Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Tales of Edgar Allan Poe - A Review

Title: Tales of Edgar Allan Poe
Author: Edgar Allan Poe
Pages: 252
Date Finished: November 3, 2007
Rating: 3.5/5

I began this book in September with the hopes that I could read a few short stories every Sunday to have it completed by the end of October for the RIP challenge. Didn't happen. Here is my review of the first three stories (out of twelve) in the book ("The Cask of Amontillado," "The Black Cat," and "The Tell-Tale Heart"). Below are tid-bits of the stories--as before, there are spoilers.

"The Masque of the Red Death" - the story of a Prince who secludes himself in his castle to escape from the Red Death that is causing so many deaths within his nation. One night, though, Prince Prospero decides to hold ball in which the personified Red Death visits. This story, while required reading for many classes I've had, never really struck me as anything great. This time around did not change that opinion.
"The Pit and the Pendulum" - I can't remember if I've read this story before or not, but I really enjoyed it this time around! The narrator is held prisoner in a dark pit, and while trying to determine the size of the dungeon he passes out. When he wakes, he is bound and a large pendulum-blade swinging above him which is rapidly moving towards him. I found this story so riveting because I could feel the fear of the character as he was trying to determine his situation and then trying to free himself from the impending doom of the pendulum. For me, Poe at his best.

"The Premature Burial" - This is one of the many stories where Poe explores a character's fear of being buried alive--mainly because he suffers from catalepsy--a disorder that causes a the person to appear dead but is really in a trance. I think in the book there are four such stories...so this one wasn't really all that thrilling.

"The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" - Very creepy! The narrator is obsessed with the idea of mesmerizing people (hypnosis), and he decides that he is going to try his experiments on his friend who is dying of tuberculosis. His friend remains mesmerized for about seven months in which his condition stays the same. Finally the narrator brings his friend out of the trance and his body immediately rotted away into "a nearly liquid mass of loathsome--of detestable--putrescence" (110).

"Berenice" - Eagaeus is about to marry his cousin Berenice, but she begins to deteriorate from some disease (seriously??); Eagaeus begins to obsess and focus on Berenice's teeth, which are not deteriorating with the rest of her body. After Berenice dies, a servant informs Eagaeus that her grave has been disturbed but when they went to go investigate they found her enshrouded and still breathing. After the servant leaves, Eagaeus realizes that his clothes are muddy and covered with blood and there is a shovel by the wall. There is also a box on the table which contains dental instruments and 32 teeth. Some of this story did not make sense to me (was she still alive...did he kill her...why didn't the others intervene when they saw she was breathing), but its creepy nonetheless.

"The Fall of the House of Usher" - The narrator is staying with his friend and his twin sister (who suffers from catalepsy) who is ill and dies and is entombed before being buried. In order to console Usher, the narrator begins telling him a story. During certain parts of the story, the two begin hearing noises that reflect the events of the book. Essentially in a Poe story, if someone suffers from catalepsy and dies, he probably isn't dead. She finally appears to the two, she dies, Usher dies of fright, and the narrator flees the house. As he leaves, the house falls to ruin.

"The Gold-Bug" - This is the longest tale of the bunch and by the time I got finished reading it I had a "huh" moment. The story is about a man who is bit by a gold bug and begins frantically searching for a mysterious treasure. Once he finds the treasure, he explains to the narrator how he deciphered the clue that led him to the treasure. All of this in 50 pages. :) Huh.

"A Descent Into the Maelstrom" - I'm not sure if this and The Gold-Bug were written at different periods than the rest of the stories, but they didn't seem to fit with the other tales. I skimmed most of the story, which is about some people who are caught in basically a large whirlpool in the ocean and one of them escapes to tell the story. Not what I expect from Poe.

"William Wilson" - This is the story of William Wilson who attends a school where there is another boy with the same name and birthdate. The two become more and more similar until finally Wilson sneaks upon his "other" and realizes they have the same face. He leaves for another school and begins acting rebelliously. His double always appears at these moments, but under a disguise. Finally, Wilson pulls his double aside at a ball and stabs him; he has really stabbed himself and dies.

Overall the stories were OK. There are a few that I really liked, but some that I really didn't like. I'm glad I finished the book, though, even if I didn't finish in time for the challenge. Really want something creepy--Google images for Poe's stories!!


Nicola said...

What a great review! I really enjoyed reading your comments. I haven't read Poe since I was a young teenager but I was hooked on him at one point plus I watched all those Vincent Price Poe movies too.

Nymeth said...

I agree that with Poe some of the stories are really great, while others are just meh. I still really like him, though. "The Pit and the Pendulum" is one of my favourites too. Like you said, you can really feel the character's fear. Just the other day I discovered that there is a pub called that in town, and the decoration inside is all Poe-ish. It made me smile :)

Trish said...

*Nicola - There are some Poe stories that are really worth revisiting, such as the Pit & the Pendulum.

*Nymeth - I really like Poe as well, but I think that's what happens with an anthology, even a short one like I read. Awesome about the pub! I love finds like that. :)