Science Fiction Friday: A Descent into the Maelstrom by Edgar Allen Poe

“A Descent into the Maelstrom” is a frame story. Think Frankenstein in which each chapter involves a new character’s arrival plus a new perspective to the story. In Maelstrom a young sailor meets and older man who tells him the story of when he and his brothers were caught in a vicious maelstrom off the coast of Norway. A maelstrom is a great series of whirlpools in the ocean, essentially an eddy on steroids, for those of you who have ever been river rafting or the like.

blue water
Photo by Aaron Ulsh on

As the old man recalls it, that particular day three years prior he and his brothers set out to fish with the intent of returning home before the maelstrom was said to hit. It was expected at eight o’clock that evening. But while they were at sea a hurricane struck and pulled their boat directly towards the just-forming maelstrom, leaving them no possible way of steering around it. In a flash the man realizes his watch had stopped working; he and his brothers thought they were ahead of the maelstrom when really unbeknownst to them they had sailed directly into its path right on schedule. How scary could an impending maelstrom be? Think of the wrath of Pirates of the Caribbean’s Calypso when she is released from her human form .

Amidst the chaos and confusion of the brothers understanding what they’ve just sailed into, the man begins to take into account everything else that was also pulled in by the maelstrom. Swirling around in the water with them were boxes, furniture, pieces of building material and vessels. He knows that the larger the whirlpool the faster they will get sucked into it and that he must do something to help either the ship to remain buoyant, or to keep it within something buoyant in order for them to survive. You can get a more detailed idea of a maelstrom here a lá Pirates of the Caribbean once more.

When he realizes he will not be able to save his brothers the man cuts himself loose from the ship. Miraculously he survives the torrential waters and gets picked up by another boat shortly after. The sailors respect him when they realize he is unable to talk, allowing him a quiet moment to collect himself. Then he looks up and realizes that the men on the boat who rescued him are old friends of his.

He tries to tell them what had happened, but none a single one them recognizes him. The man’s hair, he found out, which had been black, had turned stark white after the horror he had experienced in losing his brothers to the maelstrom. He told his story to the young, new sailor because none of his family or friends believed him when he tried to convince them of his identity or tell the story of what had happened. They all chose to believe that the entire ship had been lost at sea.

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