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Maelstrom from Poe’s PYM

I’m working on a big maelstrom scene in the last chapter of Hylozoic. To give it a spooky flavor, I plan to appropriate some material from Poe. He wrote about giant maelstroms in two places. First, there’s his story “The Descent into the Maelström,” and second there’s the ending of his novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, where they seem to be sailing into a giant hole in the ocean at the South Pole. Here’s some excerpts of that (I’m not going to use this much, in my novel, though, more like a few phrases).

Maelstrom from Pirates of the Caribbean
[What one thinks of is in the nature of a huge drain in the ocean floor, like in Pirates of the Caribbean model shown here. To where is the water draining? Probably to the interior of the Hollow Earth.]

March 1st.- Many unusual phenomena now indicated that we were entering upon a region of novelty and wonder. A high range of light gray vapor appeared constantly in the southern horizon, flaring up occasionally in lofty streaks, now darting from east to west, now from west to east, and again presenting a level and uniform summit-in short, having all the wild variations of the Aurora Borealis. The average height of this vapor, as apparent from our station, was about twenty-five degrees. The temperature of the sea seemed to be increasing momentarily, and there was a very perceptible alteration in its color. …

[Rudy’s painting of the Hollow Earth. The maelstroms are at the north and south holes.]

March 3d.-The heat of the water was now truly remarkable, and in color was undergoing a rapid change, being no longer transparent, but of a milky consistency and hue. In our immediate vicinity it was usually smooth, never so rough as to endanger the canoe-but we were frequently surprised at perceiving, to our right and left, at different distances, sudden and extensive agitations of the surface; these, we at length noticed, were always preceded by wild flickerings in the region of vapor to the southward. …

[The legend of the maelstrom started in Scandinavia. This is Olaus Magnus’s Carta Marina maelstrom (1539).]

March 5th.-The wind had entirely ceased, but it was evident that we were still hurrying on to the southward, under the influence of a powerful current. And now, -indeed, it would seem reasonable that we should experience some alarm at the turn events were taking-but we felt none. … I felt a numbness of body and mind—a dreaminess of sensation but this was all.

[An old drawing that’s floated around for years, an inspiration.]

March 6th.-The gray vapor had now arisen many more degrees above the horizon, and was gradually losing its grayness of tint. The heat of the water was extreme, even unpleasant to the touch, and its milky hue was more evident than ever. Today a violent agitation of the water occurred very close to the canoe. …

[This is a very powerful tidal current near Salstraumen, Norway, also there’s one in Japan. What we see is really a “von Karman vortex street,” rather than a single giant maelstrom. I’ve always wanted to live on Von Karman Vortex St.]

March 9th.-… The range of vapor to the southward had arisen prodigiously in the horizon, and began to assume more distinctness of form. I can liken it to nothing but a limitless cataract, rolling silently into the sea from some immense and far-distant rampart in the heaven. The gigantic curtain ranged along the whole extent of the southern horizon. It emitted no sound.

March 21st.-A sullen darkness now hovered above us—but from out the milky depths of the ocean a luminous glare arose, and stole up along the bulwarks of the boat. … The summit of the cataract was utterly lost in the dimness and the distance. Yet we were evidently approaching it with a hideous velocity. At intervals there were visible in it wide, yawning, but momentary rents, and from out these rents, within which was a chaos of flitting and indistinct images, there came rushing and mighty, but soundless winds, tearing up the enkindled ocean in their course.

[Aether vortex by Edwin Babbitt, 1878]

March 22d.-The darkness had materially increased, relieved only by the glare of the water thrown back from the white curtain before us. Many gigantic and pallidly white birds flew continuously now from beyond the veil, and their scream was the eternal Tekeli-li! as they retreated from our vision. … And now we rushed into the embraces of the cataract, where a chasm threw itself open to receive us. But there arose in our pathway a shrouded human figure, very far larger in its proportions than any dweller among men. And the hue of the skin of the figure was of the perfect whiteness of the snow.

You get the sense that they’re sailing into something more than a big whirlpool, actually. It’s like the giant drain where the oceans tumble into the Hollow Earth, and there’s volcanism in play as well. This passage was a big inspiration for my own The Hollow Earth. Note that the date when Pym reaches the Southern Hole is Rudy’s birthday! Sinkchronicity…

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