A Descent into the Maelström Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A Norwegian fisherman tells a tourist how he was caught during a storm in a maelström three years earlier and how he survived his ordeal. The tourist is the story’s narrator, and he speaks as a reporter who has met an interesting character while traveling in Norway. The story opens with the description of their arrival at a fifteen-hundred-foot cliff on Helseggen mountain, from which the pair may observe the maelström to the south. Though the fisherman seems old and weak, he is rather comfortable on this narrow and windy cliff, where the narrator is unwilling to rise from a crawl in order to observe the sea below. The fisherman coaxes the narrator into looking over the edge; the narrator sees and hears the awesome phenomenon of the gigantic whirlpool that forms there at the changing of the tides.

The maelström is incredible, forming a vast hole, roaring and shrieking far more loudly than Niagara Falls, and shaking the mountain from which they watch. Having described the whirlpool, the narrator quotes from other accounts that find its alleged power to destroy ships and ocean life scarcely credible. For his part, the narrator believes the accounts to be conservative. He also discusses accounts of the causes of the maelström, the most likely of which attribute it to tidal currents. However, his own observation makes the most fantastic account the most satisfying to his imagination. To experience the maelström even at a distance is to believe that it is a vast drain through which water passes, to rise again miles away. The narrator’s observations and reading, both distant approaches to the maelström, are then enriched by the fisherman’s account of his descent into the maelström.

The fisherman tells how he and his two brothers made a...

(The entire section is 723 words.)