Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Ourang-Outang" Means "Man in Debt to Edgar Allan Poe"

"Two Dwarves and Eight Chained Ourang-Outangs" is now available in the June 2011 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.  It is my first professional sale. 

[The issue with my story is still available on the Sony e-reader (U.S. and Canada only).]

Below are some random thoughts on the story's genesis.


There once was a mysterious stranger who would leave a bottle of cognac and three roses on Edgar Allan Poe's grave at midnight, on Poe's birthday.  He (and we only assume it was a he) stopped doing it.  He apparently died, quietly.

Died quietly?  Hardly seems like a Poe fan . . .


"Two Dwarves and Eight Chained Orang-Outangs," (a reworking of Poe's original story "Hop-Frog") has just been published in the June 2011 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. It had a more complicated conception than Valentine Michael Smith's, although at least its paternity was certain. 

I recall wondering what "Hop-Frog" would look like as a movie.  The character had been portrayed in one of Roger Corman's 1960s Poe mashups, The Masque of the Red Death, although I haven't been able to find the film.  As I thought about it more, I realized that we didn't have his voice; just that of a nameless outside narrator in Poe's story.

Hop-Frog is a darkly heroic figure, although Poe stubbornly remained on the outside of him.  (And yes, I realize how arrogant that sounds; Poe created Hop-Frog from whole cloth; I just altered the pattern a little).

I wanted to write some sort of sequel or perhaps alternate version, that let us see inside this tragic/heroic character.  I would be interested in any readers letting me know if I succeeded.


Arthur Conan Doyle, whose collected letters I reviewed in another post, said that:

If every man who receives a cheque for a story which owes its springs to Poe were to pay a tithe to a monument for the master, he would have a pyramid as big as that of Cheops.

Heady praise, but accurate.  Poe influenced so many genres.


For some reason, I love corny-sounding, old-fashioned words.  Few are more ridiculous than "Ourang-Outang"  (or "Orang-Outang"; the spelling varies.)  (The full title of the original story is "Hop-Frog: or, The Eight Chained Ourang-Outangs.")  As my friend, SF writer Rob Chilson, informed me, Ourang-Outang is actually a mistranslation.  Orang-Outan (notice the lack of a "g" in the transliteration, which changes the pronunciation) means "Man in Forest," that is, those wise-looking orangutans.  But the word Poe and others of his time used, "Orang-Outang," means "Man in Debt."


In the manner of Tom Stoppard, I worked bits of the original dialogue in.  I made Hop-Frog (or "Hopp-Frosch," as he is called by the Germanic king in my version) a fairly eloquent narrator.  And it actually worked well to weave in Poe's dialogue, because his original Hop-Frog is well-spoken, as seen in his final monologue to the assembled courtiers from atop the flaming chandelier!


Finally, my thanks to EQMM Editor Janet Hutchings and Assistant Editor Emily Giglierano.  They were a pleasure to correspond with.