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THE DEEP ONES: "The Gold Bug" by Edgar Allan Poe

The Weird Tradition

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Jul 2, 2017, 7:10pm Top

Jul 3, 2017, 8:33am Top

Here is a sketch by F.O.C. Darley for the story as it originally appeared in Dollar Newspaper.

"The Treasure Revealed".

Jul 3, 2017, 8:57am Top

Online for me.

Jul 5, 2017, 2:11pm Top

I was a little frustrated by this story.

The cryptography primer was a little tedious, in fact.

I found the employment of the solution dubious. Kidd (d. 1701) must have buried the treasure at least a century prior to the story's events. The large tree wouldn't have stayed put for that long. Though the dead limb might not grow, the trunk could still turn a little. Just as the difference between left and right eye would be magnified along the radius drawn from the trunk (itself of no negligible width and therefore an unreliable endpoint), a small turn in the trunk could create a difference almost as great as that separation of the skull's orbits. Also the distinct opening in the canopy should have grown over.

Edited: Jul 5, 2017, 2:32pm Top

As with many an author of weird fiction, from HPL to Blackwood and beyond, I enjoyed the manner in which Poe evokes "a tract of country excessively wild and desolate, where no trace of a human footstep was to be seen". This is an area where Poe spent about 13 months during his brief military career, so no wonder he seems to know it well.

As for Jupiter, I'm not rabidly PC enough to insist on flogging authors from previous centuries for not being lucky enough to have today's more enlightened point of view, but didn't Poe find it a pain in the arse to be so dogged with the phonetic rendering of the man's exaggerated speech patterns? I bet it dragged the story to a halt even in 1843. Or maybe not, since, as I mentioned in the nominations thread, this was Poe's most popular tale in his lifetime!

>5 paradoxosalpha:

Good point!

I think I'll stick with EAP's dark ladies.

Edited: Jul 5, 2017, 3:39pm Top

Since unlikely coincidence plays an important part in the tale, I would undoubtedly remiss if I didn't mention that when I opened my (electronic) copy of Poe's collected works, the page was turned to this very tale; my previous foray into Poe having been the immediately preceeding story ("The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall", specifically).

>5 paradoxosalpha:

I too found the cryptography primer tedious - but I expect I'd found it clever and interesting when I was younger. The unlikelihood that the alignments would be perfectly preserved 100+ years later struck me too.

>6 KentonSem:

Frankly, I couldn't always figure out what Jupiter was saying. However, I assume it appeared less strange to nineteenth century Southerners than it does to my 21st century English-as-second-language self - presumably they'd be familiar with the sort of speech being represented (?parodied). I can find present-day basilectal American English hard enough to understand.

I had read the story before, but long enough ago that I didn't recognize it until Kidd's logographic signature came up.

Something Legrand didn't deign to explain was the gold-bug itself. Why was it so heavy? And it better be seriously heavy for a bug small enough to be dropped through an orbit, if not the slightest gust of wind is to throw it off course when dropping from the tree.

Jul 5, 2017, 4:27pm Top

So, I guess there's a play on words here: To be "bitten by the gold-bug" is to have a mania for discovering treasure. It's strange to me that this story was in many respects Poe's most successful, since it is so much less engaging to me than others he wrote.

Jul 5, 2017, 8:41pm Top

I remember feeling dissatisfied with this story the first time I read it, mainly because the nature of the bug wasn't explained, as per AndreasJ observation in >7 AndreasJ: (alongside the unexplained nature of the bug, all the "bitten by the gold bug" stuff suggests this is going to be one of Poe's comic/satirical stories, but it doesn't develop in that way - unless there are obscure references to 1840s politics that I'm not getting at all).

I suppose the cryptography was novel to most of his original readers, and clearly we have the origin of Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" - which still worked when it was dramatised for TV in the 1980s.

>5 paradoxosalpha: I suppose I should have done, but I hadn't realised that the tree wouldn't change and move over time and thereby falsify the directions on the parchment, but frankly there were so many incredible coincidences built into the story that, now it's been pointed out to me, it doesn't change my opinion of the story - it's not as if you've pointed out the one flaw marring an otherwise perfect work of art.

As I'm not an American, I don't know if the relationship between Legrand and Jupiter, as Poe depicts it, is impossibly rosy, or if he has shown some of the complexities and ironies of the relations between black and white that developed in the South because they lived in such intimacy (living under the same roof, African-American wet nurses, playing together as young children, etc.).

Jul 6, 2017, 9:20pm Top

Re: the nature of the bug, the part that bothers most seriously is its literal bite: anticipated some supernatural element in which the gold bug is either some alien life form, or ensorceled. But no, only the metaphorical bite of the gold bug. (I found that pun quite fun, actually, but did not expect it to be all there was.)

I was put in mind of our recent read of Gaiman's Sherlock Holmes pastiche, which I found quite more successful. However, the combination of supernatural and sleuthing is one I find I like very much.

The cryptography is eye-rolling for anyone familiar with it, but I definitely loved it when it was my first acquaintance with a cipher. I'll bet that accounts for the tale's popularity, too.

Edited: Jul 7, 2017, 10:17am Top

Following up on the cryptography, the Wikipedia entry indicates Poe was a principal populiser of cryptography in the United States, so "The Gold-bug" is not merely a popular instance of its use in fiction. Apparently the story helped inspired William Friedman, who later solved the code of the Japanese Imperial Army in WWII.

I'll be visiting Charleston later this summer, and will keep an eye out for Sullivan's Island and Fort Moultrie -- not to mention specimens of Callichroma splendidum or Alaus oculatus.

Jul 23, 2017, 9:12pm Top

I finally got around to re-reading this. Not one of my favorite Poe stories, but I liked it better this time.

>10 elenchus: Yes, we never did get an explanation for the unusual weight of the beetle.

I read this out of Stephen Peithman's The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe. He notes that this story has the first recorded use in English of the word "cipher".

Paradoxosalpha will be interested that one Barton Levi St. Armand has an alchemical interpretation of this story involving mentions of the metals tin and gold and Jupiter's ascent to the seventh limb of the tree.

Peithman notes Jules Verne's and Arthur Conan Doyle's admiration for this tale.

He also notes Poe blunting criticism of the many coincidences of the tale with the line "And then the series of accidents and coincidences -- these were so very extraordinary.."

Sep 20, 2017, 10:36am Top

A friend just posted the photograph of a Bronze Shieldbug Nymph. It reminded me immediately of this story so I had to share.

Sep 20, 2017, 10:58am Top

Beautiful. It leaves us wondering: where are the Silver and Gold Shieldbugs? But I shan't pursue too closely, having read the story.

Edited: Sep 26, 2018, 2:29pm Top

>13 pgmcc: Wonderful image! Combining tiny hidden gems in nature with Poe (rather than the gothic grandiose majesty) is as good as it gets. Makes me want to muddle out in search of earthworms on the sidewalk.

Happened upon an hour audiobook of this story, with Vincent Price. Not a bad way to spend a rainy day. I read along with the text online, here …



This story has always endeared itself to me, since my kids were gaga over Goldbug in the Huckle the cat and Busytown books written by Richard Scarry. Lots still kicking around here, unable to part with them yet. The Gold-Bug leaves me wanting to read anything by Mark Twain, but especially the dark fantasy/supernatural theme in The Mysterious Stranger. Might be superimposing Tom Sawyer's Jim over Jupiter though. Love the Newfoundland dog bit. =)

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