Edgar Allen Poe: The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, The Cask of Amontillado

I don’t like Poe.

I freely admit that might be because I was forced to read him in high school. Does anyone like the writers they’re forced to read in high school? The only writer I recall liking was Kate Chopin. I guess I liked Mark Twain, also. I was too busy reading Stephen King to give a shit about literature.

I’ve always found Poe to be a very wordy writer. His philosophy seems to be, why use one word when you can use twenty? I do like his poetry, though. When I think of Poe’s stories, usually movie remakes come to mind – Vincent Price in The Masque of the Red Death, Bela Lugosi in The Murders in the Rue Morgue and Dario Argento’s kick-ass version of The Black Cat in the movie Two Evil Eyes.

I guess if I had to choose a favorite Poe story, it would be The Fall of The House of Usher, although The Masque of the Red Death is good also. Hey, want to try something fun? Read the end of The Fall of the House of Usher, and then read the end of Moby Dick. Think Melville read Poe? Props to my college professor thirty years ago for pointing that one out.

My other Poe problem has to do with the fact that I’ve read a billion Poe clones in the slush pile. These stories are invariably visceral with minimal character development, because the writer is too busy plastering the hair on the wall with a trowel to care about nuances like characterization. That’s not Poe’s fault, and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but –

What about these stories? My favorite is The Black Cat.  I don’t think the narrator of The Black Cat is a psycho, btw. He’s a violent drunk who kills his wife and then tries to cover it up, just like a lot of assholes nowadays. There’s a giallo called The Psychic that’s basically a remake of The Black Cat. Holy crap, I just looked on the Internet Movie Database and Lucio Fulci directed The Psychic! I didn’t know that.

The Cask of Amontillado has been imitated countless times.  I’ve read a thousand revenge stories like this in the slush pile.  Usually they’re a lot more graphic. The technical term for the narrator in this story is prickly asshole. There’s not much nuance here. Lots of Poe’s stories are claustrophobic.

I vividly recall reading The Tell-Tale Heart in my high school English class. I don’t recall wondering what type of psychosis the narrator suffered from; I recall wondering when the bell would ring so I could get the hell out of class and go to lunch. Sorry, I’m just being honest.

What do I think when I read Poe now? I find reading him to be a chore, which is a real shame. Poe was way ahead of his time. The thing that struck me most upon reread is how he writes violence. Poe’s violence isn’t always realistic – I’ve never heard of an orangutan wielding a straight razor – but it’s blunt and unadorned. Poe doesn’t sexualize violence and murder. His world is naturalistic, totally without pity and mercy. The world eats your mother and then it eats you.

Brutal!

2 Replies to “Edgar Allen Poe: The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, The Cask of Amontillado”

  1. You have a really interesting point with how Poe depicts violence and murder. So often, these things are sexualized, but Poe does something else. Naturalistic is a great way to explain it.

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