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The Best Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe ~ A Capsule Book Review

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The Best Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe

The Best Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

In this collection are twenty-eight short stories by Edgar Allan Poe, from the really well known (“The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Fall of the House of Usher”) to the less well known (“A Tale of the Ragged Mountains,” “The Sphinx,” “The Imp of the Perverse”). Poe’s best stories are the ones where he gets right to the story and doesn’t theorize or provide dry, unnecessary information, as in the first couple of pages of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” a fine story if you start reading about the third page. And, no, there’s no morgue in this story where dead bodies are kept. The “Rue Morgue” is a street in Paris where two women, mother and daughter, are brutally murdered, stumping police, especially since the body of the daughter is stuffed up inside a chimney. The 1932 movie version of the story, a vehicle for Bela Lugosi, bears little or no resemblance to the original story. Yes, there’s a killer ape in the story and also in the movie, but that’s where the similarity ends.

The movies have not been kind to the works of Edgar Allan Poe. His stories just aren’t cinematic. Maybe some day somebody will make a movie from one of his stories that is faithful to the original story. In the 1960s, somebody thought it would be a good idea to make a series of movies based on the works of Poe starring that master of horror, Vincent Price. These movies were not serious attempts to translate the works of Poe to the screen but were mostly a way for filmmakers to make money, and I’m sure they succeeded in this goal, or there wouldn’t have been so many of them. To know what the stories of Poe are really like, you have to read them in their original form and not watch cheesy “B” movies.

Poe wrote on subjects that probably most other writers of his generation would have found too distasteful: mutilation murder, lunacy, drug addiction, being interred alive, being closed up in a wall to die, rotting corpses, rats, catacombs, disease, jealousy, revenge, etc. He was preoccupied with dying and death and the dark side of things; he probably suffered from some sort of undiagnosed mental illness. He didn’t write about monsters from another realm as H. P. Lovecraft did, but about monsters that exist right here on earth that you might just bring upon yourself if you’re not careful. In “The Imp of the Perverse,” a man commits a successful murder and has an easy life living on the money from the person he killed. Everything is going well for him, but he just can’t keep from confessing the murder and he ends up on the gallows. In “The Premature Burial,” a man who experiences catalepsy (trances that resemble death) has a morbid fear of being buried alive. In “The Black Cat,” an alcoholic who loves animals begins to have a consuming hatred for, and fear of, a certain black cat. In “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” a “Mesmerist” hypnotizes a man who is on the brink of death from tuberculosis. As an experiment, he keeps the dying man in a state of suspended, hypnotic animation, neither alive or dead, for a period of seven months. “The Pit and the Pendulum” is about a prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition being tortured in a fiendish and cruel way. In “Hop-Frog,” one of Poe’s best stories, a dwarf who is court jester for a cruel king exacts his revenge in the most dramatic way possible.

Poe elevated and legitimized the short story. In some ways, he is the father of the American short story. If you read his stories now, you will see why he endures. The best of his stories are the best ever written.     

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp 

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