An Edgar Allan Poe Tale That Shall Not Be Named?

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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.

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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!”

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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

http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/eapoe/bl-eapoe-facts.htm

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?

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12 Comments

  1. Dale said,

    October 5, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Jay, this sounds quite creepy. I’ve read elsewhere about Rowling using all kinds of literary allusions in the Harry Potter books. I hadn’t heard of this one, though. Thanks for the post!
    -Dale

    Like

    • Jay said,

      October 7, 2013 at 7:31 am

      I doubt there is a true connection, but wonder if she is versed in Edgar Allan Poe’s works. It’s “curious” that though the name isn’t the same, all the consonants used are the same and in the same order. Would that make the names the same in Arabic? 🙂

      Like

  2. drwhonovels said,

    October 5, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    I’ve also managed to miss this one before – supremely creepy, thanks!

    Like

    • Jay said,

      October 7, 2013 at 7:33 am

      Thanks for the comment. I often enjoy reading around the frontiers of famous writers’ less famous offerings. For some, you can readily tell why they were never as popular, but there are also many where I have thought, “Why isn’t this just as well-known as his other work?”

      Like

  3. October 5, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    Read this one last spring! You should read Conversation with a Mummy, also by EA Poe. That one’s rich. Similar theme, but with sharp satire against Americanism.

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    • Jay said,

      October 7, 2013 at 7:34 am

      Thanks for the recommendation, Matt. I will mark that one in my collected works. Maybe put it in the roster for my 2014 version of my short story reading project.
      -Jay

      Like

      • October 7, 2013 at 8:14 pm

        Great to hear! I had the privilege of reading a whole host of EA Poe’s lesser known works last semester. He was into gardening and self-parody as well (“Garden of Arnheim” and “A Predicament.”)

        Like

        • Jay said,

          October 9, 2013 at 7:05 am

          Thanks for making me aware of those titles too, Matt. Another pleasant Poe surprise for me (in 2012) was the story William Wilson which I thought was brilliant.
          -Jay

          Like

  4. Paula Cappa said,

    October 6, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    Oh I have to read this one now. Thanks!

    Like

    • Jay said,

      October 7, 2013 at 7:36 am

      Hi Paua,
      No problem. 🙂 It’s not my favorite Poe story (that’s some stiff competition, though), but definitely worth a read.
      -Jay

      Like

  5. Priya said,

    October 10, 2013 at 11:30 am

    I think this is part of a Poe collection I have, though I couldn’t be sure. Thanks for the link! The fact that it could be related to Harry Potter is enough for me to drop everything and go read the story. I do prefer Poe’s poems to his stories, though, but I’ll give this one a try.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      October 11, 2013 at 7:16 am

      Hi Priya,
      I hope you enjoy the story. I like Poe’s poems too. I think Annabel Lee is my favorite. 🙂
      -Jay

      Like


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