The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym

The American public was focused on polar travel during the late 1830s as the Wilkes Expedition prepared to depart for South America and Antarctica. It was in this context that Edgar Allan Poe published his curious novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym presented the story of the explorer Pym, who had apparently ventured down to the polar latitudes where he suffered a mysterious demise. The account first appeared as a serialized tale "under the garb of fiction" in the Southern Literary Messenger in January and February 1837.

But a year later Poe republished the work as a novel. When he did so, he added a preface claiming that the work was factual. The work was, in fact, anything but factual. Therefore, Poe's attempt to present it as a true account of polar adventure was a hoax.

However, the story is so bizarre that it is likely most readers realized they were being presented with fiction.

The story was apparently a dramatization of the beliefs of the hollow-earth theorist John Cleves Symmes. Symmes had long sought funding for a polar expedition (led by himself) so that he could prove his theory that the earth was hollow and open at the poles. Poe's fictional explorer, Pym (the name was derived from Symmes), was on a similar quest.

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