Wednesday, 14 January 2009

200 Years of Mystery, Imagination and Terror

It’s over 25 years since I first read the works of Edgar Allan Poe. I was fascinated by the horrific depths of his imagination. He was able to summon up some of the most disturbing and horrible images in history (particularly impressive as it was so many decades before the invention of reality TV shows).

This year marks the bicentenary of his birth (19 January 1809 - 7 October 1849) so it seems to be an excellent time to visit his works once again.

Everyone has heard of the classics, such as 'The Premature Burial', 'The Pit and the Pendulum' and 'The Fall of the House of Usher', probably due to the fact that there have been famous films based on those stories.

However, there is a lot more to discover. Poe was there in the earliest days of detective fiction. Chevalier Auguste Dupin, the direct inspiration for countless fictional detectives (including Sherlock Holmes) solves the cases of: 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue', 'The Mystery of Marie Roget' and 'The Purloined Letter'. These are clever stories, showing his imagination being used in a different way.

Poe's sense of humour is often overlooked (to say the least) so stories such as 'Never Bet the Devil Your Head' and 'Why the Little Frenchman Wears His Hand in a Sling' may come as a surprise to some readers; they are usually left out of the standard anthologies so one has to dig a little deeper.

I was never a big fan of his poetry, although I enjoyed some of it, such as 'The Raven' and 'A Dream Within a Dream'. Far better for me was his one and only novel, 'The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket'. It is a masterpiece of pain and misery and can be an uncomortable read. It's a good antidote if you feel you are having a bad day.

So, dear readers, on these long Winter evenings, turn the lights down low, reach for your Poe and prepare to be entertained, horrified and amused.

Here's a little starter for you (I feel sure I don't have to name this masterpiece for you):

TRUE! - nervous - very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses - not destroyed - not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily - how calmly I can tell you the whole story...

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