In order to present the tale as an authentic exploration, Poe used a number of the travel journals that proliferated at the time he was writing the novel. Poe's most significant source was the explorer Jeremiah N. Reynolds, whose work Address on the Subject of a Surveying and Exploring Expedition to the Pacific Ocean and the South Seas was reviewed favorably by Poe in January 1837. Poe used about 700 words of Reynolds' address in Chapter XVI, almost half the length of the chapter. In 1843, Poe also praised Reynolds in a review of A Brief Account of the Discoveries and Results of the United States' Exploring Expedition printed in Graham's Magazine. It is unclear whether Poe and Reynolds ever met, but legend has it that shortly before Poe's mysterious death, in his delirium Poe called out the name "Reynolds"; though the incident is possibly apocryphal, one theory says Poe meant Jeremiah Reynolds, reflecting the explorer's influence.
In a footnote to Chapter XIII, Poe refers to the Polly, a wreck which drifted for six months across the Atlantic Ocean in 1811-1812. Poe probably read this history in an 1836 book by R. Thomas, Remarkable Events and Remarkable Shipwrecks, from which he quotes verbatim.
In Chapter XVI, Poe recounts Captain James Cook's circumnavigation of the globe aboard the Resolution that reached 70°10' latitude. He also drew from A Narrative of Four Voyages (1832), an account by Benjamin Morrell that became a bestseller. A Narrative of Four Voyages may have given Poe the idea of the summarized title of his novel. Poe may have used these real-life accounts in an attempt to hoax his readers into believing the novel was an autobiographical narrative by Pym.
In addition to historical sources, Poe was influenced by other writers. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a general influence, and scenes of Pym and Dirk Peters in a cave echo scenes in Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, which many reviewers noted at the time, including London publications such as the Court Gazette and the Torch. The ship of corpses recalls the legend of the Flying Dutchman, a ship which is cursed and unable to return home.
Poe also incorporated the theories of Reynolds and John Cleves Symmes, Jr. on the Hollow Earth. The theory of these works was that a hole at the South Pole led to the interior of the planet, where undiscovered civilizations prospered. As Symmes wrote, the earth was "hollow, habitable, and widely open about the poles". This theory, which he presented as early as 1818, was taken seriously throughout the nineteenth century. Symmes' theory had already served Poe when he wrote, in 1831, "MS. Found in a Bottle", based partly on Symmes' Theory of the Concentric Spheres, published in 1826. "MS. Found in a Bottle" is similar to Poe's novel in setting, characterization, and some elements of plot. Other writers who later fictionalized this theory include Edgar Rice Burroughs and L. Frank Baum.
In describing life on a long sea voyage, Poe also drew from personal experience. In 1815, a six-year-old Poe along with his foster-parents traveled from Norfolk, Virginia to Liverpool, England, a journey of 34 days. During the difficult trip, young Poe asked his foster father, John Allan, to include him in a letter he was writing. Allan wrote, "Edgar says Pa say something for me, say I was not afraid of the sea." The family returned to the United States in 1820 aboard the Martha and docked in New York after 31 days. Closer to the time Poe wrote his novel, he had sailed during his military career, the longest trip being from Boston to Charleston, South Carolina.