Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Book 4- "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket" by Edgar Allen Poe

I didn't have high expectations for this book. Really. I mean, the name of the book itself takes awhile to read and isn't that interesting, so you can see where I was coming from. However, I am a huge Poe fan (and any Poe fan that hasn't gone to Poe Evermore at the Mount Hope Estate should really go...) so I decided to give it a whirl. I like a lot of his short stories, so I figured maybe I could get into this.

I didn't do any preliminary Googling (as I am trying to avoid with all of these books), so I had absolutely NO idea what it was about. About 2 pages in, I figure out it's about sailing. Crap. Not a sea-interested person, so this was strike 2. But I've made it through all my other books so far, so I decided to press on.


It should be stated at this point to that, for those of you who don't already know, I am also a huge Stephen King fan. Huge. As in celebrity-i-would-give-anything-to-meet kind of fan. As in I have a huge signed artists print of the cover of the last Dark Tower novel hanging in my living room kind of fan (despite everyone asking me "what's with the cowboy holding the rose?"). This story, though very obviously in the writing style of Poe, was very much like diving into a King novel, and made it clear to me that just the general "he wrote horror stories" point is not the only reason King lists Poe as an influence. ANYway, I thought this was important to note, just to let you know that my love of this book might be slightly biased.

Arthur Gordon Pym is the narrator of the story. He is away at school when his friend Augustus takes him sailing while extremely intoxicated, and predictably they almost die when the ship capsizes. This incident does nothing to deter Pym from a love of the sea, nor does it weaken his faith in Augustus. Thus, when Augustus suggests that Pym stow away on his (Augustus) father's whaling boat, remaining below deck in the stowage area until they are too far from Nantucket to turn around, absolutely no warning bells go off and Pym agrees immediately. Augustus leaves him with food, water, candles, etc. in a large shipping box, with a promise to check in whenever he can and bring more provisions as needed. This goes horribly awry, however, when the ship's crew mutinies, the captain is set adrift in a small boat, and Augustus is very nearly killed along with the ship's 40 or so other loyal crew members. Somehow, Augustus is spared, but is unable to check on Pym for several days. By this time, Pym has been below for days without water and nearly dies, but miraculously Augustus manages to locate him in the dark and save his life. Augustus, during the time Pym was suffering below deck, has befriended a man named Dirk Peters, who is doubting the leadership of the mutineers and considering a second mutiny (I know, crazy...). Augustus confides in Peters about the presence of Pym on the boat, and the three of them devise a plan to overthrow the gang of mutineers. The plan naturally works (obviously, since Pym IS the titular hero of the story.) Only one of the mutineers, Parker, is spared. When the ship ends up completely destroyed by a storm and they are left at the mercy of the currents, with no sails, Parker's luck runs out. He suggests that one of them sacrifice himself for the good of all (cannibalism, for those who didn't follow...) and unfortunately draws the short straw (since this is not "The Narrative of Parker.") He is killed and eaten. Augustus was injured during the second mutiny and dies of malnutrition/infection, leaving only Peters and Pym alive.

After nearly dying (again!) Pym and Peters are saved when they are discovered by the crew of another whaling ship. This ship sails really really far south to explore the Antarctic waters, runs into a group of natives who convince them they are friendly, lures them to their home island, and to make a long story short, everyone is killed. EXCEPT (you guessed it!) Pym and Peters. Pym and Peters survive a short time on the island, long enough to come up with an escape plan, which involves them slaughtering THOUSANDS of natives and escaping in a huge canoe. (I never said this story was believable. I said it was awesome.) They take one of the non-slaughtered natives on board with them as a hostage, but after several days adrift and due to some rather extreme behaviors on his part (refusal to drink/eat, fear of the color white, etc.) he dies. Peters and Pym drift further and further into really eerie conditions, where the water is white, cloudy, and uncomfortably hot to the touch, and they finally encounter what is described as being a very large figure of a man, with completely white skin.

This is where the book ends. There is a "note" at the end of the book, stating that Pym survived this trip but was somehow killed in an "accident" before he could finish his narrative. The writer of the note also indicates that Peters is alive and living in Chicago, but was unable to be located to fill in the last few chapters. So the reader never finds out what exactly they encountered at the South Pole; for my part, I was left with a feeling that whatever it was left both Pym and Peters cursed, since one died and the other went "missing" shortly thereafter.

Though some of the sentences ran on into forever and there where whole pages of sailing explanations/jargon that I literally just had to skim over or my head would explode, this was an incredibly interesting story with a plot that kept the reader interested (however unrealistic it may be.) The way Poe blends horror into reality makes the really horrifying parts seem believable in relation to the story... you don't get the feeling that he's trying to inject terrifying images that don't fit into a normal story, and the "horror" aspects aren't really a stretch (although much of the plot is. I mean, really... 2 men against thousands? And the 2 men win?) It was a book I will likely read again someday (really!) and I would recommend it to anyone.

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