Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Surprising Comedy of Poe

I've been rather busy this past week, as you can see from the general scarcity of posts. I'm in a musical with my sister and father, and we've had rehearsals every evening since the 22nd, and opening night last Friday. I get a little break for the next couple days, and then it's back on the stage! The show runs for two more weekends, if anyone in the Glenview neighborhood is interested.
Here's a post I wrote a while ago and then forgot to publish. Enjoy!


Poe is known for his horror. The Raven. The Telltale Heart. The Fall of the House of Usher. The Cask of Amontillado. The Pit and the Pendulum.

Quoth the raven - "Nevermore!"

I don't like horror. One bit.
Because of this, I have avoided Poe, even when my mother bought The Complete Works. I waited at least two years to pull it off the shelf and venture a peek.

My first story was The Telltale Heart, which we had listened to on Books-On-Tape a few years back, so I was fine with it. Then I tried the Dupin trio, which you can read about here. Finally, I picked a random story and plunged in.

Turns out, though Poe is most famous for his horror, I found a lot of his stories to be rather humorous. Take Xing the Paragrab, for example. With a name like that, how can that be anything other than comedy? It tells of two competing newspapers, and how one makes fun of the other for using "O!" so much, and how the other threatens to print an article so full of "o's" that it will burst, and how the one sneakily steals all the "o"-blocks from the other's printers, and how the other has to replace all the "o's" with the conventional "x," thus "x-ing the paragraph." (Paragraph is pronounced "paragrab" by the fellow who's job it is to X it.) The resulting publication is rather unreadable, to say the least.

Who would have though that story was written by Poe? Not a hint of anything terrible or horrible in it.
And there are many other examples. But what I found unites all of Poe's short stories is his love for all things utterly weird. The Man Who Was Used Up is an example of one that's just a head-scratcher. Not horrifyingly weird, just strange in a non-creepy way. Another example is The Angel of the Odd. It's just a weird, weird story. I don't want to give anything away - you're going to have to read them for yourself, which you could probably do in less than an hour, they're all rather short.

I must say, I do sort of like this funny side of Poe. He is, of course an excellent writer, and reading excellent writing is always nice. After viewing Poe as a dark, gloomy, creepy author, it was a pleasant surprise to find these funny short stories in the collection.

You may be wondering what my opinion on Poe's horror is now, being a little biased against the genre. (A little? That's an understatement.)
Well, I did end up reading a bunch of horror in addition to the others, and I must say that I absolutely adore them. They are so spectacular. They are frightening and yet not at the same time. Somehow, Poe manages to write in such a way that nothing is all despair or that the reader is left with some semblance of hope in the end. Usually (as in Telltale Heart or Cask of Amontillado) he does it by writing from the point of view of the murderer. We are so used to seeing it from the victims eyes, that this twist gives it so fresh a perspective that we almost sympathize with the murderer, before realizing sense and talking ourselves out of it..

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