Tales of Mystery and Terror

Tales of Mystery and Terror, by Edgar Allen Poe

Lately I have been reading a lot of really, really tragic non-fiction.  Then I read a novel that was really tragic.  I needed to cheer myself up, so I decided to get into the Halloween and Gothic spirit by reading Edgar Allen Poe's famous collection of scary stories.

I've never been much of a Poe person; I was assigned several of these stories to read in 8th grade and couldn't make head or tail of them.  Reading them now, it doesn't surprise me.  We read "MS Found in a Bottle"--no one explained what an MS was, and the story is practically incomprehensible anyway!   We also read "The Pit and the Pendulum," which was better, though I don't think I knew what the Inquisition was supposed to be, and "The Cask of Amontillado," but without knowing what Amontillado or Masons might be.  Maybe the teacher did explain and I just wasn't listening.

I had read almost no Poe since that time, except for the usual poetry and a couple of mystery stories.  I was curious to see how I would like them now.  On the whole, they were interesting, but I felt the stories suffered from the same problems James Fenimore Cooper had--always using the right word's second cousin and so on.  Flowery wordiness was the style in the 1830s, I know, but having to read an exciting story through a veil of overblown verbiage is tiring.

The story that really surprised me was "Some Words With a Mummy."  I have never read it before and--it's funny!  Several academic types get together to break into a mummy's sealed coffin, and find him to be a bit different than the usual run of mummy.  Then someone has the bright idea of using the "Voltaic pile" to give the mummy--whose name is Allamistakeo--a jolt of electricity, with surprising results.

I decided that I really much prefer M. R. James for creepy short stories, and so I'm re-reading some of those and enjoying them very much.  Sorry, Poe.


  1. I'm fond of Poe, but overblown verbiage is definitely among his faults. I overlook it because I love how nutso his stories are, and I love all the ghosts. And I love that his poetry always scans perfectly.

  2. Nutso is a good description. :) And you are so right about the scansion--it is always exact!

  3. We had a wonderful English teacher who assigned us Poe's stories for reading. And she was very clear from the beginning that if we are to understand them, we are to look up everything. That's how I learned MS, Amontillado, will-o-the-wisp, and sooo many other words :) And I really liked him!

  4. Neat! Yeah, I don't know what was wrong with me as a kid. It never seemed to occur to me to ask people or look things up. Not the best trait to have. :p


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