Briefly, the story follows Hans Pfaall, a madcap schemer, who concocts a plan to get himself out of financial difficulty by travelling to the moon in a balloon. The story opens with an apparent alien visitor emerging from the clouds in a balloon, and dropping the written account of Hans Pfaall’s lunar trip on the assembled dignitary in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. The account, which is the one narrated to the reader in this story, not only describes Hans Pfaall’s ascent but also details the technological solutions which he employed during the journey, together with details of the scientific discoveries he made.
[The following possibly contains minor spoliers]
The synopsis for Hans Pfaall may sound a bit dull, and to be honest in parts it is. Originally posted in June 1835 in the monthly periodical the Southern Literary Messenger (a magazine which contained a wide variety of writing, both fiction and non-fiction), The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall was intended by Poe at that time, then aged 26, to be a hoax. Therefore it may not come as much surprise that huge portions of the story read more as a dense physics lesson rather than anything entertaining, and while the story may have both ‘fooled’ and titillated science hungry Victorians, its construction can be somewhat off-putting to the more general contemporary Poe fan.
That said Hans Pfaall contains many moments of genius from Poe, and it’s certainly worth reading. It’s imaginative to the max and full of the literary eloquence that Poe fans know and love. The account that Poe gives on the affect of adventurer as he ascends is sublime, as is his descriptions of both the disappearing earth beneath him and the emerging lunar landscape above him. It’s certainly not the best Poe story I’ve read but it’s still one worthy of attention. Just push yourself through the ‘techy’ bits and I’m sure you’ll look back in reminiscent affection – I know I do.
Notable Quote – “It is impossible, utterly impossible, to form any adequate idea of the horror of my situation. I gasped convulsively for breath, a shudder resembling a fit of the ague agitated every nerve and muscle of my frame, I felt my eyes starting from their sockets, a horrible nausea overwhelmed me, and at length I fainted away.”