Monday, October 26, 2009

BookLook Review is Poe -tic

Book Look October 30th
“The Gold-Bug and Other Tales” by Poe
Edgar Allan Poe is required reading for Halloween. Poe is an American author born in 1809 who wrote macabre tales probably due in part to his own suffering and addictions. Considered the master of the American Gothic horror story, he created chilling nightmares and hallucinations that seemed to spring from a tortured imagination. Largely shunned (gee, I wonder why) by his contemporaries and abandoned by his friends and family, only 10 people attended his funeral – in October 1849. How dramatic of him to depart during the month celebrating all things ghoulish. A do-over funeral was held this month in Baltimore as the highlight of a yearlong festival marking the 200th anniversary of his birth and hundreds of “mourners” attended. Actors portrayed his fickle friends and family and a local special effects artist created a mock-up of Poe in his casket for the event. I wish I could’ve traveled to his funeral since it sounded really entertaining but I read him instead.

“The Gold-Bug and Other Tales” is an anthology containing nine of his best-known short stories, some of which have been made into movies. The first story, “The Gold-Bug” is set on an island off the coast of South Carolina, where an unusual bug leads three men on a treasure hunt. But I can’t say much more (except there are pirate codes and invisible ink. . .) or the surprises may slip out. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” influenced later writers including Conan Doyle who closely patterned Sherlock Holmes on Poe’s Monsieur Dupin, and Dr. Watson seems based on the narrator – did Doyle plagiarize?! “The Fall of the House of Usher” may sound familiar since this is one of the more famous movies made from an Edgar Allan Poe story. Melancholy insane twins trapped by agoraphobia wander until death in the House, dun . . . dun …dun . . . of Usher. There are more of course but the last one, “The Cask of Amontillado”, was one that haunted my dreams when I was a young girl. I don’t remember how I ever got a hold of this twisted tale. I was always sneaking books off my parent’s book shelf to read before I understood that they were above my grade level. I am still not sure what Amontillado is, but I do know that when you are drunk you never, never, never follow a rival Italian into his wine cellar/catacomb/crypt under his villa. Especially after you ask him to exchange Masonic signs and he laughs and holds up a trowel!

My only complaint is that I could not figure out what some of the words meant even reading the stories as an adult. They for sure were not on spell check. Footnotes might have been helpful to explain what nitre is, or how a roguelaire looks. Even without fully understanding some of these out of date words, I definitely understood the malice and mystery involved. So if you missed the Poe funeral party, celebrate Halloween reading a dose – not poisonous, of the truly chilling Edgar Allan Poe stories.

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