Tales of Mystery and Terror by Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston in 1809. He was orphaned at the age of two when Pa Poe did a runner and Ma Poe died from tuberculosis. He was raised by John Allan, a wealthy merchant with whom Edgar had a factious relationship. Poe’s grandfather, David Poe Senior, emigrated from County Cavan, Ireland around 1750 and appears to have failed in instilling parental responsibilities in his son, Edgar’s father. The Poes of Cavan are known to be a shitty lot.
Although highly intelligent and talented, Edgar Allan Poe gave every indication of a man in turmoil. He married his 14 year-old cousin, Virginia, in 1837, but was unable to provide for her. His books of poetry were not profitable and so husband and young wife lead a tough and frugal existence for many years.
Virginian was unable to cope with her poverty-stricken circumstances and died in 1847 from tuberculosis. Poe quickly moved to court a number of wealthy widows but his heavy drinking and declining mental health could not be ignored. Among his last words were, ‘I wish to God someone would blow my damned brains out’.
The tortured life of Edgar Allan Poe came to an end in 1849 from causes unknown, but were believed to have been related to his abuse of alcohol. His pain in living is reflected in many of the stories he penned, noted for their gloomy and macabre qualities. In this collection, Tales of Mystery and Terror, there are 13 – hope you’re not superstitious – short stories. In them, we get a glimpse into the dark recesses within the addled mind of a renowned writer.
Some of Poe’s work is obviously better known than others. Stories such as The Fall of the House of Usher, The Masque of the Red Death, The Tell-tale Heart and The Pit and the Pendulum have been lauded and adapted for the silver screen. Rebel Voice is at a loss to understand why. There seems to be a tendency among certain US authors of today to reference the works of bygone authors such as H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe. Having read both, Rebel Voice is of the humble opinion that whilst neither is entirely crap, neither are they worth the bother of reading. Lovecraft is a favourite of Stephen King and may be dealt with in a future review. But in this collection of Poe’s work, we have the perfect example of an over-rated author.
Of course, perhaps Poe’s reputation is built upon his poetry, or play (Politician), not included for review here, and The Raven is certainly a classic piece of verse, made better by the stalwart performance given by Homer Simpson. But this, again, serves to demonstrate how central Poe has become to what is regarded as ‘classic’ US literature. Twain’s position in circles of literary appreciation is understandable, as is Steinbeck’s and Hemingway’s. But Poe’s is not, at least not in his story-writing.
Many of you will be familiar with the title of the story, The Fall of the House of Usher, without being acquainted with the contents. Allow Rebel Voice to save you some time. It’s crap. It is a total let-down. If you are expecting an enthralling piece of literature then you will be disappointed. Is Usher’s twin sister, Madeline, a ghost, a zombie, the result of heavy drinking and opium combined? For such a renowned story, it is a complete crock of shit.
The Masque of Red Death fares little better. It was adapted as a movie starring Vincent Price, but as a written story it’s lame. The Pit and the Pendulum has little going for it either. Although there is no doubting Poe’s skill with a pen, in that he presents his tales well if somewhat full of bombast, it is his plots that lack any great substance.
The Black Cat is a reasonably good short story, one of the best in this particular book. Hop-Frog is another and is perhaps the best. The rest, whilst curious in parts, fall well below what could be expected of someone who excites such interest among writers and directors from the US. The Sphinx, for example, is little more than a funny happenstance poorly told. MS Found in a Bottle is laughable and makes no sense. It could have been penned by a Haight-Ashbury hippy on a really bad acid trip.
The Oval Portrait is bland. Some Words with a Mummy is from an opium dream. William Wilson is an exercise in confusion with an ending that falls so flat as to belong in IKEA. The Oblong Box is, again, bland. And A Descent into the Maelstrom has a plot-line that is so stretched as to resemble the face of an eighty year-old Hollywood actor. That said, A Descent into the Maelstrom is at least interesting.
Some of Poe’s tales try for a punchline at the end which simply have no impact. Rebel Voice can imagine parlours full of people in Poe’s time reading such stores with delight, as their expectations must surely have been less than ours. So perhaps, with Poe, context is everything. If that is the case, then I strongly advise fans of Poe to read In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu. In Le Fanu’s collection of horror stories you will discover a writer who understands how to really use the short story form to great effect. There can be no real comparison between the two as Le Fanu’s skills are immensely superior to those of Poe in this particular medium. Their careers did have an overlap with Le Fanu being the younger of the two by 5 years (1814-1873).
Tales of Mystery and Terror is a misnomer. It should have been called Tales of Madness and Torture, as the contents are most interesting for the insight they give the reader into the mind of Edgar Allan Poe. He was obviously depressed and in very poor mental health and these stories open a window on that. Rebel Voice has no wish to disrespect someone who had a tough childhood which shaped the disturbed man that he was to become. However, there is also no point in pretending that he was a great short story writer.
If psychology is your bag, then perhaps you will enjoy this brief collection. If not, then don’t waste your time. Wait for the movies as they must surely be better than the book. Kinda like the Bible…
Sult scale rating: 4.5 out of 10. Some interesting stories but mostly a bore. The penmanship is quality but the plots are fairly weak. Misplaced patriotism may explain why Poe’s stores are celebrated. But remember, he married a child, his cousin, and she died because he failed her. He does not appear to have been a nice person. Perhaps he should get less attention than he does. He will get little more from Rebel Voice.
-Edgar Allan Poe –