Book review: ‘Edgar Allan Poe Short Stories’ by Flame Tree Publishing

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

Edger Allan Poe (1809–1849) was, among other things, a “writer of the gothic fantastic.” His short stories are collected in the book named above and in several others.

Since the stories are no longer copyrighted, they are readily available for free on the internet. In the spirit of Halloween, a couple of them are highlighted here.

“The Fall of the House of Usher,” published 1839

“The Fall of the House of Usher” is gothic fiction using vocabulary to create a bleak mood. To read it is an exercise in building vocabulary.

The narrator has been invited by a childhood friend, Roderick Usher, to visit him in his current sad state. He is apparently ill in body and mind. Our introduction to House of Usher and its environment is one of dread.

“I looked upon the scene before me — upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain — upon the bleak walls — upon the vacant eye-like windows — upon a few rank sedges — and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees — with an utter depression of soul …. ”

Our introduction to Roderick Usher is not much better.

“I gazed upon him with a feeling half of pity, half of awe. Surely, man had never before been so terribly altered, in so brief a period, as had Roderick Usher! It was with difficulty that I could bring myself to admit the identity of the man being before me with the companion of my early boyhood.”

At Usher’s urging, the narrator spends time in the Usher home. A constant state of gloom pervades the narrator, Roderick Usher, and the house itself. The Usher bloodline has been constrained for generations. Roderick Usher and his sister are the last of the line. The weight of that fact is part of Roderick’s problem. That is brought even more into focus as the sister’s long illness is seemingly worsening. When the sister dies, rather than be buried, she is placed in a vault below the house. Was she actually dead, or is she trying to escape her tomb?

What part has the morbid structure, the House of Usher, played in the demise of the family that was the House of Usher?

“The Tell-Tale Heart,” published 1843

It wasn’t that he disliked the old man; it was just that eye. The eye was always staring at him, that gruesome blue eye. If the man were dead, that would be the end of it.

So, night after night he stealthily peeked into the man’s bedroom at 12 o’clock. Even sleeping the eye seemed to stare. Finally, the time was right; the old man knew something was wrong; he was fearful; that is until he was smothered. He was carefully dismembered and stuffed below the floorboards. And just as the job was done, there was a loud knock on the door. The police: the neighbors had heard a scream. The narrator had a bad dream, he told them. But what of the Tell-Tale Heart?

♦ ♦ ♦

From PoeStories.com, your source for happy Halloween reading when pandemic makes impractical to do so many other things:

“Most people recognize Poe by his famous poem, ‘The Raven.’ Others may have read one of his more popular dark and creepy tales like, ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ or ‘The Tell-Tale Heart.’ Poe wrote quite a few gothic stories about murder, revenge, torture, the plague, being buried alive, and insanity.”

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