When I hear the name Edgar Allan Poe, I am always hit with a flange of nostalgia. During high school when I am obsessed over Michael Crichton, Dan Brown, Bob Ong and Archie Comics, Edgar Allan Poe stabbed me in the back with his cryptic and deranged writing that I have never encountered before (except from Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes who I really found boorriing at that time). Today, among the multitude of crazies-and-misfits-who-turned-out-to-be-writers I encounter in my course, I still find Poe as somewhat special.
I first encountered Poe in a musty dilapidated binded-paper (supposedly called a book but it escapes any attempt to be called as such) I found in my father’s bookshelf. I ignored the ‘thing.’ The cover was unappetizing (it was in green with patterns of leaves and the title is in, I suppose, Times New Roman font). The language was old-school, almost hieroglyphic-like for a high school sophomore like me. It was thin, insignificant-looking. But having much time to waste (take note it was highschool) I attempted to read the ‘thing.’ It turned out to be one of the craziest things I have ever read since Archie Comics featured gay marriage. The book was entitled The Gold Bug and other Stories.
Poe’s writing style is the first thing that captivated me. Many of the sentences are long descriptions, things and places and people are metaphorized to the minutest excruciating detail. It was a bit of a turn-off to me at first, but it built up the tension and the doom, the exact ambient effect that Poe wanted to achieve. There is a Gothic feel to it— the 19th century type of English, the obsession over black and other grim colors, the allusions to sadness and aloneness, a certain sort of lethargy (or probably drunkenness, as Poe is a notorious drinker). There are always dead leaves, dried-up branches, static objects that caught the charm of the finest spiderwebs. Creepy stuff.
One of the most memorable stories in the collection is “The Tell-Tale Heart”, something about a man whose heartbeats are extremely audible to him that it made him insane. Probably he was on amphetamine. It was a story of conscience, an inquiry into the mind of the guilty and the deranged. Another is “The Black Cat”, basically about a cat black, and other black cats, and why black cats must never be trusted. This superstition was taken by Poe to the goriest and most twisted extreme. It made me hate black cats after that (except when they are just kittens. They’re cudly).
“The Pit and the Pendelum” is about a prisoner who is guilty of a crime, locked and chained in a platform, laid down while a swinging blade is slowly descending towards his helpless body. It is a picture of great agony and pain, even when it is only anticipated. There is an overpowering feel of darkness and uncertainty in the story; every paragraph is gripped with the dreadful anxiety that the blade will cut the prisoner’s skin. Again, the horror is like a dog turd. “The Masque of Red Death” is about a decadent young man who organizes a lavish ball while a plague called The Red Death is annihilating the populace. It turns that the man has a strange guest. And guess what— the guest is The Red Death himself!
There are other popular stories that are not included in that book, like the notorious “The Cask of Amontillado.” I don’t fancy Poe’s proto-detective stories like “The Gold Bug”, “Murders at the Rue Morgue”, probably because the element of the macabre is somewhat watered-down in those stories. Nonetheless, Poe’s charm never fails to bring myself back to his masterpieces.