Descent Into The Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe, 1841
The magic trick:
Showing the story’s setting from two different angles
The story structure here is pretty interesting. First we have a narrator arriving at the peak of a mountain (or at least a pretty high hill, shall we say). He then describes a very strange (pre-global warming) weather phenomenon going on in the ocean far below. By now, the story is about a third of the way through. The rest is picked up and narrated by an old man who has served as the group’s guide up the cliff. He tells of a harrowing shipwreck he suffered within the ocean below during one of those crazy whirlpool cyclones.
I wish I could say I enjoyed the story. I did not. It potters along without much pace. The old man’s story, though featuring amazing and terrifying events, never held me in suspense. But that’s OK. I was still impressed with the structure, especially for 1841 when the American short story was really just getting started. He presents the danger from a bird’s eye view and then descends the reader into the maelstrom, as the title promises. And that’s quite a trick on Poe’s part.
“…The usual grounds are a great way lower down to the southward. There fish can be got at all hours, without much risk, and therefore these places are preferred. The choice spots over here among the rocks, however, not only yield the finest variety, but in far greater abundance; so that we often got in a single day, what the more timid of the craft could not scrape together in a week. In fact, we made it a matter of desperate speculation – the risk of life standing instead of labor, and courage answering for capital.
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