Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket

Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849)

There once was a man from Nantucket
His adventures overflowed any bucket
He went to the sea
found calamity
And now he's in the Antarctic

This is Poe's only full length novel and it's a weird one (shocking). The story changes from wild teen romp, to a youthful, rebellious adventure, to pirates, to lost at sea, to travelogue, to anthropology, to weird religious symbolism. I found the whole book to be interesting, but the most gripping part of the narrative was during Pym's enclosure below decks on the Grumpus. I'll just chat about that part for a bit and you can read the rest for yourself. 
Arthur Gordon Pym gets tired of his life of partying and having fun in Nantucket and decides to sneak about a ship with the help of his friend Augustus. AGP's family didn't want him to go on the ship, so he decides to run away. Their plan is to put AGP in stowage and hide him for a while until they're far enough at sea to not turn back. The plan is going swimmingly, AGP is hanging out in the dark with a little food and water and the boat launches. Pym starts getting a bit concerned when Augustus doesn't show up for a few days. This section is the most prototypically Poeish part of the novel. It is claustrophobic and creepy. Pym is starving, trapped in the cargo hold, can't get out and has no idea what's going on above decks. It's the unknown that really ramps up the psychological drama. Turns out that the crew has mutinied and Augustus can't get below to inform Pym. There's really some weird mind games being played when Pym's dog mysteriously shows up in the stowage. 
The book is really organized in a strange way. After the creepy trapped in cargo section, there's a really cool lost at sea bit that ends in an "Alive" style feast. Then Poe throws in mountains of data on the flora and fauna of some islands in the South Atlantic. It sort of felt like a bunch of Poe stories mashed together with some other information to make it a believable travelogue. 
This wasn't my favorite thing I've ever read by Poe. Too much dry pedantic info about the ocean and sailing and a really weird, vague and unsatisfying ending left me feeling that this classic had way more potential. 

Rating 6.5/10: Some incredible parts, but fails to hold up as a whole. 


vanguy said...

Cool project!
(I need to read more novels.)
Found your blog through link on WLTV comments.
Best wishes,

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