Two-hundred seven years ago Edgar Allan Poe was born. He is one of the most important American writers, and he is also a personal favorite of mine. He introduced me to the Gothic before I even knew what the Gothic was. Over the years, I’ve pondered why I was so attracted to Poe’s work from a very young age. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s his mixture of fantasy and earthy reality that is so intoxicating.
Unlike Lovecraft whose stories are placed in very specific times and places – he provides the latitude and longitude in some of his tales – Poe’s stories have a dreamy quality. Where and when they take place is hazy. And yet, I can smell the graveyard earth when I read The Premature Burial and I can feel the damp chill of the vaults sink into my joints when I read The Cask of Amontillado.
The other aspect I appreciate in his work is how they can provide soul-chilling horror. The Raven is an excellent example of this. Have you ever lost someone who you love very deeply? Were you comforted by the thought that you might meet the person again in the next world? Now take that comfort away. The raven of the title assures the narrator he will never, ever meet his Lenore again. He will experience the pain of her loss forever. I used to teach The Raven to my high school students. Few, if any, were haunted by it. However, I find this one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever read – especially now that I’ve reached middle age.
Now, some critics have pointed out that the narrator must be quiet foolish or deeply disturbed to ask the black bird if he will ever see his Lenore again given that the Raven can only say ‘Nevermore.’ True, the narrator may be simply melancholic, and the bird only a bird – if there is bird there at all. But for me, this doesn’t make the poem haunt me less. Accepting this interpretation, I can only feel the deepest pity for a person so engulfed by the pain caused by the loss of his beloved. That for me is true horror.
So, I’m off to have a glass of amontillado and toast one of my favorite writers. But before I go I’ll leave you with Christopher Walken reading The Raven…