Sunday, December 28, 2014

Forty-Two Tales Including the Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe

Forty-Two Tales Including the Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the exact book I had as a child and the only reason I chose this edition to read for a collection of Poe stories. The illustrations are contemporary with Poe's publications but are awfully poor reproduction quality. I've rated each story and my overall rating for the book is the average. I've read this collection before but it was a very long time ago so some of the more lesser-known stories were "new" to me. I keep my interest up in his works by reading graphic adaptations and picture book editions of stories and poems and of course come across him every now and then in anthologies. My next foray into Poe will be an annotated edition of his complete works as next time rather than just reading his work I need to understand and appreciate the meaning, symbolism, foreign language and background that I found I was lacking while reading this volume. I'll tackle that project in a few years :-)

My impressions while reading:

1. MS. Found in a Bottle - This one is often found in collections of Poe's famous works. This story falls into the "ghost ship" category though neither we nor the narrator are ever made fully aware of what is exactly transpiring. Bound upon a trade vessel the narrator has a feeling of foreboding and in the night a sudden violent typhoon wave washes everyone to sea except him and a fellow traveller. The two experience a rocky ride for several days until a gigantic imposing ship smashes into them and the narrator washes upon its rigging. Here he finds himself in an other-worldly place, with ancient men, speaking a foreign tongue, who cannot see his presence and the ship seems to be made of stuffs unlike anything he has seen before. An atmospheric story, with a feeling of dread. The story is in the form of a message he intends (and we presume he did) send off in a bottle. Not a great story to open the book with but gives a sense of Poe's building suspense and mysterious ending. (3/5)

2. X-ing a Paragrab - Short piece of humour. Two newspaper editors in a small town goad each other in the editorials until one says the other couldn't write a sentence without using an "o". Rather than prove him right that editor writes a piece of abundantly o-wy prose. That night the typesetter finds to his chagrin that all the 'o's have been taken from the print case. While humorous there is an edge to the piece with the main character being unlikable and meeting a mysterious end. (4/5)

3. Some Passages in the Life of a Lion (Lionizing) - This is a farce wherein a man is lionized (venerated) because of his nose and his study of "noseology". There is a lot of word play and nonsense but it didn't quite work for me because of all the out-dated vocabulary and foreign phrases used. Again though a farce, the main character has a bleak ending. (2/5)

4. Three Sundays in a Week - Uncle Rumgudgeon is a nasty old sort who won't let his nephew and young ward marry simply out of spite. Then he says they can but won't give a time and when pressed says when three Sundays come to pass within one week. How this actually comes to be is the tale. I really liked this, very funny, and Poe still gets a nice paragraph in describing the poor nephew's beatings whilst growing up. (4/5)

5. The Assignation - A Gothic tale that gave me pause at the end as I reflected back upon the story to understand the meaning of what had happened. A gloomy tale of unrequited love that begins with the near drowning of a child. Very verbose with a poem in the middle of it, I can't say I enjoyed it all that much though it was deliciously atmospheric. (3/5)

6. The Angel of the Odd: An Extravaganza - Another funny one! Here we either have a flight of fancy from an extremely drunk man or the vengeance of the Angel of the Odd to a man who remarks he does not believe in casual odd accidents. Hilarious! (5/5)

7. King Pest: A Tale Containing an Allegory - This story doesn't make much sense to me but it is a delightful piece of grotesquerie. A tale of two drunken sailors who whilst running out on paying the tab end up in a deserted part of London quarantined due to the Plague. Hee they meet a grotesque assemblage of people: a family, headed by King Pest. Strange events follow. Obviously some of the word play refers to plague and perhaps the Pest family's deformities do as well. However, I'd call this black humour. I've seen this successfully adapted into graphic novel format. (4/5)

8. The Duc De L'Omelette - Well, I don't get this one. A lot of it is in French so I haven't a clue what it says. Apparently? The Duc sees a bird and says something about its feathers then dies and finds himself in the company of the Devil. After some conversation with the Devil, some of it in French, the Devil declines to fencing as he doesn't fence, then next thing you know they are playing cards and I presume the Duc wins as he gets up from the table, walks away and the last sentences are in French. Whatever. (0/5)

9. A Tale of Jerusalem - I'm going to have to google this one after I'm done here and see if this is supposed to be funny or racist because it was boring and made no sense to me. It is before Christ and some Jews are going to get an offering of a lamb promised by the Romans. They let down their basket with appropriate payment of shekels and complain about the Gentiles. Then as they pull up the heavy basket they are thankful for the generousness of such a large offering only to find they have been given a pig! (0/5)

So basically this story, written in 1832, makes no sense to the modern day reader at all as it was a spoof of a novel by Horace Smith: “Zillah; a Tale of the Holy City.” What Poe did was take some of the exact lines from that book and write them in a different order. oooookay....

10. The Gold-Bug - A return to another well-known story. This one is the longest so far but is a very quick read. It's a story of buried treasure and can mostly be referred to as a mystery by today's standard, a mystery of the puzzle variety. A narrator relates his tale and at the end, in classic form, which we must remember hasn't exactly been invented yet, he describes in detail how the puzzle was solved. This part is a bit boring as it's obvious to the modern reader but one can imagine it would have been quite thrilling for contemporary readers. (4/5)

11. Diddling - This is written as an essay, where the narrator first describes what a "diddler" is, a con-artist, how every human has this trait in them at birth and then he goes on to describe various different sorts of cons (ie. diddles) that have been carried out. Finally ending with a large scam played upon the very city in which he lives. Fairly ho-hum and boring *but* my husband uses the word "diddle" to mean something rather very vulgar, so this exhortation did actually have me giggling rather inappropriately. (1/5)

12. William Wilson - This is one of Poe's famous stories and is of a man tortured and stalked by the physical manifestation of his own conscience. At least, that is how I interpret it, and fairly early on I start thinking of the 'double' as his conscience. The man's tortured madness reminds me of the Tell-tale heart; the themes are very similar but from the writing I would say this was written first. Let me go check. Yep, 4 years earlier. Go, me! (4/5)

13. The Purloined Letter - This is the third detective story featuring Dupin, and rather an editorial mistake to place it first in the collection as it mentions both previous cases in the first paragraph. This is not a murder like the others but a silly little blackmail letter scheme where the police cannot find the letter. The first half of the story has the police detailing their search for the letter while the last half has Dupin detailing how he found the letter. We see the use of what have come to be classic detective tropes. Well-written in Poe's style but a dull mystery. (3/5)

14. The Spectacles - A fun farce all the way through. A longer story as well, especially compared to the other comedies. A complicated romance that is meant to be farcical straight from the beginning by the mention of the fact that the young man involved is too vain to wear spectacles. Fun! (4/5)

15. The Cask of Amontillado - This has always been one of my favourites. Being buried alive is one of the things that terrifies me the most and this twist on that theme makes for a shuddering story. Poe repeats this theme in a few of his other stories. I hadn't realized how short this story was. Still satisfying after all these years. (5/5)

16. Metzengerstein - I was interrupted while reading this story and that may have caused me to lose the flow. However, I didn't quite get the point of this story concerning a "devil" or "ghost" horse. (2/5)

17. Landor's Cottage - Another essay rather than story. This is a descriptive piece of a cottage in a valley and the utmost perfection the narrator finds in the beauty of the scene. I'm not into descriptive writing, so found it boring. (1/5)

18. A Tale of the Ragged Mountains - A chilling little tale of a morphine addicted man who goes into the mountains and comes home well past the time all have started worrying about him.. he has a strange tale to tell of where he has been, what he's seen and how he came to die and come home again. Good build up and curious ending. (4/5)

19. The Black Cat - Returning to another Poe classic this one features popular themes of alcoholism, madness and like "The Cask of Amontillado", the burying of someone behind a wall. The narrator starts off by telling us what a wonderful nice person he once was with a happy marriage and a houseful of loving pets. Then after a few years he came under the thrall of alcohol and became abusive to the pets and his wife, leaving for last his beloved pet cat. When in a fit of fury he gouges out the eye of the cat it is the beginning of his descent into murder and a cat becomes his undoing in the end. (4/5)

20. Hop-Frog - Another popular tale. This one is different from many others. It is a revenge tale told with humour and has a macabre ending. I've always liked this one because of the humour, but still being a strange little story. It is also an historical taking place during a time when courts of kings still had jesters and dwarfs. (4/5)

21. The Sphinx - Odd. A man thinks he is seeing a monster, a foreboding of death but the story ends up being a discourse on perspective. I suppose it's meant to be humorous. (2/5)

22. The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar - One of Poe's classic tales of terror, again concerning death. The narrator is a practitioner of mesmerism (hypnotism) and he's always wanted to try the act on a subject on the point of death and so he finds a willing subject, the titular M. Valdemar. He succeeds in putting the man in a state of mesmerism upon the hours he is expected to die and what follows is the narrator's unbelievable but witnessed by various medical professionals horrifying account. This story uses the device where the tension continues to mount and mount until the final terrifying sentence. Perfect Poe. (5/5)

23. Bon-Bon - This I take it, is a comedy. A restaurateur (Bon-Bon) with a taste for the bottle who fancies himself a philosopher ends up finding the devil in his room one evening. The devil tells him he eats the souls of philosophers and they spend the evening arguing while the Bon-Bon gets excessively drunk. Didn't do a thing for me. (1/5)

24. The Tell-Tale Heart - So here is classic Poe and one I've always thought to be my favourite. It's quite short. A man's descent into paranoia provokes him to murder, then his paranoia leads to consuming guilt where he gives himself up. It's the build-up that is the best part of this story. (5/5)

25. The Oblong Box - This horror story is often seen in selections from Poe. A fairly straightforward tale of a man aboard a ship who notices the fellow next to him has a large oblong box and wonders what it contains. Circumstances become more unusual he notices, leaving an eerie feel in the air. Once it is too late to be of any help, the narrator learns the truth of the matter. More of a mystery than anything else, not terribly exciting, but Poe does execute the styling well. (3/5)

26. The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade - Hmm. Starts out quite witty and seems to be of a black humour nature. Tells what happens the next night for Scheherazade. She tells another tale, telling of Sinbad going on another journey after his supposed last and travelling the world seeing the many wonders. As we go along there are footnotes which tell the real scientific nature of these "magical wonders" Sinbad saw. These start as brief but become copious and tedious by the end. The Sultan also progressively doesn't like this story at all. Ends as one assumes it will. (3/5)

27. The Masque of the Red Death - Another of my truly favourites. This is classic Poe and is a short one but a brilliant imagining of the "Red Death" aka the Plaque brought to life. The perverse, outlandish, gluttony is bestilled by the silent, gruesome, everprescence of death. (5/5)

28. The Imp of the Perverse - I've never been fond of this. Another guilty conscience can't hold its tongue, though this guy lasts for years before he's overcome. (2/3)

29. The Mystery of Marie Roget - This is a long one and could be considered a novella. This is the second of the Dupin detective stories and is considered the first fictionalized account of a true crime. The story itself is quite tedious and doesn't have a plot. The set-up of the murder is introduced by the unnamed narrator at the beginning and then Dupin takes over in what ultimately is a very long monologue detailing the logical reasoning Dupin has used to figure out that Marie was killed by a single person instead of the "gang" that the papers have been charging. Parts get interesting as we see Dupin's mind unravel the logistics but most of the time I found it quite boring, technical and tedious. (2/5)

30. The Balloon-Hoax - OK. So this is written like a news article starting off with the announcement that an air balloon has just crossed the Atlantic in 75 hours. Then comes a section entitled "The Balloon" which is a tedious description of the engineering and design of the balloon; this is followed by "The Journal". Actual daily journal entries from the two main leaders aboard the balloon keeping a ship's log of each days adventures and the story ends abruptly with the newspaper article saying further details will follow. Upon first reading this just seems like a strange story with no point however it is not a story. This was originally published in a newspaper as a true story! After it's falsehood came to be known (quite soon after publication) the word 'Hoax' was added to the title when it was reprinted. It is believed that Jules Verne (an admirer of Poe) found inspiration from this article to write his famous "Around the World." (3/5)

31. Some Words with a Mummy - Somewhat of a humorous tale. A mummy is brought to life through galvanism (electricity to the muscles) then proceeds to chat away the night speaking of how little the world has progressed since the glory days of Egypt. A bit tedious at times but the surprise ending, rather black humour is worth the read. (3/5)

32. The Premature Burial - A haunting tale, very readable, which actually ends on a pleasant note; rather unusual for Poe. (4/5)

33. The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq. - This is a longer story but read incredibly fast. It's probably one of my favourite humorous tales so far. This is a pastiche on the literary world that Poe was so familiar with. An old man recounts his life story of how he became a poet then owner of a newspaper and then editor of a literary magazine. Poe is spoofing how crooked the business is, how critical reviews were whims and the general unsavouriness of the whole unsavouriness of the entire industry. I wonder if he wrote this before or after his above fake news report? Hmm, yes, this was written six years after his hoax, so he'd know all about it. (5/5)

34. The Fall of the House of Usher - A common theme here in Poe's work, a descent into madness but this time there is a hint at the sanity of the macabre. First off, there is confusion on the title, often mistaken to referring to the building, which it does in the manner of the ancestral home but the "House of Usher" more relevantly refers to the lineage of the family name, Usher. Poe revisits being buried alive and the madness which leads to a man's ultimate fall (a third reference for a meaning of the title). Another good story which spends the entire time suspensefully leading up to the macabre ending. Only thing I don't like about this classic piece of Poe horror is the poem stuck in the middle of it. (4/5)

35. The Man that was Used Up: A Take on the Late Bugaboo and Kickapoo Campaign - I wrote a review of this and it disappeared. Can't remember much now except that the narrator is in search of a famous man but can't find him and nobody will mention him directly. A farce. (1/5)

36. Loss of Breath: A Tale of the 'Blackwood' - A man literally loses his breath and is left speechless. He physically searches for it and avoids several accidental deaths because he literally has no breath to lose. A farce. (3/5)

37. A Descent into the Maelstrom - A fisherman takes the narrator to a dangerous spot high above the river and tells him of his incredible survival story from the huge whirlpool. (3/5)

38. 'Thou art the Man' - A good murder mystery with the narrator telling us a story he witnessed firsthand of a rich man leaving one morning and his horse returning later, shot, covered in blood, missing its saddlebags and no sign of the owner anywhere. Unusual for Poe with a happy ending! Liked this a lot. (5/5)

39. The Devil in the Belfry - This would be a very short story indeed if all the description was left off. A big long description of a Dutch town that loves cabbages and clocks. A big long description of the bellman who looks after the big town clock that has kept perfect time since time immemorial. Then an odd prankster comes to town and causes all hell to break loose. Uh-huh. I do not like overlong descriptive paragraphs. (1/5)

40. The Murders in the Rue Morgue - Credited as being the world's first detective story. This is the first of Poe's trilogy of Dupin short stories and the best in my opinion. Comparing it to the modern mystery it seems full of the usual tropes but then one has to remember this is where those ideas originally came from. The story starts off with the opening scenes of the finding of the murder victims which is quite a graphic depiction and then what follows is the narrative of how Dupin's mind logically sifts through the evidence to figure out who was the murderer. Almost immediately upon Dupin's discourse one notice's the influence for Doyle's Watson and a starting point for Sherlock. Further into the story we find the possible source for classic early British mystery 'locked room' syndrome. When I read this story I always try to imagine living back in the 1840s and reading this for the first time. I would have most likely read gothic stories full of over dramatic suspense and romance, possibly a ghost or two but Rue Morgue is contemporary, logical, precise, and real making it all the more chilling. (5/5)

41. The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether - I've always loved this. Hilarious. The lunatics have taken over the asylum. (5/5)

42. The Pit and the Pendulum - One of Poe's most famous stories, though not one of my favourites. The narrator is telling his own story of how he was tortured (to death?) by the Spanish Inquisition so we know he survives. The horror of the darkness, pit, blade, rats, hot iron and moving walls are all told in fear inducing style but the ending leaves me unsatisfied. (3/5)

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