It is somewhat challenging to write about a compilation of short stories. There are some I loved, and some I didn’t. On the other hand, to fully appreciate the style of an author it is best to read more than one of their creations. I will mention only a few of the tales, which made biggest impression on me.
Firstly, I’ll mention the character C. Auguste Dupin, who appears in a few stories. I do enjoy a good detective story, and I can see how Poe’s character offered itself readily to Sir Conan Doyle in the creation of Sherlock Holmes. A comparison between the two detectives is inevitable for anyone who has read about both characters. Cleverness and intelligence is a common, observation and cunning too, Holmes however seems to do more and mingles with the police as their rival, whilst Dupin remains passive until the Prefect calls upon him when he is needed. Perhaps this would be a trait of the epochs of the two detectives. The Murders in Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter entertained me far more than The Mystery of Marie Roget.
How to write a Blackwood Article tickled me in all the right ways, whilst The Fall of the House of Usher provided the foundations for many a Gothic and mysterious settings (even for The Addams Family). The Colloquy of Monos and Una reminded me of many contemporary writings with the notion “civilizations will be the end of us” and along The Masque of Red Death and The Gold-Bug seemed to be stories of wish fulfilment, although in unparalleled ways (“take-that-you-heartless-too-rich-for-your-own-good-prince” and “grown-up-boy-finds-pirate-treasure” respectively).
Out of the stories read, however my favourite was Ligeia. The subtlety of the occult occupations of the main character and his beloved, her will to live at her dying moments, the poetry written as if to retain her spirit and despite all these allusions, the shocking return of Ligeia at the second wife’s darkest hour, all made for a thrilling read, which I would go back to and even purchase a copy of this story alone to add to my ‘vampiric’ bookshelf, along with Le Fanu’s Carmilla.
Reading literature from Poe’s era is difficult for me, as I need to persevere with the monotonous descriptions and lengthy monologues, page upon page, with the rare break of fluffed up conversation. Such were the times, and I am accustomed to a more modern style of writing – where the happenings are depicted but the moral and philosophical interpretations of the events is left to the reader. In Poe’s case however, the lengthy monologues and descriptions were something I learned to enjoy as I read further on as the stories sometimes took between 4 and 25 pages to complete, nothing like the hundreds worth of pages of some novels. Overall, Poe’s creations aren’t so much stories, as snippets – isolated fancies, dreams in writing and it was a pleasure, even if somewhat grotesque at times, to be trapped in them. Much food for the imagination has been accumulated, and not surprisingly it was my desire to draw which was stimulated more over the wish to write, due to the evocative and beautifully detailed settings of the stories.
What I enjoyed most, however, was the beginning of a new story, thinking “What new fancy has Poe prepared, how will he capture my imagination this time?”. I was rarely disappointed.
My first encounter with Poe was when I was 14 years old and I tried expanding my knowledge in the non-European macabre literature. Up until then, I’d only heard about Poe and his influence on the detective and gothic stories. So I decided to give him a chance. The first Poe book I bought was in Bulgarian – I wanted to see if I would like the author’s style before I made a bigger commitment.
Well, it’s safe to say that I was very disappointed. I couldn’t understand how such a celebrated author could have such a mediocre storytelling style. A few days later I found an English edition of Poe’s Selected Tales and I found out that there was nothing wrong with Poe; it’s just that the translated texts didn’t have the same atmosphere and suspense. The language was also dumbed down to the point that it had lost Poe’s trademark elements.
The Bulgarian edition of Selected Tales could easily have been attributed to another author. That was probably also the time I decided that it’s better to read an author in the original language rather than completely rely on a translated text. Naturally, it would be nearly impossible to know every language in the world, but since English is so widespread and I was asked in school to practice reading books in English, I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to give Poe a second chance.
For many years now, Poe has been one of my favourite authors and his stories have a very special place in my heart. I say stories because I prefer prose to poetry, but do not think for a second that his poetry hasn’t won me over as well. Poe has a unique story-telling style, which is present in all of his literary works. Despite the archaic language (which frequently made me check the dictionary, in order to be sure that I grasped every aspect of the story), his stories are immersive. He places an emphasis on perception, psychology and the human nature. This was the first time I encountered someone, who could make me experience a vast array of emotions, while still keeping the suspense until the end of the story. In a time, when people heavily depend on visual stimuli to experience horror, people often forget that you don’t have to wait for a film to come out in order to enjoy a good horror story – just look for one of the best story-tellers in horror!
Another big difference between Poe’s horror and contemporary horror is that although some of the scenes in Poe’s stories could be considered gruesome by many, the horror does not lie in the graphic descriptions (much like how gore is used in the modern horror cinema or even books), but rather in what’s not there. An unknown disease, an unknown cause, an unknown perpetrator – the psychological effect of the unknown immerses the reader in the story and tickles the imagination, creating the much-needed suspense. Many of the modern horror films do not have the same effect on film viewers because the mystery often does not remain a mystery for long and adding gore elements to make a book/film scarier, thus not leaving anything to the imagination, makes the reader/viewer lazy.
Admittedly, I haven’t read many contemporary horror books (I’m always open to suggestions and book recommendations!), and certainly, there are authors, which I have overlooked. Nevertheless, Poe showed me a different side of horror from what I previously had experienced, and his stories gave me a lot of food for thought, which was very helpful, especially in my teenage years…
Final thought: “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” – Poe
Edition Published: 1994, First Published: 1956
Language book read in: English