Poe invented or re-envisioned several genres including horror, detective, and science fiction (Poe possibly supplied Jules Verne the idea for all those hot air balloon fictions!). While not discussed as much, he was also a purveyor of the hoax. Our story for this assignment, “The Facts In the Case of M. Valdemar,” is one of Poe’s famous hoaxes that grew out of the country’s interest in the interstices between life and death that were said to be traveled in séances and in mesmerism.
Let’s look at some of the ways he “facts” his fiction:
The title tells us that this is a “case,” not a story and that we will be reading “facts.” Contrast this to a story called “The Tell-Tale Heart,” for example.
The first paragraph tells us that this story had to be released because the public has been bombarded with “a garbled or exaggerated account.” So we now know why it is “necessary” that the narrator “give the facts.” He doesn’t want us disturbed by the false versions of this “extraordinary case.” He wishes to simply set the record straight.
Later, we find out that Valdemar is an editor and author who uses pen names. We get several titles of books that are a mixture of real and imagined ones. And, of course, something like the “Bibliotheca Forensica” sounds important, right? (We are entering the realm of some of Poe’s humor, as well, with some of the book titles and description of Valdemar. He has black hair and white whiskers—he’s between “light” and “dark”—“life” and “death.”)
We also get a note from Valdemar later. I’ve always found it an interesting technique when an author includes notes, letters, quotes, etc. from other works—existing or non-existing. It can help an author achieve a kind of realism or verisimilitude because it hints at an intertextual world, a world rich with perspectives; it hints at an “archive.”
Notice the details that lend the story believability: “five minutes of eight”; “his breathing was stertorous and at intervals of half a minute”; and the use of vocabulary such as “aorta” and “ichor.”
Introduce and/or discuss your own hoax. Make something incredible completely credible in a minimum of 500 words. You can be serious (Giant squids are the real cause of the “Bermuda Triangle”—they need boats and planes for Undersea Trench Tetris, of course) or silly (Rainbows are made of multicolored unicorns and squishy pandas). I will be posting mine soon.
You can also read more about Poe’s hoaxes here: http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/poe.html