I ‘discovered’ a new to me Poe story yesterday. I have a thousand-page volume of his works of which I’ve read “all the famous ones” and explored the remainder in piecemeal fashion. Scanning the contents last night, I was drawn to “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdermar”(!) The similarity in name to Harry Potter’s nemesis was unmistakable and, amid wondering if J.K. Rowling had ever read the story, I decided to explore further…
Our narrator admits that his attention “for the past three years, had been repeatedly drawn to the subject of…mesmerism.” The term mesmerism has gradually fallen out of use, yielding for the most part to the modern term, hypnotism, but those in the know are aware that Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer’s (below) mesmerism was essentially the forerunner of the concept of hypnotism or “animal magnetism” as it was once commonly referred to.
Poe’s narrator, while fascinated by mesmerism, is amazed that no one has tried it in “articulo mortis” – at the time of death. (I personally find this less amazing, as that time in one’s life is “not the best time to ask” whether or not one wants to be hypnotized.) Our hero is in luck, however, as he just happens to know a man – the M. Valdermar of the story’s title – who is dying of tuberculosis (described in that horrible fashion at which Poe is an undisputed master) and who is also scientifically curious…
Valdermar’s “regular doctors” send word when the man is nearing death, and our narrator continues with his plan. Though “scheduled” to die by midnight, Valdermar survives through the night and, in answer to a query replies in barely a whisper, “Yes – asleep now. Do not wake me! – let me die so!”
Over the next few hours his body undergoes some changes in appearance, but death has not yet totally claimed him. Communication with the man continues, but is slowly breaking down. Eventually, he appears to be quite dead, and plans are being made for his removal, when a sudden vibration seizes the body, after which he began to speak in a new voice, one:
“…whose sound was harsh, and broken, and hollow; but the hideous whole is indescribable, for the simple reason that no similar sounds have ever jarred upon the ear of humanity.”
Nice, huh? How long will Valdermar continue to exist in this way? What will become of him? Read this short story for free online and find out
There are some similarities between this story and the Character That Shall Not be Named from the Harry Potter books. Both are thought dead but are not, really. Or are they? Re-animation of a “form” does not necessarily mean it’s alive. Does it? What do you think?