A Sketchy Comparison of Lovecraft and Poe
Today we're doing a very partial comparison of some of the works of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. The texts I am referencing are as follows: The Call of Cthullhu and Other Weird Stories of H.P. Lovecraft; we're looking at the Penguin Classics paperback edition of that book, edited with an introduction and notes by S.T. Joshi, first published in Penguin Books in 1999.
And we have in hardback, In The Shadow of the Master: Classic Tales by Edgar Allan Poe. It is introduced to us and edited by best-selling crime thriller writer, Michael Connelly. The publisher seems to be William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. This particular compilation is copyrighted for 2009.
As an added treat this volume features essays by other best-selling writers of today such as: Jeffrey Deaver, Nelson DeMille, Tess Gerritsen, Sue Grafton, Stephen King, Laura Lippman, Lisa Scottoline, and thirteen others!
Let's see if we can make this relatively quick and painless!
The first thing to say---and this came as a surprise to me---is that after reading both compilations of stories, I find that I, personally, prefer Lovecraft over Poe.
Working with the partial information I have gleaned, from reading the aforementioned compilations, I believe the Poe was the slightly more versatile writer. His range was a bit broader than Lovecraft's, as far as I can tell.
H.P. Lovecraft, from what I can tell, was a horror tale writer. But, to be fair, this is a slight oversimplification, which I shall return to later. I will say that the quality of Mr. Lovecraft's writing was, in my opinion based on a small sample size, the more consistent of the two writers.
But I digress. Let us return to the matter of Edgar Allan Poe's works, for the present.
The Lovecraft Stories
One thing I'll just note, very quickly, for those of you who may be unfamiliar with Mr. Lovecraft's work. If you read fiction fairly regularly---and that of a contemporary stamp---there is something about Lovecraft's work you might find a bit odd at first. But I think you will get used to it, and even learn to appreciate this feature of his writing.
You will find almost no dialogue in the usual sense. That is to say, you will rarely see a group of words with a set of quotation marks bracketing them. This, of course, means that Lovecraft almost never had the intent of reproducing exactly what someone is supposed to have said.
Just kidding. It seems to me that he wrote in the way that people actually tell stories to one another face-to-face. When you tell a friend of yours a story, you do not tell her in exact detail what each person involved said. You cannot even remember it in such detail.
What you do is convey the sense of what was said. Not that it matters very much, but in literary fiction I call this the experiential past tense.
What's that you say? What is the experiential past tense? Why is it a thing? Dare you even ask?
Well, for one thing, as I would have it, the experiential past tense is the opposite of what I call the experiential present tense?
What is the experiential present tense?
You probably should know, if you want to understand what I mean by the experiential past tense---which is the approach that I have said the H.P. Lovecraft used in his fiction.
The short version
Basically most fiction you read is understood to be events which "have already happened," for all intents and purposes. But there is usually so much detail provided, in terms of scenery, setting, representations of smells, colors, sounds, descriptions of what people look like (and oftentimes what they "are" wearing), and exact reproductions of what people said in the past, which is why there are all those groups of words bracketed by quotation marks.
For this reason, we are, in effect, being given a story that has, in its way, both "happened already," and yet is unfolding before us in "real-time."
Does that make sense?
What I will do now is endeavor to give my personal rank of Mr. Poe's works in this compilations.
1. The Tell-Tale Heart is, for me, an all-time classic psychotic drama. We do get around to the strangest reasons for taking a life. I have nothing to add. There is nothing I can say about the tale that has not already been said in an exponentially more masterful and astute manner than I could manage. Why try to reinvent the wheel?
2. A close second is The Cask of Amontillado. Again, I agree with all of the laudatory remarks that have ever been said about it, by people smarter than me. Once again I note what is perhaps the greatest opening line in crime fiction: "The Thousand Injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge."
In fact, the entire first paragraph is a gem. The rest of it goes:
"You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat."
You know, I will just pause here. Any of you who've ever read the novel The Godfather by Mario Puzo --- and/or have ever seen the first of the movies for that matter, will know that threat-less revenge was also Don Vito Corleone's modus operandi as well. This philosophy is elaborated more in the novel though.
Anyway, to continue: "At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitively settled---but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved, precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish, but punish with impunity."
Whatever Montresor does to Fortunato, he must get away with it. Otherwise, its not worth it.
"A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong."
You could say that those simple lines described the Corleone's playbook right down the line. A wrong is not properly avenged if the avenger gets in trouble for it in any way. Also, proper revenge is not taken unless the sinful party knows its you who's doing it to him.
The Corleones and their allies wiped out the Barzini and Tattalia "Families" in spectacular fashion; and in so doing, put the Underworld of all America "on notice," as it were: If you want to get yourself killed and/or disappeared forever, mess with the Corleones.
H.P. Lovecraft did not write fiction in this way, the way most of us probably think of as routine.
Another way to state it---Lovecraft's use of the experiential past tense---is to say that he took the third-person, omniscient narrator and made it supreme.
It is a fast-moving approach to storytelling. It is, in a sense, a kind of "yada, yada, yada... so on and so forth" approach to storytelling. Sue Grafton's criticism of Poe's dialogue could never be applied to Lovecraft.
I'll try to elucidate further as we go on. But now, on with the ranking list.
1. My absolute favorite story of this collection is, without a doubt, is Herbert West---Reanimator. It is the most fun---gruesomely comic---of all the stories. I dare you to read that story and tell me that it isn't the inspiration for a major plot line of Penny Dreadful on ShowTime.
2. My close second is The Shadow Over Innsmouth. It is one of those "I-am-the-thing-that-I-feared" stories. The thing that scared me before, intrigues me now. Now I find it all so glorious.
The story ends like this:
"So far I have not shot myself as my uncle Douglas did. I bought an automatic and almost took the step, but certain dreams deterred me. The tense extremes of horror are lessening, and I feel queerly drawn toward the unknown sea-deeps instead of fearing them. I hear and do strange things in sleep, and awake with a kind of exaltation instead of terror. I do not believe I need to wait for the full change as most have waited. If I did, my father would probably shut me up in a sanitarium as my poor little cousin is shut up. Stupendous and unheard-of splendours await me below, and I shall seek them soon. Ia-R'lyeh! Cthulhu fhtagn! Ia! Ia! No, I shall not shoot myself---I cannot be made to shoot myself!
"I shall plan my cousin's escape from that Canton madhouse, and together we shall go to marvel-shadowed Innsmouth. We shall swim out to that brooding reef in the sea and dive down through the black abysses to Cyclopean and many-columned Y'hanthlei, and in that lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory for ever" (page 335).
3. Another "close" call for me is the story William Wilson. Slots two and three could easily switch places. This story is what Lisa Scottoline, in her essay Identity Crisis, very nicely called: "Single White Female, only with boys." And the villain is the "original," not the doppelganger in our story; the doppelganger is on the side of the angels.
It is also written in a style that I love: something I called the experiential past tense. Basically it actually better approximates the imprecise way human beings actually tell stories to each other. There is very little dialogue; depending on how one wants to see matters, there is no dialogue at all. I won't go into any detail here except to say that most fiction we read is written in the technique I call the experiential present tense.
I'll be more than happy to explain myself in the comments section, if you have an aching, burning need to know. But the term I would use to describe this kind of literature of the tensely confrontational is, let say, "intensity literature," at least on a provisional basis.
The difference between this story and, say, "The Cask of Amontillado," is intention. In the latter story, Fortunato has no idea that Montresor even bears him the slightest ill will, much less is planning to kill him. In "William Wilson," it is almost as if the two protagonists were born to be deadly adversaries.
The Cask is a story of one character's predatory intent toward another, neither knows nor suspects a thing about it.
4. I like The Murders in the Rue Morgue in this spot, though it could easily be higher on this list. It is, to this day, the most remarkably bizarre murder mystery I have ever read. Spoiler alert: You see, the ourang outing (chimpanzee) did it. Seriously! The ourang outang did it; and what set off the creature's murderous spree?
The beast was imitating his owner's grooming habit of shaving. And he killed the two women out of a misunderstanding. You see, the creature had merely wanted to shave them, you know, like a barber. But the "customers" just wouldn't sit still...
Let me just note that the character, Dupin, the amateur detective, is very much like Sherlock Holmes. Poe is said to have been the father of the American detective story.
3. You have a bit of horror mingling with science fiction in The Whisperer in the Darkness. It has some of the flavor of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It ends very tellingly like this:
"For the things in the chair, perfect to the last, subtle detail of microscopic resemblance---or identity---were the face and hands of Henry Wentworth Akeley" (page 267).
4. In this four spot I will choose a relatively simple story like Cool Air. There was a television version made of it. I believe it was featured on Rod Serling's Night Gallery---Yes, that guy did other stuff beside The Twilight Zone.
Again, I can see no better way to convey a sense of what's going on that to give you the ending lines.
"He couldn't stand what he had to do---he had to get me in a strange, dark place when he minded my letter and nursed me back. And the organs never would work again. It had to be done that way---artificial preservation---for you see I died that time eighteen years ago" (page138).
You see, you have science fiction, mingled with the supernatural, mingled with the horrific.
5. I think I shall call The Outsider the fifth best story in this particular collection. It is "The-Monster-is-Me" kind of tale. Literally. And very well done.
6. I'm going to put The Picture in the House in this spot. Since I don't want to give anything away, I'll only say its a story about objects as a focusing points for "bad juju."
7. The Hound is a fun, spooky ride, with the subject matter being precisely what is indicated in the title.
8. The Rats in the Walls. I'll only say here that there is some recognizable kinship with a Stephen King short novel called 1922. Its a story about big, old aristocratic houses and the bad things they can contain. And rats, or the idea of rates, is involved.
9. I'm going to say that The Statement of Randolph Carter is the ninth best story in this collection. Its one of those "buddy" stories. This type of story follows a certain tried and true approach in Lovecraft. There are two "buddies." One has this all-absorbing fascination with the occult. The other "buddy" is drawn into his friend's obsession. Then, after pushing the envelope, the obsessive friend succumbs to a great malevolent force, as the other barely escapes with his life."
5. My number five is The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar. I will admit that my judgment, here, may be clouded by the fact that this is one of the rare occasions where I believe the movie to be better than the original story. The story in the Vincent Price film version is more elaborated and simply more fun, in my opinion. I am sorry to say that this story, in its original written form, comes off as rather dull.
6. I'm going to put The Masque of the Red Death in this spot. This story is rather modern in its way. Maybe a century and a half later, writers would turn out these kind of public spreading disease thrillers.
I will say that I disagree with S.J. Rozan's takeaway from this story. In his essay he writes: "In the middle of a plague, an array of wealthy citizens lock themselves away and throw a party, a big masked ball. The danger outside doesn't matter; they congratulate one another on how cleverly they've isolated themselves from it. Except, of course, they haven't. They've made it worse" (page 230).
So far, so good.
Still quoting: "One of the 'guests,' dressed as the Red Death (everyone laughs and applauds, he's s-o-o-o amusing), really is the Red Death. And far from being locked away from him, they're locked in with him. He dances with them all, and they all die" (ibid).
Again, all true.
Rozan then writes: "This is 'the best laid plans/gang aft agley,' this is 'man proposes, God disposes.'
Rozan then takes a few lines to try to capture what he was feeling, as a young adolescent, when he had read the story. When he read a review of the movie Chinatown, he had a Eureka! moment. You see, Rozan seems to be saying that both the movie and the story The Masque of the Red Death centrally concern what he called, 'disastrous consequences of good intentions' (ibid).
This probably is not necessary but I will simply offer this little quibble. I would not characterize Prince Prospero's intentions as "good." The way I read the story: He and his class thought that their money and social station could protect them from things that "little people"---to quote Leona Helmsley in her famous dismissal of paying taxes as the province of the "little people"---have to suffer because they are little.
If Prince Prospero's intentions had actually been "good," at least from my perspective, he would not have been so discriminating by class in terms of whom he tried---futilely as the case may have been---to give shelter to.
10. This goes to Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family. But it could easily switch places with #9 and back again. Sometimes the obsessive occult researcher brings down infamy and scorn upon himself. Sometimes his community shuns his very name because he is seen to have released forces that were better left suppressed.
The story ends like this:
"The two particulars in question are these: the arms on the golden locket about the creature's neck were the Jermyn arms, and the jocose suggestion of M. Verhaerren about a certain resemblance as connected with the shriveled face applied with vivid, ghastly, and unnatural horror to none other than the sensitive Arthur Jermyn, the great-great-great grandson of Sir Wade Jermyn and an unknown wife. Members of the Royal Anthropological Institute burned the thing and threw the locket into a well, and some of them do not even admit that Arthur Jermyn ever existed."
This ending reminds me a little bit of the Lord of the Rings, in which that warrior Elf-king cut off Sauron's finger and threw the ring into a volcano...
11. Celephais is, quite simply, a beautiful, little fantasy, which took me quite by surprise when I first read it. It seemed so out of character for the Lovecraft I thought I was coming to know.
12. The Colour Out of Space. How shall I characterize this story? Did you ever see Flash Gordon? Do you remember the part about when "Ming the Merciless" was talking about his technique of planetary invasions. There are certain things he does first. He explained that by the use of some vaguely defined technology, his people are able to make it look like a targeted planet's natural phenomena are going haywire. They can and do cause meteor showers, earthquakes, and the like. And so on and so forth.
One way you can look at "The Colour..." is like this: An alien race preparing to invade Earth, begins by softening up the humans---without landing a single enemy-looking troop---by unleashing germ warfare. I'm not saying this is the correct way to look at it, but it is a way.
7. I'm going to give "The Black Cat" the number seven slot. It's alright, I suppose, but again, the film version with Peter Lorre and Vincent Price is just infinitely more fun. The literary story is more intense and the aforementioned film version is ever so much more fun.
8. I'm going to give this place to The Fall of the House of Usher. I'm surprised to say, that after so many years, it makes little impression on me. Folks just seem to die mysteriously and suddenly of fright or shock or some such. If there is a movie version with Vincent Price and Boris Karloff, I'll bet its a whole lot more fun than the literary story
9. Ligeia. I have nothing to say about this story. It didn't do anything for me. But I will say this: I wonder if we don't, sometimes, confuse "brooding" for "depth."
10. Let's put The Gold Bug here. Once again, this story seems interminable as I read it today. To borrow a couple of phrases from a British movie critic, Mark Kermode, let me say that I find this story, "Life-threateningly dull," and, truth be told, "Its like stodging through treacle."
There is the obvious problematic of the way the African-American character is depicted; it would be fair to call it literary blackface. On the other hand, I was not bothered too much by it. If you observe the story closely, you see that the relationship between the former slave and former master had dramatically changed with the end of slavery (whether such a 'dramatic change' reflects historical reality is another matter entirely); the outer forms of the previous relationship remained, but they were nominal. Also, those of you familiar with the story, will note that the treasure was, indeed, split three ways.
Anyway, aside from that I found the story maddeningly convoluted.
11. Manuscript Found in a Bottle
12. A Descent into the Maelstrom
13. I'm going to call Dagon the thirteenth best story in this collection.
14. To be followed by Nyarlathotep.
15. Next comes The Festival, think
16. To be succeeded by He
17. Followed by The Call of the Cthulhu
18. With The Haunter of the Dark batting in the cleanup position.
Let me say a few things.
A. It has been, I think, a month or two since I read those stories, again, after having first done so many years ago.
B. I will be reading these stories again: 1) H.P. Lovecraft is a writer who needs to be read more than once; his work is deserving of the effort; 2) I know that I will need to do this in order to more fully understand them.
C. The fact that I recall some stories more vividly than others is a reflection on my shortcomings, not any weakness in Mr. Lovecraft's work. Effort is required to read and digest his work; its not "beach reading," or anything like that.
D. I do not feel the need to read Edgar Allan Poe's canon multiple times. The uneven quality of his writing is evident. However, it was only Sue Grafton's essay in the Poe collection, that gave me the confidence to say that. When you see what Poe could do at his best, you know when you are reading something by him that has fallen off a cliff.
E. I will discuss this further when we briefly consider The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.
Let me say this
If you are interested in what motivated Mr. Lovecraft's writing, you shouldn't neglect to read the introduction of the Penguin Classics paperback. In it we learn that Lovecraft himself, made himself quite plain on the subject.
It seems that he wrote an essay in 1933 called "Notes on Writing Weird Fiction."
"I choose weird stories because they suit my inclinations best---one of my strongest and most persistent wishes being to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which forever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis" (page xv).
Writer S.T. Joshi intervened with clarification:
"It is important not to be led astray here. Lovecraft is not renouncing his materialism by seeking and imaginative escape from it; indeed, it is precisely because he believes that 'time, space, and natural law' are uniform, and that the human mind cannot defeat or confound them, that he seeks an imaginative escape form them" (ibid).
I'll bet that a relief, eh?
The only thing I'll say about those last two stories is this: I tend not to like stories in which the mountains, or sea or ocean or wind or rain or animals are main characters or substantially prominent characters. I personally find such things un-relatable; maybe that's just me. Other than that, as many times as I read those stories, it never matters because I can never remember what they are about.
13. The Pit and the Pendulum. I don't know if there is a movie version of this. But I do know that there is an old-time radio play version (Suspense, I believe, which later became a television show; think of it as an early version of the Twilight Zone, if that helps you) which is a lot more fun than this literary version. Again, I wonder if there is not some confusion of "brooding" with "depth."
I should also say that the compendium also features a couple of poems. I did not read the poems.
Now, there is a problematic with Poe's work. Mind you, I am not the only one saying this, but its quality (in terms of the writing) is uneven.
There is one more story. But I have chosen to deal with it separately and apart from the "list."
But first I'd like to reference an essay, "How I Became an Edgar Allan Poe Convert," by best-selling mystery writer Sue Grafton [the author of the alphabet mysteries: "A is for ..; (something awful that starts with an 'A'); "B is for... (something awful that starts with a 'B'), etc.].
Here's what she had to say about "The Master's" work, after returning to it after many, many years.
On page 382 we read:
"In rapid succession, I read 'The Pit and the Pendulum,' 'The Purloined Letter,' (which is not in this collection; italics mine), 'Manuscript Found in a Bottle,' and 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue.'"
She didn't like Murders in the Rue Morgue, but I did, as I mentioned.
Continuing with the quote:
"Let's not even talk about 'The Gold Bug,' which left me cranky and out of sorts. I found Poe profligate with his exclamation points, and his overheated prose was larded with inexplicable French phrases. Not only that, he was much too fond of adverbs, and his dialogue fairly cried out for the stern admonitions of a good editor. Mon Dieu!! These are all writerly habits of which I thoroughly disapprove!! Further reading of his work did nothing to soften my views. What was I to do? I had nothing nice to say about the man and no hope of faking it."
The filmmaker John Carpenter said the same thing a lot more simply. In an interview on a show called The Director's Chair, which is hosted by fellow filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, on the El Rey Network.
Mr. Carpenter just said that in real life he doesn't believe in the supernatural. But "in cinema it lives," is, I believe, the way he phrased it.
That's why they call it imagination, I guess.
Two last points
I gave a few words, fumbling around, trying to describe Lovecraft's prose style, for those who have never read any of his work. Let's hear what S.T. Joshi had to say about it.
"Lovecraft's prose style," Joshi wrote, "has engendered widely divergent judgments, from the towering condemnation of Edmund Wilson to the adulation of his colleagues and disciples, who have sought to imitate (usually in vain) both his stylistic richness and his verbal witchery" (page xix).
I'm not sure what is meant by "verbal witchery" but let's move on...
"Put very simply, Lovecraft's style is a melding of scientific realism and evocative prose-poetry" (ibid).
Doesn't sound very simple to me. But be that as it may...
"One is certainly free to dislike the style and to prefer the sparseness of Hemingway or Sherwood Anderson; but it would be difficult to deny its appropriateness for Lovecraft's type of imaginative effect" (ibid).
In other words: Form fits function in Lovecraft. Yes, I think that's mostly true.
"At its best,"---We now resume our regularly scheduled program already in progress!---"Lovecraft's work becomes a kind of incantation, seducing the mind into a momentary acceptance of the fantastic incidents being related. At its worst it becomes pompous and bombastic. But Lovecraft was almost always the master, rather than the slave, of his style---a point that can be emphasized by considering those two exquisite parodies of himself, 'Herbert West---Reanimator' (1921-22) and 'The Hound' (1922)" (ibid).
Remember, "Herbert West---Reanimator" is my number one, the story I think of as the most fun in this collection.
"And Lovecraft was capable of a far broader diversity of style than has commonly been granted---from the delicate prose-poetry of 'Celephais' (1920) to the modern Gothicism of 'The Rats in the Walls' (1923) to the stupendous cosmicism of 'The Call of Cthulhu' to the sober realism of 'The Whisperer in Darkness' (1930) and 'The Shadow Over Innsmouth'" (ibid).
All of that is true enough, I think. But still, I would still go with Edgar Allan Poe as being the slightly more versatile writer than Lovecraft.
A couple of things on that.
With the exception of Grafton's take on The Murders of the Rue Morgue, I fully agree with her assessment of the Poe cannon.
Excessive use of adverbs: I always say that this smacks of a certain, subtle kind of desperation---that of the writer trying to convince himself of whatever effect his story is meant to put over. It is the literary equivalent of using a "laugh track," whereby the viewers are home are so kindly informed when the funny parts have come up because they hear the "laughing," for example.
Excessive use of exclamation points!!!: Again, its the laugh track effect. The words alone, and how and when and by whom, under what circumstances they are said, should be more than enough convey whatever emotion needs to be conveyed.
Dialogue: I did not seem to have the same problem with Poe's dialogue that Grafton did. But, as she has pointed out, there are some bad habits to stay away from. You want to keep it concise and keep it moving; and, of course, as a general principle, I suppose you never want to make dialogue do the work that simple, straightforward third-person narrative should be doing.
This brings us to our last story in this compendium, again, which I have chosen to deal with separately and apart from my somewhat, flexible list ranking. I'm talking about a tale called The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.
First, let's hear from Sue Grafton again. You see, because of her judgment of Poe's work, she was not, in good conscience, going to be able to provide an essay for this book. But when she discovered "The Narrative...," she found that she could, in good conscience, keep the commitment.
Because "I'd read no more than a few paragraphs when I found myself transfixed. The prose was clear and accessible, with nary a !!! in sight. But what intrigued my was the challenge Poe had set for himself. The Narrative ... purports to be an account of an extraordinary (and entirely invented) journey across the Antarctic Ocean, as told by one Arthur Gordon Pym at a gentlemen's club in Richmond, Virginia, in the latter months of 1836. Those who hear of his remarkable adventures urge Pym to make the matter public. Pym declines, explaining that he kept no written journal during this protracted period and that he questions his ability to write, 'from mere memory, a statement so minute and connected as to have the appearance of that truth it would really possess.' The incidents, he says, are of a nature so marvelous that he doubts the public would regard his comments as anything other than 'an impudent and ingenious fiction'" (page 383).
There is one other point I need to make, so that you can prepare yourself for the decidedly non-heroic nature of H.P. Lovecraft's fiction, if you have never read any of it before.
Once again S.T. Joshi:
"One facet of Lovecraft's work that has exercised many readers' imaginations is what has come to be called the 'Cthulhu Mythos.' This term was not coined by Lovecraft, but rather by August Derleth, who, while being by it, failed to grasp its purpose. In effect, the 'Cthulhu Mythos' is a series of plot devices utilized by Lovecraft to convey the essentials of his cosmic philosophy. These devices---including a wide array of extraterrestrials (deemed 'gods' by their human followers); an entire library of mythical books containing the 'forbidden' truths about these 'gods'; and a fictionalized New England landscape analogous to Hardy's Wessex or Faulner's Yoknapatawpha County---are certainly found more abundantly in Lovecraft's later tales and lend them a kind of thematic unity not found in other work of their kind. But if the 'Cthulhu Mythos' has any significance, it is as an instantiation of what David E. Schultz has termed an 'anti-mythology': whereas most of the religions and mythologies in human history seek to reconcile human beings with the cosmos by depicting a close, benign relationship between man and god, Lovecraft's pseudomythology brutally shows that man is not the center of the universe, that the 'gods' care nothing for him, and that the earth and all its inhabitants are but a momentary incident in the unending cyclical chaos of the universe" (page xvii).
That pretty much says it.
The structure of this story strikes me as a story within a story, within a story, within a story at least one more time.
Sue Grafton again:
"As luck would have it, among those present at the gathering is our very own Edgar Allan Poe, lately editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, who strongly advises Pym to prepare a thorough rendering of the affair and who further proposes to publish this chronicle in the Southern Literary Messenger as a work of fiction under his (Poe's) name. This ruse, says Poe, will allow Pym to fully air his tale without inciting the public's incredulity" (pp. 383-384).
"In January and February 1837, twenty-five chapters of this narrative appear in the Messenger, meticulously detailing a voyage to the South Pacific, which results in the alleged discovery of a new land, complete with specifics of climate, atmosphere, water, novel plants, and strange animals, capped by a description of the inhabitants, who differ from all other races of men.
The response is unexpected."
As convincing as the author (Poe) has hoped to be in persuading the public that the tale is mere fable, letters are sent to Mr. Poe's address 'distinctly expressing a conviction to the contrary.' Far from viewing these exploits as fiction, the public believes them to be true" (page 384).
And so on and so forth.
You should understand that Edgar Allan Poe has written himself as himself into the story as one of its characters. Starring Edgar Allan Poe as himself!
One is sort of pulled inside-out. But in a good way!
This short story is presented, in this volume, as Excerpt From The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.
I'm wondering if this is an unfinished Edgar Allan Poe short story or short novel; or if the "excerpt" is a finished Edgar Allan Poe story.
Anyway, I always enjoy it when writers write about writing. For some reason, I tend to regard that as the mark of a true writer.
I'll just return to a point I made earlier about Poe's prose. Sue Grafton is quite right. This particular story is written beautifully, with none of the bad writerly habits that Grafton cited. When I read this story I thought to myself: WHY DIDN'T POE WRITE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME?
I suppose it galls me to see potential wasted. "The Narrative..." shows that Poe was underperforming in many other instances.
I suppose we'll never know why.
Thanks for reading!
Take it easy!