“Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence…” -Edgar Allan Poe
Speaking of Gothic Fiction, Edgar Allan Poe is apt to stand synonymous with spine-chilling macabre literature. A master craftsman of prose and poetry equally, Poe dwells in that dark corner of our literary consciousness. From a prisoner strapped under descending pendulum blade to a raven who denies to leave the narrator’s chamber, Poe’s macabre and ingenious stories of Gothic horror have left an eternal mark on Literature. Whether you are fascinated by bizarre and spooky things, or you are fond of haunted stories and if you’re into detective and Gothic fiction, Poe is your person.
Poe’s short stories were short enough to be read in one sitting and every word in the story contributed to it’s purpose and this effect goes far beyond fear. They had bloodshed and horror to discover the paradoxes and ambiguities of love, misery, and remorse while defying effortless interpretation or obvious moral message. Though they frequently mention bizarre and supernatural elements, the true darkness they explore is the human mind and its tendency for self-destruction. The plots of his stories were murder, vengeance, torture, the plague, being buried alive, and madness! And they were so spooky that in his time, during the 19th-century people were not prepared to read his work- they found it too terrifying.
Poe’s eerie side
The actual eerie fact about Poe’s work are that most of them were inspired by true events. His initial occupation was as a magazine editor and from there he kept up with the latest scandals and sensational murder trials and included them into his fiction. If you haven’t yet read any of his works then oh! what a treat you have ahead of you. The following are Poe’s best work you should read if you like horror stories, you’ll definitely shudder after reading them. (P.S.- Spoiler Alert!!!):
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (and the bizarre real life cannibalism)
This is Edgar Allan Poe’s only complete novel around 180 pages long which actually makes it a novella. It was published in 1838. It recites the horror of what happened in an Antarctic expedition by a group of sailors and the aftermath of the shipwreck. Partway through the book, the crew of the ship finds themselves with a busted boat and no food or water. Out of supplies, the men revert to cannibalism, drawing straws to elect a sacrifice. A boy named Richard Parker draws the shortest straw and is subsequently eaten.
But but but, the cannibalism is not the main reason for mentioning this novella. Several years after the book’s publication, in 1884, a yacht named the Mignonette left England, headed toward Sydney, Australia. It sank and left four survivors stranded at the sea. The older survivors eventually killed and ate the 17-year-old cabin boy, whose name was Richard Parker!
The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether
This is a short story of a lunatic asylum. Your mind is your last refuge and nothing is more horrifying than the idea of losing your mind. When you start doubting your own mind that’s when its gets scary. Some unnamed narrators go to visit an asylum. Over the course of time they find out that the real doctors are actually locked up and the lunatics have took the charge. There seemed to be no escape for them in the insane chaos.
The Pit and the Pendulum
This story follows the suffering undergone by a prisoner who is held accountable of an indefinite felony. Placed in a dark chamber, the protagonist is subjected to tortures, such that the master of macabre could think of. Waking up from unconsciousness he learns that he is strapped to a platform over which dangles a slowly-dropping pendulum blade and there’s a pit in the middle where he is eventually going to fall.
This was Poe’s first horror story.This is the story of a man who was obsessed with wife’s teeth. This obsession turns creepy when after his wife’s death he digs up her grave to retrieve them from her corpse. What happens at the end of the story will send chills down your spine, it culminates into a sick surprise.
The Tell-Tale Heart
A ghastly murder is juxtaposed with the killer’s tender empathy towards the victim- a connection that soon returns to haunt him.Like much of Poe’s work, it deals with the effects of guilt on a person’s psyche. This story is Poe’s most famous spooky tale and is a must read.
The Black Cat
A drunk man kills his cat and it comes back to haunt him. This short story is a spine-tingling Gothic tale that executes the experience of reading an eerie story on different levels – there is dread, rising fear, hair-raising twist or two. And ultimately ends with a lurid worthwhile climax.
Apart from the above suggestions there are other handful works of Poe too which you can read if you think you’ll enjoy reading the above mentioned stories:
- The Fall of the House of Usher
- William Wilson
- The Premature Burial
Not only his works, but Poe’s death also might be one of the bizarre things about his life. His death itself was a mystery, he died at the age of 40 under mysterious circumstances. He left Virginia for New York and on his way, he just disappeared. A week later he was found on the streets of Baltimore. No one has any information about what he was doing, he was in clothes that didn’t belong to him and was drunk wasted and ill. He was taken to the hospital and after a couple of days, he took his last breath. Nobody knows exactly what killed him.