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.


  1. Congratulations! Ellery Queen is not an easy mag to break into. I'll be sure to pick it up and give it a read.
    Enjoyed your two stories on EDF. Look forward to more.

    Cheers, Amanda (ajcap)

  2. Thanks, Amanda! It was very gratifying when it happened. They accepted it in October 2010, and I've been waiting ever since to see it in print. It seemed to take forever for April to roll around; yet a friend who has extensive publications told me that I was lucky, and that stories can sometimes wait a year LONGER than that from acceptance to publication!

    I hope you'll enjoy it.