Tackling Poe: The Complete Works, Part 2

Time for the second installment of Tackling Poe! If you missed part one, you can check it out here. This time, we’ll be looking at seven stories:

But first, I missed a moment for a bit of humor last time, when I reviewed “The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Pfaall”. Poe’s story was said to have influenced Jules Verne’s own science fiction… On looking for images for today’s post, I found this gem over at Hark! A Vagrant. I highly recommend checking this comic out by clicking the image below. Plenty of literary and historical humor!

poevernesm

And now, on to the stories.

The Gold-Bug

Audio Version: Librivox (classic)

Text Version: Poe Stories

Word Count: 14,177

Summary: After finding a curious golden bug, William Legrand becomes maniacally obsessed with the creature, and a strange piece of paper in his own possession. With the help of his manumitted [freed] slave, Jupiter, and his peer [our narrator], he sets forth to find the legendary treasure of the pirate captain Kidd. In the second half of the story, we are treated to Legrand’s detective-like summary of the events, and educated in his skill as a mathematician, scientist, and cypher-decoder.

Review: I absolutely love this story. It is often lauded as the first detective crime fiction (though, in truth, The Murders in the Rue Morgue is one year older). As I’d only ever known Poe as a horror and Gothic writer, it was really awesome to see this new style of his.

I really enjoyed the pacing, and the explanations of the connections between the seemingly unrelated elements. The only thing that was hard to read were the parts with Jupiter, which were written in that very old, no longer politically-correct speech pattern for freed slaves. While I know it was perfectly acceptable at the time, to read it now was a bit distracting. (An example: “No, dat he aint!–he aint find nowhar–dat’s just whar de shoe pinch–my mind is got to be berry hebby bout poor Massa Will.”)

Some of my favorite lines:

[The island] is separated from the main land by a scarcely perceptible creek, oozing its way through a wilderness of reeds and slime, a favorite resort of marsh hen.

And:

Jupiter opened [the door], and a large Newfoundland, belonging to Legrand, rushed in, leaped on my shoulders, and loaded me with caresses.

As well as these lovely little snippets:

…a confused heap of gold and jewels.

The weather was chilly (oh rare and happy accident!)…

“But proceed. I am all impatience.”

Four Beasts in One – The Homo-Cameleopard

Text Version: Edgar Allen Poe Society of Baltimore

Audio Version: Librivox

Word Count: 2,783

Summary: In a distant future, two observers come upon the ruined remains of Antioch, Syria [now in Turkish territory]. They observe that there numerous domesticated animals, and even that the king himself is a magnificent beast. The only real plot in this story is when the king is chased across the thoroughfare by other animals, until he is safe within another building.

Review: This story, set in 3830, is interesting in that there are only two characters. One, the narrator, and two, you, the ‘gentle reader’. This story came out of a time period when directly speaking to the reader was still in vogue, so is not entirely strange, but what did catch my attention is that the narrator assumes that the reader is well-educated, and perhaps even more intelligent. It’s quite clever.

However, when a story starts out from the get-go with a sentence like:

Antiochus Epiphanes is very generally looked upon as the Gog of the prophet Ezekiel. This honor is, however, more properly attributable to Cambyses, son of Cyrus.

…you know it’s going to be a bit of a difficult read. Of course, a little reasearch can go a long way, but it’s hard to read for the story when you’re trying to catch the bits of trivia.

I can’t say I can recommend the story, except for the novelty, but there were a few interesting points, mainly in terms of this basically being a science fiction, despite having the feeling of a classical text. As well, Poe made some interesting comments about this future world:

[Antioch] will have been, by that time, totally destroyed, at three different periods, by three successive earthquakes.

And:

I beg pardon; I had forgotten that Shakespeare will not flourish for seventeen hundred and fifty years to come.

And, because it’s Poe, you can always find a tasty morsel of words lying about:

What gloom their shadows cast upon the ground.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue

Illustration For Poe's 'The Murders In The Rue Morgue'

Audio Version: Librivox

Text Version: Mystery Net

Movie Versions: (1932 – Online) (1971 – Trailer)

murders1971murders1932

Word Count: 13,545

Summary: This story centers around the character Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin, a young man with an extraordinary aptitude for observation and deduction. While strolling with his friend (our narrator) one night, they happen to see the headlines for a grizzly murder of a mother and daughter in the Rue Morgue. The murder is greatly detailed, but is unsolved.

Eventually, Dupin convinces the narrator that they ought to check out the scene of the crime themselves (Dupin having connections). After a full day examining the premises, Dupin proclaims that he has solved most of the mystery. As it happens, he has, but the culprit is of the most unusual sort.

Review: While reading this story, I continued to get a distinct nostalgia for the stories of Sherlock Holmes. The narrative is very similarly built, with our unassuming and dazzled narrator responding in much the same way as Dr. Watson, and Dupin, with his remarkable intelligence and dismissive banter. In fact, the similarities were really too similar to ignore. As it turns out, The Murders in the Rue Morgue was published back in the 1840s, while Sherlock Holmes wasn’t serialized until the 1880s. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle actually admitted that Poe’s stories were a model “for all time”, so it was pretty cool to see that influence, before I’d even known about it. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes, but if you liked Murders in the Rue Morgue, and haven’t sampled Sherlock, I think you’ll enjoy it. (Granted, Sherlock is a bit more commercial [in that there is less gore].)

The story itself is very clever, and I enjoyed it. I was amused by certain oddities in the analysis of the crime, but I won’t point them out here for fear of spoilers. Instead, I leave you with some of my favorite quotes from the story:

[An analytical man] derives pleasure from even the most trivial occupations bringing his talent into play. He is fond of enigmas, of conundrums, of hieroglyphics; exhibiting in his solutions of each a degree of ‘acumen’ which appears to the ordinary apprehension preternatural.

And:

The best player in Christendom may be little more than the best player of chess; but proficiency in whist implies capacity for success in all the more important undertakings where mind struggles with mind. When I say proficiency, I mean that perfection in the game which includes a comprehension of all the sources whence legitimate advantage may be derived. These are not only manifold but multiform, and lie frequently among recesses of thought altogether inaccessible to the ordinary understanding. To observe attentively is to remember distinctly,; and so far, the concentrative chess-player will do very well at whist; while the rules of Hoyle (themselves based upon the mere mechanisms of the game) are sufficiently and generally comprehensible.

And:

It will be found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic.

Plus:

I do believe that she [truth] is invariably superficial. The depth lies in the valleys where we seek her, and not upon the mountaintops where she is found.

The Mystery of Marie Roget

421px-Mystery_of_Marie_Roget

Audio Version: Librivox

Text Version: Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore

Movie Versions: (1942 – Trailer)

Word Count: 19,819 words

Summary: This tale is a sequel to The Murders in the Rue Morgue, in that it follows the same two characters as they observe a second case. The story is based on the real murder of Mary Rogers, the “beautiful cigar girl”. In this story, the victim, Marie, is instead a lovely young woman who works at a perfumery. One day, she disappears from her home, and three days later, her body washes up on the shore. What follows are the accounts of several sensationalizing newspapers and ‘witless’ witnesses, and then Dupin’s summation, sans resolution.

Review: This story was not as good as The Murders in the Rue Morgue, in my opinion. Much of the information is needlessly repeated two or three times, and I was disappointed by the end, as it seems that the original words of Poe’s climax are lost–the original paper that printed this story edited out the end as it relates to Dupin and his lead.

The story is mostly dialogue as well, and while that is usually not a problem, I think in this case, the story suffers, as we are forced to listen to a rant by Dupin for most of the story about the incompetence of the media and the police force. In this respect, The Case Studies of Sherlock Holmes improved upon the genre but offering more more ‘show’ than ‘tell’, though it is still clear that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle borrowed heavily from Poe’s Dupin to fashion his own detective (not dismissing that he also drew on the real life influences of Joseph Bell and Henry Littlejohn).

There wasn’t much in the way of traditional, fancy Poe-prose, but here were a few quotes I found interesting:

…it is the object of our newspapers rather to create a sensation– to make a point– than to further the cause of truth. The latter end is only pursued when it seems coincident with the former. The print will which merely falls in with the ordinary opinion (however well-founded that opinion may be) earns itself no credit with the mob. The mass of the people regard as profound only him who suggests pungent contradictions of the general idea.

And:

The history of human knowledge has so uninterruptedly shown that to collateral, or incidental, or accidental events we are indebted for the most numerous and most valuable discoveries, that it has at length become necessary, in any prospective view of improvement, to make not only large, but the largest allowances for inventions that shall arise by chance, and quite out of the range of ordinary expectation. It is no longer philosophical to a base, upon what has been, a vision of what is to be. Accident is admitted as a portion of the substructure. We make a chance a matter of absolute calculation.

All in all? For this one, I think the lack of formal conclusion makes for the trudging though as a let-down, so pass, unless you are specifically interested in the process of how Dupin debunks the popular beliefs on the murder.

The Balloon-Hoax

Audio Version: Librivox

Text Version: Poe Stories

Word Count: 5,258

Summary: A hot air balloon bearing six passengers crosses the Atlantic Ocean in seventy-five hours. (Really, that’s it!)

Review: There is no conflict in this piece, no drama or mishap, but the reason it is probably extraordinary is that Poe submitted this story as truth to a local newspaper, which then printed it as truth. People were astounded and amazed, and it took a while for it to be discovered that it had all been a hoax. Similar in scandal to H. G. Well’s The War of the World ‘s radio drama making people believe aliens had landed, The Balloon-Hoax is amusing historically, but rather boring as a literary piece. As with most of the stories so far, Poe is fixated on the technology in his world-building, sometimes at the expense of the story itself.

There was only one quote that I found interesting in this one:

…so resolute is the world to despise anything which carries with it an air of simplicity.

Manuscript Found in a Bottle

446px-MS_Found_in_a_Bottle_Wogel

Audio Version: Librivox

Text Version: Poe Society of Baltimore

Movie Version: (Fan-made Short Film)

Word Count: 4,169

Summary: A stowaway on a ship full of elderly sailors writes of the strange and terrible events that lead to his demise as the boat he is on is sucked towards the South Pole–and then throws the manuscript into the ocean inside a bottle.

Review: There was a lot of beautiful imagery in this story, but I was largely confused through most of it. For instance, though the narrator makes attempts to be noticed by the crew, they are so oblivious to his presence that I spent most of the reading supposing he had actually died before boarding the ship.

The tale is viewed, by some, to be a satire on sea tales, but I’m not so sure. There is very of the humor that accompanies such things; rather, there is a dread, and it only exponentially grows as the story reaches it’s conclusion. Of course, for me personally, I think the first person narration fails in this kind of story, as the narrator is able to write his account up until the moment he is killed–and still have time to cork the bottle and toss it.

Here are some of the lines that caught my eye:

At times we gasped for breath at an elevation beyond the albatross–at times became dizzy with the velocity of our descent into some watery hell, where the air grew stagnant, and no sound disturbed the slumbers of the kraken.

And this description of the vessel:

Her hull was of a deep dingy black, unrelieved by any of the customary carvings of a ship. A single row of brass cannon protruded from her open ports, and dashed from their polished surfaces the fires of innumerable battle-lanterns, which swung to and fro about her rigging. But what mainly inspired us with horror and astonishment, was that she bore up under the press of a sail in the very teeth of that supernatural sea, and of that ungovernable hurricane.

The Oval Portrait

Poe_the_oval_portrait

Audio Version: Librivox

Text Version: Poe Stories

Movie Version: (Indie Short Film)

Word Count: 1,295

Summary: A young man of means who is using an estate for rest, sits in a dark room to read, and suddenly becomes aware of a startling oval portrait in his room. He then reads within his volume the history of the woman in the painting, who was the young bride of the painter. 

Review: Yay!! A horror story! Though this story was quite short, it is one of the best-written in the anthology so far, in my opinion. The story gets right to the point, with quick, clever prose that makes it hard to cherry-pick any one line as a favorite. This one is definitely on the “highly recommended” list.

And so ends this part of the “Tackling Poe” series. If you missed Part 1, go ahead and check it out here.

20 thoughts on “Tackling Poe: The Complete Works, Part 2

  1. Whew, you’ve tackled quite a bit of Poe’s writing here, Alex! I remember it was after seeing a movie based on “The Gold Bug” during class in sixth grade that I became obsessed with reading Poe’s works. I must admit I never read “Four Beasts in One,” so it was interesting to read your synopsis of that story. In your research of Poe, have you come across the assertion that he’s the father of the detective story? While I think “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is a brilliant piece, I never cared much for Poe’s other detective stories. I read a book called “The Beautiful Cigar Girl” by Daniel Stashower which I highly recommend. It delves into the case of Mary Rogers and also chronicles Poe’s life during that time. I also never made it through all of “The Balloon-Hoax,” though I imagine Poe felt quite clever at being such a trickster. 🙂 And I love the comic you shared! Great work, Alex, and I look forward to reading the next installment in this series!

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    1. Yes, Miranda! This post took half the day! Haha, and I still have 10-11 more parts to do… (I think trying to tackle more than seven in a post will be folly, lol.)

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. Four Beasts was a very strange story. It doesn’t even ‘sound’ like Poe, not really. I think it may have been an experimental piece, but I have no evidence to back that up.

      I have come across that assertion, several times, and I would agree. The Gold-Bug, and the Rue Morgue (especially) are the basis for so many later stories’ moods, characters, and settings. Though I would agree, so far, that his other detective stories fall flat.

      I’ll have to check out that book! Sounds interesting! (and I love good non-fiction).

      I’ll be working on the next installment today!

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    1. The comic is adorable. I really recommend subscribing to “Hark! A Vagrant”. It has awesome humor.

      “The Oval Portrait” has been one of my favorite so far, yes. I’m very excited to read more. I think Poe’s strength is in the short story, and not so much in the novella. But, we’ll see how my opinion evolves as I keep working through this omnibus!

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  2. I saw that adaptation of “The Gold Bug” when I was a kid. I remember thinking it was pretty awesome. However, I’m pretty sure that I haven’t actually ever read that one.

    You do know, right, that Doyle’s idea for Holmes came from reading Poe. No Poe, no Sherlock. What an idea.

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    1. You’re the second person to mention the movie of ‘The Gold-Bug”, so I’ll have to check it out. :o)

      I did know! Or at least, I found out while writing this post. It was just cool to see that similarity before I’d even researched it. These days, it could even be considered that Doyle’s Sherlock was a rip-off of Dupin, though Sherlock did evolve into his own character. (Did you know the first Sherlock Holmes story [“A Study in Scarlet”] was written in only three weeks?!)

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      1. I didn’t remember, specifically, that it was three weeks, but I remembered that it was a short write. Then again, RLS wrote Jekyll & Hyde over one night, burned it, and rewrote it over three days.

        (I did see the other mention of the Gold Bug movie thing.)

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