I finished reading Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales & Poems about a week ago, but I wanted to give myself some time to digest everything, watch The Raven, and to formulate my final thoughts, which is, of course, why I’m posting this.
This is also my 90th post on this blog, and I’m getting pretty excited about the coming 100th––I may actually break 1,000 blog followers the same day I post my 100th post, which makes it doubly special. I’ll have to figure out what to post that day.
In any case. Poe.
To start off, I think that––overall––this collection was fairly good. I did have some issues with it, as I’ve talked about before in some of the earlier parts of this massive review series. I really didn’t like that each story was just a sub-chapter of a larger heading, and formatted in a way that you couldn’t keep track of how much time was left in each segment (I often use this when I’m trying to justify staying up late or reading more during a break), and there were a few incorrectly classed pieces under the Essays section.
The compiler of the work did do a very good job formatting the poetry and fiction prose. They used true type, so even on the Kindle, it made for very lovely reading. Little embellishments, like unique titles, made the anthology look more polished.
I would have liked to have seen more context notes, because some of the stories and poems made a great deal more sense with the context I was able to glean from the internet (after only moderate searching). Since all of Edgar Allan Poe’s works are public domain, and free, I expect more of an anthology, in this regard. In many cases, the poetry or fiction notes that Edgar Allan Poe wrote to his editors at the time were not included with the stories, to the detriment of quite a few of them.
However, I know that to compile and format an anthology of this size and breadth is near impossible to do without some technical errors, and as most of my complaints were merely stylistic and subjective, I can recommend this anthology to most readers. Nothing will compare, I think, to seeing Poe’s works on paper (and being able to find quotes at a glance), but this is a close second. Much respect to Maplewood Books.
SOME FUN FACTS:
Final Word Count: 407,919 (not including poems)
Short Stories/Novellas: 51
Now that I’m finally at the end of the collection, I would like to offer a list of recommendations. I’ll choose ten of his “classics”, ten “unknowns”, and fifteen poems which I do not think are well-known (of course everyone knows to read “The Raven”, “Annabel Lee”, “Lenore”, and so on). All of these are entirely subjective, but I think if you read nothing else but some of the thirty five I suggest here, you’ll have fairly good luck in reading something you’ll enjoy. They are in no particular order.
- The Fall of the House of Usher
- The Black Cat
- A Descent into Maelström
- The Gold-Bug
- The Oval Portrait
- The Cask of Amontillado
- The Pit and the Pendulum
- The Tell-Tale Heart
- The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar
- Loss of Breath
- William Wilson
- The Premature Burial
- King Pest
- The Spectacles
- The Business Man
- The System of Doctor Tarr & Professor Fether
- The Colloquy of Monos and Una
- The Power of Words
- The City in the Sea
- For Annie
- The Bells
- The Conqueror Worm
- The Haunted Palace
- In Youth I Have Known One
- The Valley of Unrest
- Sonnet – To Science
- The Forest Reverie
- The Village Street
As part of my celebration for finishing this anthology, I watched the 2012 movie The Raven, starring John Cusack. Cusack is one of my favorite actors, and after reading all of Poe, I was excited to see how the movie lived up to the man himself, even though I know it was about as fictionally accurate as Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
This movie gave me nightmares. Vivid ones. I dreamed I was in a windowless, doorless room with a table and a glass of liquid cyanide on it. Don’t ask me. I think I spent several hours panicking over how I was going to have to drink it, in order to “escape”… in any case, yeah.
The movie itself, though, had more low points than high points. As much as I love Cusack, I felt he didn’t portray Poe as effectively as he needed to. As well, the movie relies on a LOT of insider information, or at least can not be fully enjoyed without having read several of his stories (even the shoe-horned exposition dialog isn’t enough at times).
One of the people who is murdered in the film is Rufus Wilmot Griswold, who was responsible for doctoring, and distributing the myths that Poe was a drunk and a drug addict after Poe’s death. I talk more about it in Part I of Tackling Poe, which you’re free to read there. The directors saved the most horrific death for Griswold as a form of revenge for the real Poe.
Overall? A standard three-star experience. Some neat parts, some forced on-screen chemistry, a detective who may as well be Deus ex Machina in the flesh, and bloody gore.
There is much that can be said about Poe as a literary and poetic genius. He was the father of two genres (detective fiction, and modern science fiction). His poetic works are, arguably, what keeps poetry alive in modern American culture (almost any student can quote a line or two of “The Raven”… the same can not be said for many other poets). He was relentless and unapologetic as a writer, seemingly unafraid of hurting his reputation by challenging his contemporaries.
Though he did not write many words, overall, in his life–a little over 400,000, or four modern novels––Poe remains a great monolith in the literary world. His stories are some of the most easily recognized from the period, and time hasn’t hurt the majority of them. It is encouraging, and a strong reminder in this age of mass media consumption, that quality really will always trump quantity. That we, as writers, need not rush through our stories or poetry for the sake of another nick in the staff of accomplishments.
Finally, I think Poe––both the melancholy of his life, and the tone of his works (all of them, not just the Gothic ones)––will always be important in terms of his footprint on the imagery and expression of emotional and thought in literature, poetry, and art. Poe has inspired countless illustrators, musicians, actors, authors, poets, and thespians. Without Poe, we would not have Sherlock, most notably, or the harrowing meter of “The Raven”. We would not have any of the hundreds of illustrators a great many artists have been inspired to draw from his work. (Feel free to check out and follow my ongoing Pinterest board for Poe below.)
We wouldn’t have that single word name that could encapsulate Victorian sensibility and pop culture: Lenore.
Would we still have a Vincent Price, and by extension, Tim Burton, if Poe had not existed to write the stories that people have loved and obsessed over for generations since? It’s hard to say.
What isn’t hard to recognize is that he is a staple, a pillar, a mighty enigmatic genius in the world of thought and art. And the world would be a lot darker, to me, without his stories there to illuminate the deepest recesses of the human consciousness and condition.
The whole Tackling Poe blog series can be accessed here, or by hovering over the “BOOK REVIEWS” bar at the top of the page.
8 thoughts on “Tackling Poe: Final Thoughts”
Just as an aside, Mary Doria Russell’s next project is a historical fiction about Poe. Her stuff tends to be very historically accurate (see Doc), so I’m really looking forward to seeing what she does with Poe.
(Despite Cusack, I was also underwhelmed with The Raven.)
I remember reading your post about Doc and it looked pretty interesting. I usually don’t like fictionalized history (with the exception of a rare few that word the truth as genius narrative), but I’ll have to keep an eye out for it. Thanks!
Apparently, they were going to have Joaquin Phoenix as the detective at first. Sounds like they just had a lousy casting director.
What an excellent post to end the series, Alex. I’ve greatly enjoyed it and have vowed to make time to revisit Poe’s works again soon.
Thanks for sticking through the whole thing with me, Miranda! It’s been fun to read your comments and learn stuff from you that I didn’t know otherwise. 😀 I need to figure out who to “tackle” next, now…
This was an amazing undertaking, and I love the way you sum it up, and especially put Poe in a cultural as well as literary context. He has been a huge influence. The fact he was the founder of two great and popular genres, alone, is amazing. Thanks you sharing this (Have you thought of putting all your posts into an e-book? I think it would be a great resource for writers and readers.)
Thanks so much Deborah! I have thought about creating an ebook. I think I might actually make a paperback for fun (to learn some novel formatting software). There is no shortage of anthologies for Poe, but it’s rare to find books that include contexts and illustrations, and that’s something I have on the back burner right now. Of course, if I publish something like that, it’s going to require a lot more digging!
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