Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Poe and pretty prints

It's become strikingly clear that I was much too young when I started reading Edgar Allen Poe. My dad had a collection that he lent to me when I was nine (I finally returned it last week) and I managed to work my way through several stories, though many of the tales in the collection were beyond me at that age.

Last year I found an absolutely beautiful large-format collection of Poe stories illustrated by Harry Clarke; I'm a fan of Poe and Nouveau so I snapped it up and it's been sitting on my shelf glaring at me ever since. I finally managed to work my way through it in the last couple of weeks and was equally delighted by the selected stories and the gorgeous prints scattered throughout the book.

I do think that most people should read more Poe (yes, yes, "The Raven" is great but that's so ninth grade English) but I sort of wish I'd started out a little later than I did; you can't mix "The pit and the pendulum" with My Little Pony and walk away unscathed, and besides, I wish I hadn't spoiled the stories for myself as an adult by reading them as a child - I'll never get the great "I am your father" moment back for some of these wonderful little mysteries.

"Ms. found in a bottle" - The story of a man who was and a ship that wasn't as they traveled beyond the borders of the known world.

"Berenice" - Old-timey mental health information is unintentionally hilarious in this story right up until it becomes nightmarishly stomach-turning.

"Morella" - It's pretty clear from any biography of Poe that he had some rather unhealthy relationships with women. This story seems to be a horrifying example of what he loved and feared in his interactions with the fairer sex.

"Some passages in the life of a lion (Lionizing)" - A cheery little satire about what a nose knows and whether it knows it needs to know more.

"The Assignation" - Two people discharge their worldly debts in the grimmest way possible and meet up as they had intended.

"Bon-Bon" - An epicurean debates with a demon whether or not he's good enough to eat.

"King Pest" - Two roughs wander into a neighborhood condemned by disease and find rougher stuff than they had anticipated.

"Metzengerstien"- What the actual fuck. A horse is a horse except when it's your dead neigh-bor tormenting you.

"Silence" - According to Poe hell isn't other people, it's the creeping horror of an unechoing vastness.

"A descent into the Maelstrom" - Cool! An old (prematurely old) man tells the story of the worst day of his life. Overwhelmingly creepy.

"Ligeia" - I can't tell if this story is more about the supernatural or pipe dreams, but either way there's a level of obsession that it's difficult to read without falling into, this story straddles that line.

"The Fall of the House of Usher" - I think I tried to read this about twenty years ago and failed miserably. Reading it now the story seems much more simple than I remember and a good deal less spooky too.

"William Wilson" - Our narrator is a scoundrel who spends his time evading the remnants of his conscience. He does terrible and vastly entertaining things - well worth reading.

"The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion" - Erios and Charmion have an exceedingly dull conversation about the end of the world. I don't really get this at all.

"The man of the crowd" - Confusing and creepy as hell this little story arrests the reader almost as much as the titular character arrests the narrator.

"The murders in the Rue Morgue" - Why did nobody tell me about Dupin? Why!? It's so easy to see Holmes' heritage here and it's rad! I remember being freaked out by "Rue Morgue" when I was a kid because the story seemed really long and there was a scary drawing of a gorilla, but no one ever told me that this was where Conan Doyle got the inspiration for Sherlock. Shit! I should have read this a decade ago!

"The mystery of Marie Roget" - An excellent illustration of the fact that human beings don't really change. A pretty girl goes missing and Dupin is able to collar the killer by being logical about human nature.

"The colloquy of Monos and Una" - Monos and Una figure out how to cheat death and have an incredibly boring conversation about it. I get the feeling that this may be some kind of political allegory that's flown completely over my head.

"The Masque of the Red Death" - I hadn't actually read this story until my college Chaucer professor mentioned it when we were talking about plague. I know that the Red Death is supposed to be Tuberculosis, but it also works exceptionally well for a story about plague. And I think this story may actually be riffing on Chaucer. I'm not sure, I'll have to flip through The Canterbury Tales to figure it out.

"The pit and the pendulum" - I know for sure that this was included in my 6th grade English book; this has no place in an 11 year old's library. All of the background of the inquisition is lost because kids don't cover that until seventh grade and so it's just a dude getting tortured by a bunch of mysterious dickheads. Haunting.

"The tell-tale heart" - from the category of "things Lisa Simpson told me to read" comes the classic tale of a neurotic and his victim. Much, much funnier when read as an adult.

"The Gold Bug" - I am absurdly pleased to have finished reading this story; I'd attempted it a few times over the years and never got past the first paragraph. It's an uplifting, dark little tale about being bitten by a gold bug.

"The black cat" - I know for sure that I was reading this story at the same time that I was reading James Herriot books and attending girl scout meetings. People, this is not a cute, cuddly kitten for your little girls to read about. But it's a good story even if it is creeptastic.

"The spectacles" - A lot of people wouldn't associate Poe with humor, but he's funny nonetheless; this story is wonderfully amusing.

"The premature burial" - I think that my claustrophobic dad should probably read this; it does a remarkably good job of entombing its reader with words.

"The facts in the case of M. Valdemar" - I will never get tired of laughing at the 19th century mesmerist movement; in spite of that, this did a good job of tainting the humor.

"The oblong box" - An artist protects his mysterious baggage until the very end of his personal journey.

"The cask of Amontillado" - This falls into the category of "not appropriate for children but read by children anyway", a trip to some catacombs turns out well for one man and ill for another.

"Landor's Cottage" - an odd little story that isn't a story at all; just a description of a disturbingly stunning cottage.

Poe, Edgar Allen. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Illustrated by Harry Clarke.
     Arcturus Publishing. London: England. 2012. (2008).

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