Daybook · On Adventure · On Books · On History · On Places & Travel · Work in Progress

Why I’m Thinking About Poe

  Over the past few weeks, I’ve been researching Edgar Allan Poe.

This is for my in-progress space tourism/sci fi essay, which has led me back to the origins of science fiction, among other places. (In truth, the scope of this piece is expanding at an enormous rate and I’m not exactly sure what is happening with it — will it be a book eventually?)

Anyway, Poe is often counted among sci fi’s founding fathers, starting with The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Phaall, his 1835 tale about a balloon voyage to the moon.

Poe lived from 1809-1849, and the latter part of his life is one of my favorite eras in U.S. history. It was a time of incredible scientific and technological advance, affecting all aspects of every day life in ways that seemed extraordinary, if not downright fictional: tiny little organisms were found in drops of water, the telegraph and hot air balloons promised to end the inconveniences of geographic distance, writes John Tresch in “Extra! Extra! Poe Invents Science Fiction” found in The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe.

So it is hardly surprising that several of Poe’s short stories, were taken as journalistic accounts of actual discoveries. In some ways, what Poe imagined in his fiction was less surprising than the news of the day, which was undermining basic assumptions about time, space, and matter. (Tresch: “Considered historically, any fact is just a hoax that is believed until it is debunked.”)

In at least one case, his letters show that he certainly had the intent to fool people into believing he was producing a piece of journalism — that would be the story known as The Balloon Hoax —  but in others, the verisimilitude he created with densely detailed, logically consistent narrative led readers to take his work as factual, even when that wasn’t his intent.

One story, The Journal of Julius Rodman, Being an Account of the First Passage Across the Rocky Mountains of North America Ever Achieved by Civilized Man,  was entered into the records of the U.S. Senate  in 1940, submitted by a senator on the Oregon Territory committee.


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