Solving Poe’s Hoaxes


“In investigations such as we are now pursuing, it should not be so much asked ‘what has occurred,’ as ‘what has occurred that has never occurred before.’”

— “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” 1841


"Perhaps it is the very simplicity of the thing which puts you at fault," said my friend.

"What nonsense you do talk!" replied the Prefect, laughing heartily.

"Perhaps the mystery is a little too plain," said Dupin.

"Oh, good heavens! who ever heard of such an idea?"

"A little too self-evident."

"Ha! ha! ha! — ha! ha! ha! — ho! ho! ho!" — roared our visitor, profoundly amused, "oh, Dupin, you will be the death of me yet!"

— “The Purloined Letter” 1844


“Nonsensical phrases and unmeaning combinations of words, as the learned lexicographer would have confessed himself, when hidden under cryptographic ciphers, serve to perplex the curious enquirer, and baffle penetration more completely than would the most profound apothems of learned philosophers.”

— “A Few Words on Secret Writing” 1841


“Your diddler is impertinent. He swaggers. He sets his arms a-kimbo. He thrusts his hands in his trowsers’ pockets. He sneers in your face. He treads on your corns. He eats your dinner, he drinks your wine, he borrows your money, he pulls your nose, he kicks your poodle, and he kisses your wife.”

— “ Raising the Wind; or, Diddling Considered as One of the Exact Sciences” 1843 (disputed: 1831?)


“... to abolish Literature, subvert the Press, and overturn the Government of Nouns and Pronouns.”

— “The Folio Club” 1832




If you detect a pattern above, or suspect that something is up here, or perhaps desire to meet young Edgar Poe in real time at his workplace, this site will challenge you to reconsider the man and his work using three of his hoaxes: “Hans Phaall,” The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and “The Man That Was Used Up,” as a key to understanding how he related to and thought about fiction, given what he has laid out before us in these texts.

Each of these has been described as incomplete, obscure, untrue to Poe’s critical principles, and/or insoluble. They are called “hoaxes” for lack of a better term, and for the feeling of cheatedness that the reader experiences upon failing to solve them. They are in fact bravura metafictional (not metaphysical) performance acts designed to be experienced in real time. Fiction itself is laid out and demonstrated in action as it happens by Poe.

This website presents the proposition that we actually can define “what has occurred that has never occurred before” in these three hoaxes, and what Poe has accomplished is phenomenal, in every imaginable sense. But you will never know what Dupin really means — what is the one, true, very hidden meaning, for there is only one solution, entirely Poe’s — without solving the hoaxes first.

No claim is made that the play described in these instances maps to a worldview — quite the opposite, in fact! — and no detailed study of other works is provided.

The site is both “text-centric” and “text-heavy” because it mimics Poe’s play with textuality and much more (think systems of fiction or “content,” as an editor or information architect would). For in a Poe hoax, the text rules all. And it is phat, as Dexter the printer would say. How would The Stylus look if Poe could design a website?

The hoaxes are actually solvable to an unknown degree (there always seems to be more to uncover) on Poe’s terms, but only on his terms, and the literary battlefield is littered with the corpses of professor-critics who have dared to mount the challenge. But you and I cannot out-think Edgar Allan Poe. He is much smarter, and has trod this ground thoroughly centuries before. This may be difficult to accept; however, underestimating the Tomahawk Man is always fatal.

If I am right, then, for example, Herman Melville learned much more than previously thought from Pym to rework into Moby-Dick; the difference is qualitative, not quantitative. If I am right, then literary history needs to factor in a much more lively, playful, and engaged Poe thoroughly excited by the whole of the writing enterprise and its components and subsystems, including its instruments of (re-)production from paper, ink, and pounce to the printing press. It’s all about the moment of creation, and in the case of a hoax, the answering Moment of Recognition.

My hope is that you will carry on and take leads from my research and what will surely be called pure speculation. There is a world of work to be done, especially with Melville. He was the Super Reader Poe sought. The “folio whale”? Indeed.

I encourage you to examine the great deal of curated materials provided on this site minutely. PDFs and images have been provided of all works alluded to by Poe, in the editions he would have read wherever possible, in the sharpest resolutions achievable. For example, the “Sources” section under “Hans Phaall” contains dozens of sources including color PDFs and portraits of every person and work, real and imagined, mentioned in the tale. Clues followed down in “The Man that was Used Up” are presented in their original textual forms.

You may enjoy the backward approach of creating a reading text from the earliest, not the final, moment of development, explored in my conception of the “Hans Phaall” text, presented as mine alone. Why should we memorialize an ouevre or a tale closer to its death than to its birth? How would you rather be remembered?

Do meditate on the provided tales (read them slowly, then savor each for a long, long time), consider the proposed solutions, and gaze deeply into Poe’s portrait on the home page. Did he actually do this? Are these hoaxes really so obvious yet so obscure at the same time?

I think so.

Adams Press, 1830’s. Illustration from Typographia: or the Printer’s Instructor [etc.], by Thomas F. Adams, Philadelphia: James Kay, Jun. & Brother, 1845. From the collections of the American Antiquarian Society.


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Jack DeLand

tYpoGraPhiCaL tOuRist