Stories by Edgar Allan Poe

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In my mind, Edgar Allan Poe is the most well-known Halloween-ish short story writer. To keep up 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 have already read.

If you like 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.

My Conclusions

In summary, I didn’t love reading Edgar Allan Poe, but I do think he deserves a place of respect in the short story canon. His stories have a quality of 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?

Reviewed on October 20, 2008

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I LOVE Poe. I believe he is one of the very first really psycho thriller writers. He never really had monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein. Instead, he messed with the brain. My favorite is either the Pit and the Pendelum or Tell-Tale Heart. “It’s the beating of his hideous heart.”
    His poerty is wonderful, too.

  • I like the comparisons you made between Poe and the other short story writers you’ve looked at for HTR&W.  It’s easy to read a lot, but it’s hard to contextualize what you read, so that’s a helpful measure for me of what stories I might like.  I hope that sentence made sense 🙂

  • I never found Poe’s stories scary, but several I did find disturbing.  The one I particularly don’t like is The Cask of Amontillado.  That one made me feel so disturbed as a teen that I didn’t want to read anything more by Poe.

    Sorry to hear you don’t like Halloween, it’s my favorite holiday.

  • Kathy, I read lots of Poe in school, and reading him now, I wish we’d also read some of the others I’ve really liked! There are lots of “gothic” stories besides Poe!

    Ruby, I haven’t read much of Poe’s poetry; I should look it up!

    Kim, yep, made sense! And I just can’t help comparing everything I’m reading these days! It helps me put things in place.

    Amanda, yes, I really didn’t like Amontillado because it was disturbing. As for the Halloween thing, I just don’t like being scared — and I don’t like the concept of giving out candy to greedy kids who are complete strangers! If I were more creative, I’d get in to the costumes thing, but I can’t sew costumes nor can I justify the cost of buying them! Just not my thing.

  • Nice article Rebecca (although I didn’t read your seven word reviews :O)). I think Poe is an absolute legend. Sure his stories are disturbing – highly disturbing, but that was what his contemporary readers craved at the time. It just so happened he had a talent for the genre. Is he really anything different than say Tarantino was in the 90s?

    Not wanting to give too much away Edgar Allan Poe is going to feature prominently in my reading in the near future (once I get Chekhov and now, thanks to you, Guy de Maupassant out of my head). He really has touched me that much lately.

  • I liked Poe a lot back when I was in high school, but I haven’t gone back to his work very often. I think you’re quite right that his work is more disturbing than scary.

    As far as the larger question of why read scary stories at all, I’ve thought about that a lot because I used to get a fair bit of grief for my love of horror stories and horror movies. I think I just find that there’s more scope for the imagination in horror–and an awareness that “there are more things in heaven and earth.” It’s interesting to contemplate what would happen if the rules change or are disregarding, which is in one way or another what happens in most horror stories.

  • I always read Edgar Allan Poe this time of year.  He just evokes a Halloween-ish feel for me.  I agree, though, that his narrators are not likable.  They’re all crazy!  My favorite is The Cask of Amontillado.   I’ll have to try some of the other stories you suggested and see if they speak to me too.  Thanks for the post.

  • Robert, I’m sorry I can’t say I know “Tarantino,” but you’re probably right that it’s “best-seller” kind of thing. Just not my style, I guess.

    Teresa, good point about “rules changing”. That’s a way to think about it without feeling disturbed….as I do….

  • I haven’t read a lot of Poe, but it seems like I remember his life being very, very depressing and I think that is reflected in his writing.  Loved the seven-word reviews–I read them even thought they were spoilers because I know I won’t remember when I get around to reading them!

  • Chain Reader, oh good, glad you enjoyed them. I usually avoid spoilers, but I just have a hard time with short stories reviews without spoilers– I tend to read the story anyway!

  • Hey Rebecca, this is my first visit on your book blog and I love it, I’ll be back to keep track of you and your reads. About Poe, I’m inspired to pull his short stories off my shelf and have a read as Halloween prep. Even if, as you say, they are not scary, they are eery anyway. thanks for a great blog!

  • I am a high school girl and I love Poe too much to be put into words. He is a mastermind. Stephen King has nothing on Poe. I enjoy him because he is deep and very thrilling. I’m hooked on Poe- I even own his complete works. Yes, his work is disturbing- but that’s what makes it so different and so heart pounding. We need that from time to time, not just sappy love poems or whatever.

  • Allison, I’m so glad you like Poe! I’m finding there is a literary style and subject for just about everyone! I think I’m going to revisit Poe again and try to like it more myself.

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