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Member Name: Valej
Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe - Edgar Allan Poe
Date: 23/04/12, updated on 26/04/12 (20 review reads)
Advantages: Dark, disturbing, and dangerous.
Disadvantages: Dark, disturbing, and dangerous.
The word "genius" is over-used and I try to avoid using it of artists, writers, and musicians. But sometimes it's hard not to. I'm sure that Wagner was a genius and I'm pretty sure that Poe was too. When you read his stories, you're know that you're in the presence of a very powerful intellect and imagination. And a very disturbed intellect and imagination too. After you've read a story like "The Fall of the House of Usher", "The Masque of the Red Death", or "A Cask of Amontillado", it should come as no surprise that Poe was an alcoholic who led a tortured life and died at the age of forty. Reading Poe can be like being caught in a rip-tide: a frightening experience that you don't forget in a hurry. That marine simile can be expanded: human psychology is a lot like the Atlantic. It has sun-lit shallows and stygian deeps where monsters dwell. Poe was a psychonaut, or psychosinaut, who descended into the abyss of his own psychology and captured some of the monsters he found there. His stories are rather like giant aquariums where the monsters are still swimming, dark, deadly, and ferociously fanged as ever. Peer into the aquariums at your peril: the horrific revenge of the dwarf Hop-Frog, in the story of the same name, isn't for weak stomachs or the pyrophobic. Poe knew about hate and lust for revenge and showed his readers, in unflinching detail, where they can take us.
But Poe didn't just write gothick horror: he almost single-handedly invented the detective story. The Sherlock Holmes stories are central to English literature, but Doyle owes a huge debt to Poe's stories of the French detective Auguste Dupin. Doyle ironically recognized that debt when, in "A Study in Scarlet", he had Holmes remark of Dupin: "He had some analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine." In propria persona, Doyle said of Poe that "each [of his detective stories] is a root from which a whole literature has developed... Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?" I can't re-read the Dupin stories about with as much perverse relish, or reluctant perversity, as I can re-read the gothick stories I've mentioned above: they're much longer, much more complicated, and more dated because have real historical settings, rather than phantasic ones. But it's here that the power of Poe's intellect is even more obvious: his horror, like his poetry, is based on instinct and emotion, not the logic and rationality personified in Dupin. Perhaps that's why his horror and poetry aren't technically perfect: his poetry has the power of a storm or tidal wave, not the grandeur and symmetry of architecture, and there's an artificiality and effort to even his best stories that isn't found in the best stories of, say, Clark Ashton Smith. Wagner is a culture or civilization in himself and Poe, who achieved greatness in several genres, isn't far behind. He had a sense of humour too, and though, to twenty-first century readers, it sometimes led him astray in his purely comic stories, it can make his gothic horror even more disturbing. Skulls grin, and so does Edgar Allan Poe.
Summary: One of the giants of EngLit.