The glories of the digital age are best shown in this, that I can acquire for less than a dollar the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe and hold them in the palm of my hand. Thanks, Nook!
I’ve just recently finished plowing through all of Poe’s short stories. It was more work than expected. Poe was a grinder. He wrote a lot, in many more genres than I knew. When he was on, he put lightning on the page and made himself immortal. But Poe was not always Poe. Writing for a living will do that to you.
His static, pastoral descriptions: bleh. His few dialogues: bleh. His sci-fi is a little better, usually focused on hot air balloons. Often bleh, but you get glimpses of the “real Poe.” He is often occupied with mesmerism, an application of the cutting edge science of electromagnetism. Obviously we’d classify it as fantasy now, but he was quite in earnest about it as far as I can tell. EM Theory probably did strike his audience as limitless in possibilities, much like QM does for us now. Who knows how enlightened future generations will laugh at our obsession with quantum mirrors and multiversal travel (prediction: a LOT). His obsession with death and burial would fall into this category as well; those stories often overlap with mesmerism directly or indirectly.
His detective stories are famous for setting the genre, but I personally find them overrated. “Murder in the Rue Morgue” has a nice scary idea to it but I don’t particularly like the detective elements. Its sequel is tedious, and “The Purloined Letter” is merely amusing. This is one type of Poe that I would wipe from the earth and not miss. I guess “The Gold Bug” goes here, and I did like that one enough.
He has wonderful absurdist pieces, which look like they could have been horror but he decided to take them in a sillier direction. This was my biggest shock reading through his corpus. Poe is wickedly funny! My favorites of his might now be from that pile. It makes sense in hindsight given the close connections between humor and horror. And speaking of, he has horror of various sorts–the genre for which he is justly famous, but not all of which is worthy of his name.
I found myself flipping through a lot of his stories just to get to the end. But occasionally there were gems. I came to dub these the “off-Broadway Poe” which are entirely worth a look despite being less well known (at least to me). I’ve debated classifying them since I think that’s part of the fun of working through Poe–what sort of story am I getting myself into here?–but I’ve gone ahead and spoiled a little.:
MS Found in a Bottle (“A Descent into the Maelstrom” + Ghosts)
The Black Cat (“A Tell Tale Heart” + Witch’s Familiar)
Silence—A Fable (demonic fantasy)
The Assignation (tortured love)
William Wilson (doppleganger)
Berenice (dead wife—horrifying twist)
Ligeia (dead wife—metempsychosis)
Mordella (dead wife—satanic reincarnation)
Metzengerstein (good ol’ horror–metempsychosis)
King Pest (absurd and wonderful)
The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether (absurd asylum)
The Angel of the Odd (absurd and wonderful)
Mellonta Tauta (scifi/futurism)
The Duc de l’Omelette (hedonist dies and cheats Satan)
Loss of Breath (longer absurd)
Read and enjoy! His lesser known works really should get a better audience.
Next time around: Poe’s poetry, of which I only know a little. I’m debating whether or not to do The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym first. It’s a bit on the longer side.
(Check out this site for access to all of Poe’s work)