Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Poe's Arthur Gordon Pym

I read the recent Finnish translation of Edgar Allan Poe's only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (it came out from Teos, translated by Jaana Kapari, who's most famous for her work on the Harry Potters). It's the first translation almost in hundred years, since the last one came out in 1915, if I remember correctly (it came out in two parts and I've seen it only once, and then it was only the first part and it had no covers and was missing some of the last pages - so you can gather it's pretty scarce; the actual first edition from 1903 I haven't seen).

The book isn't exactly a part of the Poe canon. There are parts which are boring as hell. Some of the bits are powerful. Everyone thinks the book stops in the middle of the action - maybe it was due to Poe's alcoholism or something like that. Poe constructs, however, a pretty thick theoretical (and also rather jokey) frame around the narrative that's supposedly written by the real Pym, and ending the book as it does must've been Poe's deliberate decision. Nevertheless, the ending with the scream "Tekeli-li!" is sure to get stuck in the reader's mind.
I found out that Poe got some inspiration from J.C. Symmes's theory of Hollow Earth that were circulating around the time Poe wrote his novel. It makes the ending even more powerful. No wonder that Jules Verne wrote a sequel to the novel, called The Antarctic Mystery. (Here's a pace of Poe-related fan fiction, there may be some stuff related to the Pym adventure.)

I wrote a review of the novel for the Kulttuurivihkot magazine. It will be out only in some months, so I thought it would be appropriate to already post it. It's here (in Finnish, of course). Note on the text: I didn't think that the translator Kapari had much evidence for her suggestion that the book might be autobiographical, but there seem to be others who think the same, and actually it seems it's a consensus on the book. I don't really see much relevance to the idea of reducing the book to Poe's life, and I can't quite gather how all this relates to the idea of the United States's identity, as some scholars seem to say. Maybe I should've gone to greater lengths about this.
(By the way, here's my earlier take on Poe's short stories.)


Todd Mason said...

It's part of the Poe canon, but not the best part or the most representative (or you could write, only metaphorically, it's not canonical Poe).

There was, as you might remember, a US horror-fiction semipro/little magazine with the affectionate but terrible title of _Tekeli-li!_, in tribute, a few years back.

Your link back to the Poe short stories post actually at the moment brings up the larger version of the cover.

Juri said...

I didn't actually know about the fanzine.

I did some research (mainly read the Wikipedia article) and it seems my recollection about the book not being canonical Poe is a bit wrong or at least dated. It seems that there's some scholarship on the novel, even though it's clearly stated that the novel is not one of Poe's best.

I'll try to fix the link. Kauto is shouting his lungs out and is really pissing everyone else off. And we're leaving to visit my mother for the Easter. So Happy Easter everyone!