tek's rating: ½

Selected Stories and Poems, by Edgar Allan Poe (collection pub. 1962; stories pub. 1827-1849)
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So, this is an old copy of a story collection that I don't even remember when or where I obtained it. Of course a few of the stories (and at least one of the poems) are familiar to me, some more than others. But there are a bunch things here that I'm pretty sure I've never read before. I'm reviewing the book after reading it in fall of 2018. I've always wanted to be more familiar with Poe's work, and so I'm glad to have read this, but on the whole, I guess I didn't like it quite as much as I'd hoped I would. I'm especially disappointed in myself for not caring much for most of the poems, aside from "The Raven." The stories were mostly okay, though.

stories

The Tell-Tale Heart (pub. 1843)
One of Poe's best-known stories, and one I've surely read before, whether in this book or elsewhere. Possibly I've seen or heard some adaptation of it. In any event, it's a familiar story. The narrator is trying to convince someone (possibly the reader) of his (or her?) sanity, though the story he tells makes it very clear that the narrator is insane. It's a story of obsession, of despising the vulture-like eye of an old man with whom the narrator lives, which finally drives him to murder the old man. But the narrator spends a week building up to the murder. And... I guess I shouldn't say any more about the plot. It's very short, and probably would have seemed scarier to someone in the 19th century. I'm not sure it would have left much of an impression on me if I hadn't known before reading it that it's a classic of the Gothic horror genre, or if it had been written by someone less famous. Still, it's not bad. I mean, the narrator's madness in and of itself, and his certainty of his own sanity, are probably scarier than the the murder.

The Cask of Amontillado (pub. 1846)
This is a story I'm fairly sure I never read before. The narrator, Montresor, speaks of seeking revenge against someone named Fortunato, though what the latter did to Montresor isn't revealed. He plans his revenge for quite some time, all the while pretending to be Fortunato's friend (which reminded me of Bill Cosby's comedy routine "Revenge"). Anyway... during Carnival, Montresor meets his drunken friend, and tells him he's bought some Amontillado, but he's not sure if it's genuine or not. So he wants Fortunato, who is a wine expert, to tell him. But he also suggests he should perhaps instead ask someone named Luchesi, knowing that Fortunato wouldn't agree to that, as a matter of honor. (I had no idea what Amontillado was, so I looked it up, and apparently it's a type of sherry, which strikes me as a bit odd, because in the story Fortunato insists that Luchesi can't distinguish Amontillado from Sherry. I suppose I'm revealing my own lack of knowledge by finding that odd, and thinking "sherry is sherry." But whatever.) Well, of course this is all a pretense, to get Fortunato into Montresor's catacombs, wherein he plans to take his revenge. Which... I won't spoil, but perhaps this meme does, so you might want to avoid it. In any event, I'm not sure what to think of the story, but I guess I found it somewhat amusing, in a gallows humor sort of way.

The Black Cat (pub. 1843)
This is another one I'm pretty sure was new to me. And it's the first story in the book that I really found scary, at all. The narrator begins by telling us that he had always had a friendly disposition, and particularly liked animals. However, he eventually becomes an alcoholic, and this changes his temperament drastically. He becomes cruel both to his wife and to his pets. His most beloved pet is a black cat named Pluto, and it takes longer for him to begin mistreating Pluto than any of the other pets. But eventually he becomes most horrifyingly cruel to Pluto, ultimately killing him. Later, he gets a replacement cat, but soon comes to hate it, as well. And... this leads to something far worse than cruelty to animals. But I don't want to spoil any more details.

The Masque of the Red Death (pub. 1842)
This was one I had certainly heard of, but I don't think I ever knew any specifics about it. But, it's about a prince named Prospero who decides to hide away in an abbey he had designed himself. He is joined by many other nobles, as well as many performers to entertain them. The reason for this is to avoid a plague called the Red Death, which has been killing many people quite horribly. Several months pass, and the nobles hold a masquerade ball that takes place in seven separate and disparately decorated rooms... though one of the rooms is apparently scarier than the others, so everyone avoids it. Eventually, someone appears whose mask horrifies everyone. And um, I dunno what else to tell you. Except, Poe describes the setting rather vividly, and it sounds like it has a pretty cool, Gothic vibe. So I liked that. I also found it interesting that there's a line near the end that seems to be taken from the Bible, and I'm not sure whether that was intentional or not. Anyway, I'm not sure how much I like the actual story, but I definitely liked the descriptions.

The Fall of the House of Usher (pub. 1839)
This is another story I have long been aware of, at least the title, without really knowing what it was about. But I've always wanted to read it, and I'm glad I now have. The style reminded me of J. Sheridan Le Fanu (whose work came later than Poe's, but I read a book of his stories a few years before I read this). Anyway, the narrator travels to the home of his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, upon receiving a letter about Usher's failing health (both physical and mental). Roderick has a sister named Madeline, who is also in poor health, but she's barely seen (and never speaks) in the story. Mostly it's about the narrator spending some weeks with Roderick, trying to comfort him in his final days. But eventually Madeline dies, and Roderick's condition worsens. And... that's all I want to say. But it's a nicely Gothic story, with a very dark, dramatic, and memorable ending.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue (pub. 1841)
Here is another of Poe's most famous stories, of which I was aware, but knew no details. But it's considered the first modern detective story, and influenced later writers of the genre, such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. The story is narrated by a friend of a Frenchman named C. Auguste Dupin. Actually, the story begins with the narrator talking about various games: chess, draughts, and whist. He compares the different types of intellect used to win at each game, which leads into how those specific intellects may be used for other forms of problem-solving. And then he begins talking about his friend, and provides an example of Dupin's astonishing skill at inductive reasoning. Subsequently, the two of them read in the newspaper about a double murder in a house on the (fictional) Parisian street, the Rue Morgue. (I'm not sure whether or not I was aware, before reading the story, that the title referred to a street, and not, you know, a morgue. Certainly I knew that "rue" was French for "street," but... I may have been thrown by the use of "in" rather than "on," as we would more likely say in modern, American English. Whatever, it's not important. But I do think it's darkly humorous that the street would have the name "Morgue.") The victims were an old woman, Madame L'Espanaye, and her daughter. The younger woman was stuffed up the chimney, and the elder was found on the ground behind the house. The room's doors and windows were locked from the inside, leaving no indication of how the killer might have escaped before the bodies were discovered. Of course, Dupin puts his keen intellect to work on solving the crime. And while his ability to solve a seemingly insoluble puzzle is indeed impressive... I have to say that once the truth is revealed, it's just utterly redonkulous. (But maybe it would have seemed slightly less so, when the story was written.) In any event, it was a fun story, and I greatly appreciate the larger impact the character of Dupin had on future writers.

The Mystery of Marie Rogêt (pub. 1842-43)
This is a sequel to "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." This time, the narrator tells us of Dupin's reasoning in regard to the murder of a young woman named Marie, in Paris. However, the fictional story is based upon a real crime that happened in New York, which has apparently never been solved. Anyway, Dupin reads accounts of Marie's murder in various newspapers, and disputes most of the assumptions made in each of them. And while I generally think he's right to dispute those assumptions having been presented by the papers as certainties, and believe his own lines of reasoning make more sense... I still think Dupin is guilty of the same thing, making assumptions and believing them to be certainties. Moreover, I found most of the story to be terribly tedious. He just drones on and on, with his explanations. So, I really didn't enjoy this story much. But at least the conclusion Dupin reaches isn't by any means silly, as it was in the previous story.

The Purloined Letter (pub. 1844)
This is the third story featuring C. Auguste Dupin. The Prefect of police presents him (and the narrator) with the puzzle of a letter that had been stolen from someone important, to be used by the thief as political leverage. A reward had been offered for the return of the letter, and the Prefect had conducted an exhaustive search of the thief's home, to no avail. It was also ascertained that the letter was not on the thief's person. So, of course Dupin easily finds the letter himself, and gives it to the Prefect. He then explains to his friend the narrator, in unnecessary detail his method of reasoning that led to his discovery of the letter. Well, I suppose I liked this more than the second Dupin story, but I still found it a bit dull.

The Gold-Bug (pub. 1843)
This is a story I had heard of before, and possibly even read at least a condensed version of. (I feel like it must have been in an issue of READ magazine, in my elementary school days.) Still, if I had read it before, I didn't recall any details. And reading it now, it was nothing like what I expected. I expected there to be some supernatural element of horror, in the end, but there was none. Anyway, the story is, as usual, told by an unnamed narrator. He had a friend named William Legrand, who lived on a small island off the coast of South Carolina, along with a former slave named Jupiter. (Jupiter's dialect or accent can be a bit difficult to decipher at some points, but mostly it's not hard to understand. It's still hard to read, though, on account of its sounding racist, from a modern perspective.) One chilly evening, the narrator visits his friend, who tells him of a gold scarab he and Jupiter and captured, apparently unlike any other known species. He had lent the bug to someone else, for the night, but draws a picture of it for the narrator to look at. However, Legrand's mood suddenly changes, and the narrator leaves. He doesn't see Legrand again for a month, at which point Legrand asks him to join Jupiter and himself on an expedition, the nature of which Legrand doesn't reveal. It turns out to be a treasure hunt, after the conclusion of which Legrand explains how he came by and deciphered what turned out to be instructions for finding buried treasure. Well, it was definitely an interesting story. I've no idea why I seem to remember some story with this or a similar title having some sort of scary ending. But I suppose it's not important.

The Pit and the Pendulum (pub. 1842)
Another story I'd probably read before, and certainly knew a bit about. During the Spanish Inquisition, an unnamed narrator is tried and convicted, we know not of what. He's put in a totally dark dungeon, and eventually discovers a pit in the middle of the room, which it's only by luck that he doesn't fall into. Later, he is strapped to a table with a razor-sharp pendulum swinging slowly back and forth, far above his head, and slowly descending toward his heart. I won't say how it ends, but this is certainly a great prototype of psychological horror.


poems

The Raven (pub. 1845)
If you're only familiar with one thing Poe ever wrote, there's a pretty good chance this is it. I hardly feel the need to describe the contents (though the link above will describe it, if you're interested). It's definitely a really good (and tragic) poem. Although reading it this time, I couldn't help but think that the titular raven is kind of like a magic 8-ball... with only one possible answer.

Lenore (pub. 1843)
A shorter version of this was published in 1841 with the title "A Paean," which didn't include the name "Lenore" at all. Anyway, I'm not sure what to think about it. Is the Lenore who is named in the 1843 version the same one whose loss is lamented two years later in "The Raven"? Or is it a different Lenore, who also died? I have no idea... and I can't manage to care very much. I'm sure I won't remember this poem, long after reading it.

Ulalume (pub. 1847)
This is another poem I don't expect to remember for long. It's set in October, so I hoped it might end up being about Halloween, but it didn't. Once again, it's about someone the narrator loved who had died.

The Bells (pub. 1849)
This wasn't published until after Poe's death. There are four parts to it, each of which expresses different purposes for which bells can be used, and different emotions they evoke. The first part seemed to me to possibly be about Christmas. (It also has a line that I remember hearing in the movie "Short Circuit 2," so it's nice to know where that came from.) The second part, I'm guessing, may be about wedding bells. The third part is about alarm bells, as when there's a fire that's out of control. The fourth part seems to be about funeral bells. But I must say, there's a line near the end of each part that just repeats the word "bells" a bunch of times, and as I read it, I couldn't help thinking of The Grinch complaining about all the "noise, noise, noise!"

Annabel Lee (pub. 1849)
This is probably the only of Poe's poems other than "The Raven" that I had heard of before. And, like "The Bells," it was published after Poe's death. The narrator reflects on the love he'd had for the titular Annabel Lee many years ago. But she died young, and he's never stopped loving her. It's not a bad poem, I guess, but it was kind of hard for me to read because I couldn't help thinking about Lolita (which I read earlier the same year I read this poem), and the narrator of that book reflecting on the lost love of his own youth, Annabel Leigh. It's certainly not fair to Poe to have that whole thing mixed up in my perception of his poem. But what can you do?

The Haunted Palace (pub. 1839)
This was originally published several months before "The Fall of the House of Usher," which also contains the poem. When I set up the page for my review, I listed all the contents of the book, so when I got to that story, I knew the poem would appear by itself later in the book. But by the time I read the poem, I had totally forgotten how it went, from having read "Usher," surely not more than a couple weeks or so earlier. So... I don't expect to remember this. And even now, I couldn't possibly tell you what it's about.

The Conqueror Worm (pub. 1843)
Um... this kind of reminds me of Shakespeare's line, All the world's a stage... except it's much weirder and darker.

The Valley of Unrest (pub. 1831/1845)
I have no idea what's going on here.

The City in the Sea (pub. 1845)
Meh.

The Sleeper (pub. 1831/1841)
Another poem about a dead woman. Well, I like the way it reads. I don't know much about poetry, but this one seems pretty simple to me, compared to a lot of Poe's other works, and because my own ability to appreciate poetry is so limited, I find its simplicity appealing. Beyond that, I'm not quite sure what to think of it, except that it seems like a decent sort of eulogy. I guess.

Eulalie (pub. 1845)
This seems happier than most of Poe's work. As far as I can tell, the narrator's bride, Eulalie, is still alive at the end of the poem.

Eldorado (pub. 1849)
Meh.

Israfel (pub. 1831)
I don't know what to think about this.

For Annie (pub. 1849)
Wikipedia says this is about a woman who helped Poe recover from an illness. A woman with whom he had a platonic relationship. I couldn't have figured either of those things out just from reading the poem; it seemed to me equally likely that it was about recovering from an illness or about dying (so that one way or the other, the illness ended). And the way he talks about Annie doesn't really sound platonic, to me. But whatevs.

To Helen (pub. 1831/1845)
Meh.

To One in Paradise (pub. 1833)
I dunno, I guess this is okay.

The Happiest Day (pub. 1827)
Meh.


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(Image is a scan of my own copy.)