The Gold Bug was my very first Edgar Allan Poe story. Surprise-surprise, I had to read it for school, and it became a favourite ever since. It’s been a while since I’ve read it last, so this time I went into the story with very general memories about the plot. I knew it was about treasure hunting and cryptography, which is always fun, but I couldn’t recall the rest. This time The Gold Bug seemed shorter and more fast paced than it used to be in times of my childhood. I also noticed the incredible racist stereotypes that eluded my naive mind before. All in all, this time looked to be a completely new experience.
The story focused on the method of finding the treasure – deciphering the cryptic code found by the characters, – rather than building up the background story of how the treasure came to existence. Apparently at the time it was written, cryptography was gaining popularity, and Poe’s creation caused quite a stir in literary world. Even though the cryptogram presented in the text was rather simple and based on simple substitution, general public was very impressed and considered the author a genius. To exploit the situation Poe challenged his readers to send in their own secret messages for the author to solve. The contest proved to be a roaring success, making The Gold Bug the most celebrated of Poe’s works during his lifetime.
To summarize the plot: the main character learns that his friend has found a new kind of bug and is being haunted by the gold fever after being bitten by it. He is acting irrationally and keeps asking the narrator to go with him into the forest with shovels in hand, which makes everyone wonder about the man’s sanity. The narrator finally yields, but remains skeptical until after a lot of digging his shovel suddenly hits the metal hinges of a buried chest full of gold and gems. It turns out that the madman has actually found an old pirate map and learned a way to decode its secrets, and that there is more method to his madness than it seems. This is where his friend explains how the map has come into his possession, how the cipher has been broken, and how the gold bug has played its role in the adventure. Do I have to confess that my favourite part of the story dealt with outlining the contents of the chest in great detail? I guess I just did.
The short story might be a bit simpler than I remember, but it is still a great fun to read. It’s not as sinister as other works by Poe, which might appeal to those who tend to avoid his writing. It might also be a bit too straightforward for those who enjoy to solve the mystery on their own, so I wouldn’t recommend it it to anyone looking for a brain-teaser. But it’s great for those readers who are craving for a nice pirate story with an interesting twist. I know that for me The Gold Bug will always have a special place in my heart.