The first sixteen tales included in this collection are some of Poe’s lesser known works. Lesser known, in my (unqualified) opinion. I previously read six of the sixteen tales for my English literature class junior year of high school, and I distinctly remember writing a response paper on “Ligeia”. It was interesting rereading some of my notes and highlights on this six stories — my observations were severely superficial.
I’m afraid, however, that my observations and feelings about Poe’s tales today aren’t much higher in the hierarchy of superficiality than they were four years ago. I still noticed that Poe integrates mythology and the works of others into his tales, although this time I was more willing to read the footnotes scattered throughout the text. I fund it rather interesting how Poe would make up “quotes” and attribute them to others. His Latin source for the quote at the beginning of “Berenice” remains undiscovered (pg. 98). He attributes the quote at the beginning of “Ligeia” to Joseph Glanvill; it has never been found in any works by Glanvill (pg. 124). Taking creative licensing to an extreme, no?
I thought rather than devoting paragraph after paragraph to each tale I would provide a sentence or two of summary. I’m afraid I couldn’t help but spoil some of his tales so read no further if you want to avoid spoilers. I have also linked to the tale when possible.
- Metzengerstein: Set in Hungary, the last of the Metzengerstein family is a cruel man suspected of killing a member of the Berlifitzing family in a fire.
- Bon-Bon: Named after the main character, who encounters the devil.
- MS. Found in a Bottle: MS actually stands for manuscript, which the unnamed narrator at sea has written after a series of harrowing events.
- The Assignation: In Venice, the narrator imagines he sees a dead man.
- Shadow — A Parable: I never did understand what this tales was about…
- Silence — A Fable: Less of a tale and more of imaginative dream.
- Berenice: Egaeus is set to marry his cousin Berenice, whose health is rapidly declining due to an unknown disease that affects everything but her teeth.
- Morella: The title character dies in childbirth but returns in the body of her daughter.
- King Pest: The exploits of two very drunk soldiers.
- Ligeia: A man recounts his love for his beautiful wife, Ligeia.
- How to Write a Blackwood Article: In this mock essay, Poe stresses the need for elevating sensations in writing.
- A Predicament: This story is usually combined with the one above, and follows Signora Psyche Zenobia is slowly beheaded by a clock.
- The Fall of the House of Usher: The narrator receives a desperate letter from a childhood friend requesting that he visit Usher’s mansion.
- William Wilson: The narrator, who calls himself William Wilson, describes his rivalry with another person of the same name.
- The Murders in the Rue Morgue: There is no Rue Morgue in Paris, but this tale did invent the detective story with this tale.
- A Descent into the Maelström: Three fishermen at sea must avoid the Maelström ( a whirlpool) as they try to survive a hurricane.
Poe’s stories are often described as scary, morbid, and creepy, yet I really didn’t feel any of those adjectives while reading these sixteen tales. I don’t know if it’s because I had a hard time connecting with these tales and paying attention to them. But I also wonder if its because there is an over saturation of creepy, morbid, and scary in our culture. I mean, I watch more than five shows dealing with murder, death, cops, and crime a week. That’s a lot of scary and morbid in my life!
The next seventeen tales include some of Poe’s more well-known works (“The Tell-Tale Heart”, anyone?) so maybe I’ll have better luck with that collection of stories.
- Poe, Edgar Allan. Ed. Benjamin F. Fisher. The Essential Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2004. Print. 642 pgs. ISBN: 9781593080648. Source: Purchased.