(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

A highly innovative and masterful writer, Poe has been credited as being among the first Americans to use the narrative techniques and conventions of what is now considered science-fiction and fantasy literature. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym is a clever work of fantasy cast in realistic and contemporary (in Poe’s time) terms that attempts to persuade readers that the fantastic horrors recounted by Pym are true.

Poe relied on the science, ideation, and literature of his day for material he could transform in his speculative work. For this novel, he incorporated a combination of striking news events within the literary genre of sea fiction in vogue at the time. The novel’s form generally parodies that used in many popular personal sea travel accounts, such as Benjamin Morrell’s A Narrative of Four Voyages to the South Seas and Pacific (1832) and Captain James Cook’s The Three Voyages (reissued in 1821).

Pym explores uncharted waters in much the same way that merchant vessels and private expeditions were beginning to explore the sea during the late 1830’s. For his novel’s conclusion, Poe drew on the then-current discussion of a theory advanced by John Cleves Symmes, which suggested that a vortex existed at the South Pole through which the ocean drained, to emerge at the North Pole and recirculate around the world. The possibility of a hollow center in the earth presented to Poe’s horrific imagination...

(The entire section is 573 words.)