For many Baby Boomers, the first brush with Poe comes from Roger Corman and a series of horror movies from the 1960s:
- The Pit and the Pendulum
- The Fall of the House of Usher
- The Masque of the Red Death
- Tales of Terror, to name but a few.
Those who watched wide-eyed with abject terror are not likely to forget the sinister Vincent Price and ghoulish Peter Lorre as they worked their wicked ways on vulnerable psyches. As is often the case with screen adaptations, the movies themselves, while immensely entertaining are yet diluted and simplistic in comparison to Poe’s original works.
Poe — The First American Mystery Writer
Edgar Allan Poe is often credited with the first American mysteries. His mystery stories include:
- The Gold-Bug – possibly the first mystery story solved with the use of cyphers.
- The Murders in the Rue Morgue – a grim little murder mystery, to be sure. And a precursor of the Murder Mystery genre.
- The Oblong Box – also contains elements of mystery, as did many of his short stories.
Even today the Mystery Writers of America annually award a variety of mystery authors the prestigious “Edgar” in honor of Poe. Wonder what ol’ Edgar would have thought about all that notoriety.
Was it Horror or Unrequited Love?
I speculate that Poe, like many of us, was his own worst enemy. Plagued by his own dark imaginings, Poe often wrote out of desperation in a compulsive attempt to exorcise his demons. A romantic at heart, he wandered through life ever searching for a true and idyllic love. A love he never found. His losses fueled his addictions to an idyllic concept of romantic love, alcohol, Laudanum and various other dissipations.
Consider that he lost his mother at a young and tender age, relegated to an upbringing without his natural parents. He later suffered by the bedside of a young wife with tuberculosis to which she eventually succumbed, leaving him devastated, lost and alone. Overcome with loss, he further deteriorated into a man obsessed—his overactive imagination turning into the very scalpel he wielded to flay himself to the bone. He lived the horror about which he wrote.
Poe’s Last Mystery
Yet perhaps Poe’s greatest mystery was his death. No one claims to know with any great degree of certainty Poe’s actual cause of death.
I can best sum it up this way, with an excerpt from one of my own short works of speculative fiction—an accidental time traveler finds himself at the bitter end of an earlier life:
“Bone-chilling gusts tug at my upturned collar, swirling mist off the age-worn monument. The headstone’s granite raven seems to mock the open grave. A worker’s shovel thunks, solidly. He calls out through the grey drizzle for the coroner. Clutching a body bag, the coroner climbs haltingly into the earthen hole to gather the remains of a pathetic life.
Poe’s death was officially reported as congestive heart failure by the press. His doctor later went on tour, embellishing Poe’s death throes as the result of a drunken stupor. Today it’s still widely held that Poe’s drinking killed him. Yet here I am, the court order in my vest pocket, destined to prove the actual cause of death included narcotics. No one believed me then, nor do they now. Poe died from a lethal combination of opium and alcohol. But I know . . .”
While there’s more, you get the idea—it’s a mystery.
Trick or Treat—your comments, or risk the consequences.
Excerpts from my murder mystery novels can be found at https://michaelallanscott.com/
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Great article, Michael. Poe is always fascinating!