There are few names that loom larger in the darkness of horror than Edgar Allan Poe. In the Macmillan Collector’s Library edition of his Tales and Poems, his sway over all as a storyteller is completely indisputable. As the author of the first modern detective stories, it’s a fair conclusion to draw that Poe’s own unusual perspective gifted his work with an edge not otherwise seen in the 1800’s, and I think that his mastery of the short story, specifically poems, is testament to that.
Tales and Poems writhes with lesser known stories of strangeness such as The Imp of The Perverse and The Man That Was Used Up, as well as the revered Gothic giants; grandfathers of the genre of Dark Romanticism that go by the names of The Raven, Lenore, and Annabel Lee. Tales such as these (among countless others) are unequivocally powerful. The poems beat on with structures and tempo that urge the reader to speed up in a panicked delirium, or lull them into a dreamy, grave rhythm – and the short stories wind and uncoil unpredictably, leading the reader to cliff’s edges and startling discoveries with only dread as a warning.
I believe that the beauty of Poe’s work lies in its morbid union of brevity and detail; these whisperings are rich enough to ensnare the imagination, and concise enough to attach themselves to a mind, there remaining incorporeally – not unlike a ghost. Essentially, these are the crème de la crème of campfire stories, and they will continue to be told. They are the skeletons that carry the lyrics to Stevie Nicks songs, the otherworldly influencers of modern horror maestros like Tim Burton, and they are even the subject matter of the world-renowned and illustrious Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episodes. Now, if that isn’t an accolade…
The ability of these tales to endure and thrive over the years could be explained by the simple recognition of how enjoyable fear is to us – but it requires more than that. Fright alone isn’t enough to keep these stories haunting us, what’s more scintillating and compelling than naked terror is the investment in these worlds that Poe elicits from us. Only when we can empathise with a character, can we truly fear what they fear. That’s the mark of a good ghost story.
“Edgar” illustration and words by Esmeralda Voegele-Downing