The pumpkins are out on the front porch and the cold air drops orange hued leaves incessantly onto my driveway, so it must be getting close to Halloween. In the spirit of the season, let me invite you to share some of your favorite tales of the strange and terrible. Here, dusted off from the back shelf where the unsuspecting and innocent won’t accidentally peruse them, are some of mine.
The Masque of the Red Death
Of all Poe’s stories, I find The Masque of the Red Death most frightening. I’m not sure why, exactly, though I suspect it has to do with how the Prince and his fellow revelers are victims of their own making–the hedonists were the true sickness in the land, and thus had locked the Red Death in with them from the very beginning.
Young Goodman Brown
I recently picked up a collection of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories. The author of the introduction, correctly, compared Lovecraft to Poe. However, as I read Lovecraft’s stories, I feel like he is better compared to Hawthorne. Though Lovecraft shares Poe’s sense of the macabre, the way he uses place is to my mind more reflective of Hawthorne. Not simply because they both situate their stories in New England, but because the history of that place figures so prominently into ethos of their work.
First, it’s by Byron. Second, it’s by Byron. And third, it’s by Byron. Seriously though, this is a great epic poem in the tradition of Marry Shelly’s Frankenstein. I particularly enjoy the strength of the title character, which is reflected in the way he stands firm against the spirits of the underworld (Act II, Scene 4). I also enjoy the exchange with the abbot (Act III, Scene 1)
The Philosophy of Composition
Though this is not a story, fans of the above (and Lovecraft) may find it a very interesting read. Poe was asked repeatedly to write an interpretation of his most famous work, The Raven. As an artist of quality, he bristled at this notion and instead wrote the following essay on the nature of writing, particularly horror writing. As I say above, fans of Lovecraft may find this essay particularly enlightening. Consider especially how Poe discusses the “effect.”