In my mind, Edgar Allan Poe is the most well-known Halloween-ish short story writer. To keep with the season, I reread some of Poe’s short stories. I enjoyed his stories when I was younger – I even rewrote “The Fall of the House of Usher” as a play for my high school’s Halloween “one-act plays.” But to my surprise, I didn’t love Poe’s writing or his stories’ subject matter this time around.
I’ve stopped liking Halloween and the concept of “scary stories,” but I was still disappointed by Poe. In general, I felt his stories were disturbing, not scary. While the gothic elements were certainly there, as they were with Washington Irving, I failed to like the narrators in Poe’s stories. The narrators were mentally ill. They lacked the social skills that would suggest them to me, as a reader, as people that I would like to meet. They told their stories in a matter-of-fact way that failed to resonate with me.
Besides, I felt Poe was extremely wordy and took forever to get to the actual story. I listened to most of the stories via the public domain Librivox recordings, and I was frustrated as I listened because they were so long and rather boring to me.
Nonetheless, my favorite Poe story hands down was “The Tell-Tale Heart.” This narrator was the most naturally mentally ill (the others, such as the narrator of “The Black Cat,” were just disturbed). As I listened to Poe’s stories, I started to mind his style less in general. They are disturbing, but not all that bad.
In How to Read and Why, Harold Bloom has nothing nice to say about Poe; he doesn’t say why he doesn’t like him, but he’s not complimentary in general. I don’t think that’s fair. I think Edgar Allan Poe is an acquired taste: the more I read the less he bothered me, and I think some like him and others don’t. I’m in the “not such a fan” category. But you may love his twisted little tales!
Seven-Word Reviews (with Spoilers)
- The Tell-Tale Heart: Man murders Evil Eye; heart still beats.
- The Pit and the Pendulum: Inquisition tortures man with pit and pendulum.
- The Fall of the House of Usher: Man entombs sister alive; house falls down.
- William Wilson: He killed his arch-rival: his own ghost.
- The Gold-Bug: Gold-bug leads to buried treasure through skull.
- Ligeia: Beautiful (dead) first wife possesses second wife.
- The Masque of the Red Death: During plague, corpse crashes party; all die.
- MS. Found in a Bottle: Ghostly crew sails man to world’s edge.
- The Murders in the Rue Morgue: Superhuman violently murders; smart men solve it.
- The Cask of Amontillado: Man bricks man in with wine cask.
- The Black Cat: Attacking cat, man kills wife; cat screams.
- The Purloined Letter: Genius solves mystery and finds stolen letter.
Others Similar to Poe
I kept comparing Poe’s stories to ones I’ve already read.
If you liked Poe’s stories of madmen, you may like some of Maupassant’s short stories. (For my discussion of my favorite Maupassant stories and for summaries, visit here.) Particularly, read “The Horla,” “Was it a Dream?”, and “Who Knows?”. I think they are great “crazy-man” stories. I personally think Maupassant did a better job at capturing the personality of a madman so that I had sympathy. I actually liked the narrators in Maupassant’s stories, while I can’t say the same about Poe’s.
If you like the gothic elements of “The Gold-Bug,” “Ligeia,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” or others, you may like Washington Irving‘s gothic tales.
If you enjoyed the mysteries in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter,” you may enjoy G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries.
Also, if you liked “William Wilson” you may like The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, which I read in my pre-book blogging days. They have similar themes.
In summary, I didn’t love reading Edgar Allan Poe, but I do think he deserves a place of respect in the short story cannon. His stories have a quality all their own.
I didn’t find Edgar Allan Poe’s stories “scary,” but rather disturbing. I’m not a huge fan, but I know many people are. I know I’m in the minority on avoiding “horror” or anything remotely scary. But I’m curious why they draw you into them.
Why do you like Poe’s stories? Are they “scary” to you? What brings you back to them time and again?
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