Like its thematic predecessor, “MS. Present in a Bottle”, “A Descent into the Maelstrom” explores themes of pure sublimity, journey at sea, philosophical horror and irrational curiosity. The place “MS”. constructed its philosophy on a folkloric basis of Flying Dutchman legends and hole earth theories, this story facilities on maritime legends of the Norwegian Maelstrom. Though the precise whirlpool is barely highly effective sufficient to sink a yacht, Poe is extra curious about pitting human purpose in opposition to pure chaos than a geography lesson. The story is a terrifying, white-knuckle research of the skinny margin between sanity and insanity.
Whereas “MS.” introduced a cohesive fantasy narrative, “Descent” fails in a number of methods to advertise a cohesive imaginative and prescient. Whether or not that is extra of a psychic horror story within the face of oblivion or quite a cousin of C. Auguste Dupin’s “ratiocination” detective novels is open to conjecture. Like “Pit and the Pendulum”, it aspires to pose logic in opposition to cosmicism, and the juxtaposition is at instances successfully ironic, at others awkwardly awkward. Whereas undoubtedly a research within the psychology of terror, “Descent” turns into muddled in its rational climax which conflicts with Poe’s emphasis on the indomitable reign of oblivion. (“Silence”, “Shadow”, “Usher”, “Conqueror Worm”, “Haunted Palace”, and so forth., and so forth.). Nonetheless, “Descent” displays a finely tuned means to form temper and a fragile appreciation of the pure chic – the beautiful, hair-raising horrors that loom in nature’s deepest suits of rage.
The story – instantly riffing on Coleridge’s Historical Mariner’s Rhyme – begins with a white-haired sailor approaching a younger man with the story of his life-changing encounters with loss of life, the miraculous and the chic at sea. They speak on high of a Norwegian mountain overlooking the port of Lofoden , the place – between the shore and the hardly seen island of Moskoe (or Mosken) – the notorious whirlpool Maelstrom (or Moskenstraumen) rages and foams. Its highly effective suction is attributable to the large tidal currents that drag alongside the uniquely formed seabed off Mosken, and (in Poe’s universe if not the true one) it is ready to drag a rigged ship alongside the partitions. spiraling from its conical throat to the underside of the ocean.
The narrator corrects the younger man’s assumption that he’s previous: in actual fact, he laments, he’s nonetheless younger, however has aged prematurely in a single evening and provides to inform the younger man in regards to the story of his transformation. To present the narrative the absolute best circumstances, he guides his companion to the summit of Helgesen Peak, the place they will gaze upon the Maelstrom Gorge and its sister whirlpools. The younger man (our narrator) tries to overhaul the aspect, however he’s horrified by the heights and views, and clings to the grass to regular himself. At that second, amidst a crashing roar, the tides rise and the Maelstrom opens its mile-wide black throat because the “previous” man watches placidly as he stands dangerously near the sting with a wierd chilly blood.
He begins his account of the expertise that modified his hair from black to white in a single day by stating that he’s the one man who has gone into the void of the Maelstrom and returned to inform about it. He was as soon as a fisherman who operated a pink deck sloop along with his two brothers, and one afternoon they determined to cross the Maelstrom Strait when the tide was low with a purpose to have their choose of the fish that the opposite sailors are too afraid to look. .
Their tour begins effectively, however all too quickly a violent storm rushes their method simply because the tides – and thus the Maelstrom – start to roll. They don’t have any selection however to flee and level their bow in the direction of the shore simply past the Maelstrom’s lair. They’re savagely punished by the climate, and a brother – who had tied himself to the mast – is thrown overboard and drowned when the winds rip him off. As soon as the boat has been dismasted, it’s now on the mercy of the waves. The storyteller clings – just like the narrator who had clung to the grass – to a hoop to remain aboard the fairing boat with its clean, flat high. He holds out for six hours, not realizing his different brother remains to be alive till he hears his voice scream in his ear as they’re dragged into the raging maw of the Maelstrom.
The clouds start to half, permitting the complete moon to pour a ghostly silver mild contained in the mile-wide whirlpool. Amid her deafening roar, the storyteller is overwhelmed with awe of her horrible magnificence and begins to really feel honored to die such a chic loss of life. In the meantime, the ship is slowly drawn into the downward spirals, nearer and nearer to the jagged rocks on the backside, the place the moonlight creates a garish rainbow within the mist.
Plenty of wreckage, wreckage and fallen timber swirl round them, and – calmed by his philosophical response to the sublimity of his predicament – he is ready to discover that the heaviest objects descend quickest, whereas the lighter ones – barrels, limbs, spars, and so forth. – are nearly suspended in animation: swirling roughly in the identical place. Cylindrical objects like barrels appear to do greatest. He calculates that if he can save time abandoning ship by holding on to a lighter cylindrical object (particularly, the water barrel connected to the stump of their mast), he would possibly survive the wrath of the Maelstrom. He tries to speak this concept to his brother, however the man has fully misplaced his thoughts and refuses to let go on the now quickly descending boat.
The storyteller decides to save lots of himself: he attaches himself firmly to the barrel, frees it and nearly instantly notices a change in his descent, whereas the fishing boat continues to speed up its approach to the underside, the place it’s lastly rushed to items on the backside. amid rocks and mist and moonlit rainbow. Quickly the violence of the whirlpool begins to subside, its steep sides start to flatten, and the storyteller floats calmly to the floor, the place the winds and waves of the weakening storm push him in the direction of the shore. He’s picked up by one other fishing boat the place he discovers his raven black hair has turned snow white and his face and limbs have aged a long time.
With a notice of sober resignation, he tells the narrator that none of his neighbors imagine his story, and that he “can hardly count on you to place extra religion in it than the merry fishermen of Lofoden. .”
Whereas “Descent” fails to evoke the identical impact of pure fantasy and existential horror, it does handle to discover the joys of impending doom and the conflict between rational and irrational responses to fear-inducing stimuli. The distinction between the fates of the 2 brothers – one resisting loss of life and reaching out to purpose, the opposite abandoning purpose and sinking into oblivion – departs from Poe’s typical therapy of rationality within the face of existential oblivion. In “Descent”, the previous sailor survives his dilemma after having appealed to his energy of remark and deduction, however the torment of his expertise shouldn’t be with out value: he’s rendered unrecognizable by his group, which calls into query query his sanity, and whose doubts would possibly even show contagious to the reader. The survival of the physique doesn’t assure the endurance of life.
His mentorship of the narrator resembles that of the marriage visitor and former sailor in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s eponymous poem. As on this chic seafaring story, the sailor is pulled from the ocean, returns to his hometown a modified man, and finds himself pressured to inform his story and mentor younger males with the traumatic knowledge he has discovered. Though much less efficient than Coleridge’s Haunted Sage, Poe’s Bleached Fisherman paints a compelling portrait of the high quality line between propriety and madness – a portrait that Poe will discover in better depth in his murderous tales of psychological duplicity.
If for no different purpose, this story can be notable for its affect on nautical-themed speculative literature: Poe’s plunge into the legendary whirlpool (along with his maritime fantasies “MS. Present in a Bottle” and The Story of Arthur Gordon Pym) laid the foundations for future science fiction and horror writers, particularly William Hope Hodgson’s tales of nautical terrors (ghost pirates“The Haunted Jarvee”, “The Boats of Glen-Carrig”, the entire fantasy of the Sargasso Sea) and the oceanic fantasies of Jules Verne (particularly 20000 Leagues Below the Sea Highest level of the Maelstrom).
And you’ll find our annotated and illustrated assortment of Poe’s greatest tales HERE!
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