Tackling Poe: The Complete Works, Part 4

Things are getting exciting in this fourth installment of Tackling Poe: The Complete Works. Edgar Allan Poe is best known for his Gothic horror, even if it wasn’t perhaps his favorite genre to write. I’m particularly looking forward to writing this post, as The Pit and Pendulum was the very first Poe story I read, after watching the chilling and (still) terrifying Vincent Price film when I was a small girl. For years afterward, my siblings and I would whisper “Nic~ho~las~” when we were trying to creep each other out, so this story holds an important and nostalgic place in my heart. And of course, The Cask of Amontillado is a must-read for any student of short-form literature.

This time, we’ll be taking a look at a lot more of Poe’s best-known stories:

And more Poe humor, because I’ve been finding enough of them to give you one for every post:



The Masque of the Red Death

Audio Version: Archive.org

Text Version: Virginia University

Movie Version: (1964)

masque_of_red_death_poster_03Word Count: 2,400 words

Summary: A terrible red plague is spreading through the country and Prince Prospero decides to create a safe house out of his gaudy estate. He invites courtiers to a never-ending masquerade, and for a great length of time, the party goes splendidly. However, one night, the ghoul of disease appears among them….

Review: I enjoyed the scenery of this one, but it was over far too quickly! It’s a very compact, tight tale, which makes the read go by even faster, however, I can see why it is another one of Poe’s more famous stories. 

Here are a few lines I enjoyed:

Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there are matters of which no jest can be made.


The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat.

The Cask of Amontillado

Audio Version: Archive.org

Text Version: Virginia University

Movie Version: (Indie – trailer)

Word Count: 2,268 words

Summary: Fortunato is not so fortunate a man. Having grieved a friend one too many times, Fortunato is lured into the catacombs of his friend’s estate in search of a cask of the rare wine, Amontillado, but is instead buried alive.

Review: Ah, one of my favorite Poe stories of all time. The story is just strong, from start to finish, and the prose is so tight and refined that I use it as one of my ‘models’ for better writing. This is a story that should not be missed. I particularly loved Fortunado’s reactions upon discovering he has been duped. Read it, read it!

Some of my favorite lines, including the first line:

The thousand injuries of Fortunado I had borne as best I could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.


A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.

The Imp of the Perverse

Audio Version: Lit2Go / Vincent Price Reading (Youtube)

Text Version: Virginia University

Word Count: 2,414 words

Summary: A philosophical ramble about the nature of the soul reveals itself as the final words of a man doomed to be hung in the morning. 

Review: Until you get to the end of this story, you’re not really even aware that you are reading one. This is one of those stories that seems to speak directly to you, as if having a heavily-involved debate over the fabric of the human soul and why we, as people, procrastinate, bend the rules, or take part in what we know is perverse. The ending wrapped it all together nicely, but in terms of fiction, I’m still on the fence as to whether I enjoyed it or not. That being said, it does have a lot to say, and it’s worth a look. (Though I was amused that one of the perversities that Poe mentioned was being too verbose when fewer words would have done better…)

A few lines:

If we can not comprehend God in his visible works, how then in his inconceivable thoughts, that call the works into being? If we can not understand him in his objective creatures, how then in his substantive moods and phases of creation?

And, the heart of the psychological theory:

We stand upon the brink of a precipice. We peer into the abyss—we grow sick and dizzy. Our first impulse is to shrink away from the danger. Unaccountably we remain… it is but a thought, although a fearful one, and one which chills the very marrow of our bones with the fierceness of the delight of its horror. It is merely the idea of what would be our sensations during the sweeping precipitancy of a fall from such a height… for this very cause do we now the most vividly desire it.


There lives no man who at some period has not been tormented, for example, by an earnest desire to tantalize a listener by circumlocution. The speaker is aware that he displeases; he has every intention to please, he is usually curt, precise, clear, and the most laconic and luminous language is struggling for utterance on his tongue, it is only with difficulty that he restrains himself from giving it flow; he dreads and deprecates the anger out of him whom he addresses; yet, the thought strikes him, that by certain involutions and parentheses this anger may be engendered.

And, especially:

There is no passion in nature so demoniacally impatient, as that of him who, shuddering upon the edge of the precipice, thus meditates a Plunge.

The Island of the Fay

Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version: Virginia University

Word Count: 2,016 words

Summary: A man, taking respite in an enchanted forest, comes across an imp who withers at every pass she makes beneath the shadows of the trees.

Review: An admittedly odd little tale, The Island of the Fay is more a vignette than a story, working towards an allegory about the passage of a lifetime, and how people drift through their summers and winters until they are only ‘a shadow of what they once were’. It’s a quick read, but quite similar to a lot of Poe’s other ‘talking out loud’ philosophical pieces, for better or worse. 

The narrator, on walking in the woods:

I love, indeed, to regard the dark valleys, and the grey rocks, and the waters that silently smile, and the forests that sigh in uneasy slumbers, and the proud watchful mountains that look down upon all,–I love to regard these as themselves but the colossal members of one vast animate and sentient whole–a whole whose form (that of a sphere) is the most perfect and inclusive of all…

And a little bitty of crafty wordsmithing:

…butterflies, that might have been mistaken for tulips with wings.


I fancied that each shadow, as the sun descended lower and lower, separated itself sullenly from the trunk that gave it birth, and thus became absorbed by the stream…

The Assignation

Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version: Virginia University

Word Count: 4,855 words

Summary: This is a really hard story to follow. It takes place in Italy, but is considered an arabesque tale. The narrator has little to no part to play in the actual story, but basically witnesses all of the events through chance and coincidence. The story opens in Venice’s canals, where there is shock and uproar over a noble woman who has dropped her baby into the canal. After some efforts, another man retrieves the child- who is taken from its mother’s arms- and then the woman and the man vow to meet at sunrise.

The narrator offers the man a lift down the canal to his apartments, and they agree to meet in the early morning the next day. (Whether the man went to meet the lady at sunrise is never stated.) While the narrator is visiting the man’s apartments, a messenger comes, crying that the woman has been poisoned and is dead. When the narrator turns to the man, he finds him also dead. Interpretations on how and why both of these people died range from they were deliberately poisoned, to the man dying from shock that the woman was killed. I’d add in my own reading that it was a double suicide– since they were to meet in the morning, and Poe doesn’t actually mention the meeting, I have to wonder if it was an agreed upon time to end their own lives.

Review: There is a lot going on in this story. A great deal of it is taken up when the narrator goes to the man’s apartments. The man gives the narrator a tour of his gaudy riches, going into great detail for each piece, which are master copies of ancient and famous works. These details add to the themes of ‘money can’t buy happiness’ and the like, but they distract a great deal from the actual meat of the plot, to the point that its mostly lost beneath everything else Poe is trying to convey. I think if this story had gotten a longer treatment, it might have been better. It does have a strong ending, even though that ending is confusing. Unfortunately, Kindle decided to delete all of my highlights, so I have no quotes to share with you all.

The Pit and the Pendulum

Audio Version: Archive.org

Text Version: Virginia University

Movie Version: (1961 – Vincent Price) (Animated Short Film)

THE-PIT-AND-THE-PENDULUM-landscapeWord Count: 6,027 words

Summary: A prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition describes how he is tortured. The story begins and end in the torture chamber, featuring the terrifying pendulum, a pit, rats, and a shifting floor.

Review: My first exposure to this story was Vincent Price’s film from 1961. Surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly), there is nothing that connects the film to this story, except the presence of the pendulum. I find the story to be more terrifying for different reasons. The story, for one, has no back story; we are always contained within the torture chamber, and there is only one character. The rats added a level of uncomfortable reading, as well. The prose is really good in this one. Poe touches all of the senses in a very visceral, creepy way.

Rats! Rats everywhere.
Rats! Rats everywhere.

Alas, I lost all of my highlights for this story as well. However, I went digging up my favorite series of repetitions from the story. From a series of three paragraphs, the first lines:

Down–steadily down it crept.


Down–certainly, relentlessly down!


Down–still unceasingly–still inevitably down!

And then, because I had to find this line regarding the rats in the pit overwhelming him:

They pressed–they swarmed upon me in ever accumulating heaps. They writhed upon my throat; their cold lips sought my own; I was half stifled by their thronging pleasure; disgust, for which the world has no name, swelled my bosom, and chilled, with a heavy clamminess, my heart.

The Premature Burial

PrematureBurial-ClarkeAudio Version: Classic Books

Text Version: Virginia University

Movie Version: (1962 – Full Movie)

Word Count: 5,349 words

Summary: This story begins with the summation of several cases of people being buried alive (which I can not, for the life of me, find sources on to find out whether they were true or not, so I guess it was another hoax), before the narrator then recounts his own personal experience. Suffering from an illness that makes him appear dead at times, the narrator is obsessed and terrified by the idea of being buried alive, to the point of having consistent dreams of it actually happening. The narrator then takes extreme measures to prevent, going so far as to install water and food receptacles in the vault where he will be buried in the future. In the end, he is actually buried alive–or is he?  

Review: I really liked this story. The beginning was so believable that I spent a great deal of time trying to research the back story on these accounts of being buried alive, but unfortunately, there were none to be found (that were credible). The story changes enough throughout its progression to remain engaging and entertaining, and there was enough creepiness to actually make me feel like I was reading a horror. Highly recommend this piece! (But again, alas, no highlights due to Kindle glitch.)

The Domain of Arnheim

Audio Version: Lit2Go

Text Version: Virginia University

Word Count: 6,146 words

Summary: A narrator describes his fortunate friend Ellison, who makes it his life’s mission to build an estate of neither artificial nor natural beauty, in an attempt to find bliss. 

Review: This story is chiefly a vignette, focusing largely on the descriptions of first Ellison, and then his theology on how a man can truly be happy, and then, finally, the estate he built. The story is special in that it is an example of how the narrator goes from first person, to a sudden (almost jarring) traditional third-person omniscient point of view. I wouldn’t say it was particularly effective for the narrative, though. Secondly, there was a strange bit of magical realism in the tale, as despite the main portions of the story being clearly limited to the confines of reality, there is a magic boat in Ellison’s garden. 

I can’t say I overly enjoyed this one. I actually fell asleep in the middle of it… it’s one of Poe’s more verbose tales.

Landor’s Cottage

Audio Version: Youtube (2 parts)

Text Version: Virginia University

Word Count: 4,851 words

Summary: This story is a “pendant” to The Domain of Arnheim, so takes place in the same setting as the short story above. A man and his dog, while out hunting, come across the property of Ellison, and the man is stunned by its beauty. After traveling through the acreage leading up to the cottage, the man trespasses through the garden, and is invited in by Annie, Ellison (Landor)’s petite wife. He then describes the house.

Review: This was another vignette, written more fluidly than Arnheim, and continuing from the outer fields of Ellison’s estate to instead talk in great detail about the house’s interior. Pretty boring, honestly, even if the words are pretty (I assume this is the sort of Purple Prose people warn us against). Even Poe realized it wasn’t a real story:

And the second to last line:

It is not the purpose of this work to do more than give in detail, a picture of Mr. Landor’s residence–as I found it.

Well, okay then.

William Wilson

William Wilson & William Wilson
William Wilson & William Wilson

Audio Version: Librivox (Track 15)

Text Version: Virginia University

Movie Version: (Foreign Film)

Word Count: 7,970 words

Summary: A scoundrel of a man is plagued throughout his entire life by a doppelganger, who not only shares his name, but his physical appearance, and his very name.

Review: Poe really channeled his inner Shakespeare with this one. I enjoyed this story a lot, especially after the last two. There was a lot of suspense and conflict, and while it still had its dry portions, there is a lot to work with psychologically. I recommend it. And, because I do actually have a highlight from this one(!):

Oh, outcast of all outcasts most abandoned!–to the earth art thou forever dead? to its honors, to its flowers, to its golden aspirations?–and a cloud, dense, dismal, and limitless, does it not hang eternally between thy hopes and heaven?

And so ends part four of the Tackling Poe series. Next time, we open with “The Tell-Tale Heart”. There are a bunch of other stories I’ve never read before, so I’m looking forward to it. It’s possible I may be able to finish all of this by Halloween! (I hope.) What’s been your favorite story so far?

If you’d like to read any of the sections of Tackling Poe, feel free to check them out below:

14 thoughts on “Tackling Poe: The Complete Works, Part 4

  1. Great post! The Masque of the Red Death was the first Poe story I ever read, so I have a fondness for it. We read several of these stories during my school days, being favorites of my English/Lit. teachers. and I remember just loving how The Cask of Amontillado unfolded and ended.


  2. I really enjoyed this, Alex! (And don’t you think Poe looks quite snazzy with sunglasses? Maybe it’s because the original portrait of him sans the sunglasses portrays him looking so pitiful, because he’d overdosed on laudanum just before it was taken and was still feeling horrid.) You’ve reviewed several of Poe’s most famous tales here. I think The Masque of the Red Death is one of his best. And of course, the Cask of Amontillado is another superb tale with Poe’s characteristic unreliable narrator. (Did Fortunado really inflict such harm on the narrator, or are these slights the narrator never describes in detail merely imagined?) I still get chills thinking of the bells on poor Fortunado’s hat ringing at the end of the story. I probably made it through The Imp of the Perverse at one time, but the fact that I don’t remember any of it says a lot about that one. The Pit and the Pendulum is one of those stories that makes the reader actually squirm. (But why is it that none of the film adaptations follow the story?) I remember reading The Premature Burial when I was 11 and being quite disturbed by it. So your research didn’t yield any information about how common an occurrence this may have been in Poe’s time? I do recall reading that this happened more often than one would think, and that some people were so terrified of being buried alive, they would have little bells installed over their graves, with a string attached that was placed in the coffin, so if the unfortunate victim of premature burial awoke and found himself in such a horrible predicament, he could ring the bell and alert others that he was still alive. William Wilson is another classic Poe story with an unhinged unreliable narrator. As always, I’m looking forward to your next post! (And I must say that I’m eager to read your thoughts on Poe’s story Berenice. I think if I’d been Virginia, I would have had trouble sleeping in the same room as Poe after reading that one!)


  3. I read Masque to the girls at my daughter’s Halloween sleepover a couple of years ago. One of the girls slept -under- the bed afterward because of it.


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