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... for taking the time to stop by. I hope some of these ponderings will resonate with you.

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(Unless stated otherwise, all text & pictures are © Lee Labuschagne, all rights reserved.)

Friday, September 17, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 18: Pioneer of whodunnit, scifi and horror

"I wish I could write as mysterious as a cat." - Edgar Allan Poe

Tales of Mystery and Imagination - Edgar Allan Poe

I admit, I don't find it easy to read Edgar Allen Poe, at least not when you first open a volume of his stories.  His old-fashioned prose can be difficult to follow, and I can easily understand  how modern students frown when they are first confronted with it.

But I found something of a cure years ago when a group of friends and I went out for a New Year's picnic: gather some pals, take this (or another) collection of Poe's stories and start reading out loud.  If one of your friends is good at reading, let them keep going as long as they want.  Then, simply listen to the story.  Having friends around also has the added advantage of having people to discuss his tales.

Besides, if you are a student of literature or an aspiring author in any of the genres of horror, science fiction or detective stories, or if you want examples of the art of short story writing, Poe's your man because of his his contribution to the development of these genres. 
His short stories were often compact psychological thrillers and some of his work also reflected his interest in physics, medicine and cosmology. Although he frequently got the facts wrong, he also included cosmological ideas in his long essay Eureka (even though subtitled "A prose poem" it is a long essay and Poe considered it one of his best works) which include ideas that are remarkably similar to the idea of the Big Bang that followed almost a century later.  In the preface he wrote "To the few who love me and whom I love – to those who feel rather than to those who think – to the dreamers and those who put faith in dreams as in the only realities – I offer this Book of Truths, not in its character of Truth-Teller, but for the Beauty that abounds in its Truth; constituting it true. To these I present the composition as an Art-Product alone: let us say as a Romance; or, if I be not urging too lofty a claim, as a Poem."

Poe was born 1809 in Boston and orphaned before the age of 3.  His middle name came from John and Frances Allan who took him in, but never formally adopted him.  He started his creative writing as a poet and in his later years, his poem "The Raven" (1845) in particular became an instant success. As the editor of various magazines, Poe also made a notable contribution as a literary critic and was working on establishing his own literary journal before his death in 1849 . I always find it ironic that the exact cause of death of the father of detective stories is unknown.  It was reported as "congestion of the brain", which was at the time a euphemism referring to things such as alcoholism, delirium, depression and syphilis.  Speculation has also included widely diverging diseases such as rabies, cholera, heart disease and epilepsy.  

His influence on other writers is reflected in the fact that essays, articles and criticisms were written about his work and there were rather divergent opinions about its merits. Arthur Conan Doyle and H G Wells specifically praised his influence on the detective novel and science fiction.  But someone like T S Eliot was not very impressed with "The Raven", while both W B Yeats and Aldous Huxley on occasion called his work "vulgar" and  Ralph Waldo Emerson called him "the jingle man". These opinions on his work were strongly coloured their opinion of the person. But Walt Whitman, wrote in his “Edgar Poe’s Significance” that "Poe’s verses illustrate an intense faculty for technical and abstract beauty".  


Colourful scarecrows.  These guard a well-known strawberry farm. 
Although they probably do not scare anything but birds, I thought this
would  be a fun way to illustrate my thoughts on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe

Picture & text: © Lee Labuschagne - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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