Written by Edgar Allan Poe. RRP: £14.99 338pp. Published on 23rd August 2018 from Oxford University Press.
Nearly two hundred years since his first works were published it can be convincingly argued that there is no other horror writer to this day whose work and character itself not only holds such sway over the horror genre but pop culture itself. Whether it’s the seminal film adaptations of Roger Corman from the 1960’s that helped further instil Vincent Price as the preeminent cinematic boogeyman of that time period or more recently The Simpsons Halloween Horror Specials that introduced the likes of Poe’s The Raven to a young audience no other writer from that that time can be claimed to hold such an influence across the media landscape, whether it is films, books, television and video games. It will be interesting to see if this influence still holds in another century when the likes of writers such as H.P. Lovecraft’s works will be approaching its own two hundredth anniversary.
Poe was ground zero for popular gothic horror fiction and this collection of twenty- four of his short stories neatly illustrates this fact in a nicely presented and designed edition. Although none of his poetry is included here the selection of stories included within are well selected, especially for newcomers to his work. Presented chronologically in the order that they were published you can find the usual suspects such as Murders in the Rue Morgue, one of the first modern detective tales ever, as well as its two follow up stories featuring the detective Lupin, Ligeia, The Tell-Tale Heart and The Black Cat. Also included are lesser known tales such as The Man That Was Used Up, a satirical story of high society that still manages to include a gruesome sting as its punchline demonstrating Poe’s more humorous side and A Tale of the Ragged Mountains, an enigmatic story of past lives.
To newcomers Poe’s prose may seem at times a tad unwieldy. Readers may find their attention wondering as Poe details the various obsessions of nineteenth century madmen, murderers and unfortunates in prose that often does not seem to take a break for several pages at a time. However, the reader may also find themselves getting swept up in the often delirious and hallucinatory images and atmospheres that he could so easily conjure in his still nightmarish visions.
Most impressive is the fact that the stories still have the power to excite and disturb. The tale that his collection takes its title from is a gripping tale of torture and not much else. By now you probably know of the infernal device that causes such spectacular bisection but may not know that the story does not involve much more than the unfortunate victims attempt to escape his doom from the instrument. The likes of the Saw franchise would not exist if were not for this tale of psychological and physical torture. The unnamed narrator’s description of the ravenous rats impatient to feast upon him can still elicit a physical reaction in the reader; “They writhed upon my throat, their cold lips sought my own.” And to think that this was first published in a Christmas magazine!
Poe was an interesting figure in himself and this collection includes an academic introduction that examines his shall we say interesting life and how it influenced his works, placing into context the man’s various obsessions including death, beautiful women and sometimes both at the same time. Also included is a brief chronology of Poe’s life and works and explanatory notes. This is a fine introduction to not only the man himself but also the genre of Gothic fiction. Without Edgar Allan Poe who knows how the horror genre would have fared? The undead, slashers, vengeful spirits and otherworldly spirits who could entice us all. It is all in here. Check it out if you have not already.
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