat Johnson’s recent “Pym: A Novel”? It’s an interesting reflection on Poe’s Pym, but I still can’t decide if I liked it.

  2. Hey Jamin, thanks for stopping by and leaving feedback!

    Pym is definitely a novel that showcases Poe from a whole new angle, very much like his The Gold-Bug short story. Maybe I am wrong, but it seems that he started writing the story as a realistic adventure, but couldn’t stay away from his surreal style as the narrative progressed. To my knowledge he never left any journals or diaries behind; which is a pity, because I would love to pick them apart to get to know him and his writing process better.

    I haven’t read Johnson’s novel yet. Was it any good? I did look at rather extensive list of works that were inspired by Poe’s Pym and it really impressed me. Someday I need to get to some of them just to see what other people thought about the novella.

  3. […] no tomorrow. My blog have seen such seemingly bullet-proof animals when I was talking about the The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. I guess it’s a trend with turn of the century […]

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