The Essential Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (Part Three | Never Bet the Devil Your Head to Hop-Frog)

32552Fiction — print. Edited by Benjamin F. Fisher. Barnes & Noble Classics, 2004. 642 pgs. Purchased.

The final set of tales included in this collection before the multi-chaptered The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym includes some of Poe’s more well-known tales — “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, and “The Premature Burial”. Yet even still I find that I am still not enamored with Poe.

There were some tales I enjoyed more than others, but I find myself completely underwhelmed by this collection of tales. Once again, 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.

  • Never Bet the Devil Your Head: The narrator and his friend Toby Dammit happen upon an old covered bridge in the country and meet a strange, little man.
  • Eleonora: The introduction to this collection says this love story parallels Poe’s life and his love for his wife, Virginia, in many ways.
  • The Masque of the Red Death: This tale reminded of the Stephen King novel I’m currently reading. A plague known as the “Red Death” has killed off half of the population. Fearful of death, a thousand people seal themselves off from the rest of the world.
  • The Pit and the Pendulum: A man attempts to survive in a torture chamber during the Spanish Inquisition.
  • The Tell-Tale Heart: The narrator has developed the “perfect murder” and he gets away with it. That is, until he starts hearing things.
  • The Gold-Bug: Two friends and a servant go on a hunt for the fabled buried treasure of Captain Kidd.
  • The Black Cat: A man kills his cat while drunk and, like most of Poe’s tales, the act comes back to haunt him.
  • The Oblong Box: The narrator’s friend brings an oblong pine box on board but no one knows what’s inside the box. Only that the man opens the box every night and cries over its contents.
  • A Tale of the Ragged Mountains: The only one of Poe’s stories based in Virginia, and exploration of the scientific theories of Poe’s day.
  • The Premature Burial: The title of this one gives the story away — a person is buried alive.
  • The Purloined Letter: A document of national importance has been stolen and the police can’t find it or prove who stole it. Another detective story.
  • The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether: The narrator decides to stop at a private mental institution in the French countryside to see the new technique being used to care for patients.
  • “Thou Art the Man”:
  • The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar: A dying man asks his friend — the narrator of the story — to hypnotize him just before death.
  • The Sphinx: The narrator sees a monster but soon discovers that his mind has played tricks on him.
  • The Cask of Amontillado: The narrator of this story has vowed revenge upon a man named Fortunato. He takes advantage of Fortunato’s ego and lures him down into an underground vault to taste a rare wine, a cask of Amontillado.
  • Hop-Frog: A crippled little person seeks revenge on those who mistreat him and belittle him.

I’ve tried to rack my brains for reasons why this may be the case. Admittedly, I am not a fan of the dark and creepy, although I do like a good cop-drama on TV. But I really like psychological studies, and Poe’s tales are chalked full of mentally ill narrators. It could be because nothing is woven; everything is told. The narrators are so matter of fact and precise in their narratives, making it difficult for me to connect with the tales. Or, maybe it’s because Poe has been talked up so much that my expectations were unobtainable.

I have one more story to go before finishing this collection. If I wasn’t so stubborn about finishing books, I might have been tempted to abandon the book with the end of this section. I just can’t give up now.

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