Monday, January 11, 2010

Poe In Short Fiction...

Edgar Allan Poe fictionWith the exception of Harold Schechter's murder-mystery series, all the many novels I have encountered which feature Edgar Allan Poe as a character have varied between inane, vulgar, bizarre, and simply putrid. (Sometimes all four.) For whatever reasons, he has yet to find a novelist worthy of him. Oddly enough, however, I have come across a few short stories revolving around Poe that I thought were quite good. Even more curiously, they all have a supernatural element. Strangest of all, aside from the Schechter novels, it is only in short stories where you can find fictional portrayals of Poe that depict him not only as sympathetic, but intelligent. Go figure that.

I present to you the following:

1. "The Man Who Collected Poe," by Robert Bloch. I have a particular soft spot for this story, as reading it spurred my interest in Poe himself, thus setting me off on this long, strange trip I've been pursuing ever since. Even if you know nothing about Poe, you can still appreciate Bloch's mordant wit, but Poe fans will note the nifty parody of "The Fall of the House of Usher."

2. "But I Feel the Bright Eyes..." by Bill Crider. Poe vs. a vampire cult seeking world domination. Believe me, it's much better than that description might lead you to think. I'm in no position to say what Crider was aiming for in this story, but it can be read as a perfect allegory for Poe's battle with the Transcendentalists and his other literary enemies--a battle that could be said to continue to this day. And Crider's explanation for Poe's death is a lot more plausible than John Evangelist Walsh's.

3. "Castaway," by Edmond Hamilton. Poe discovers that he has a second personality inhabiting his body--an amnesiac time-traveler from an era far into the future, who has been directing and disturbing his subconscious mind.

You have to admit, it would explain a lot.

4. "When It Was Moonlight," by Manly Wade Wellman. Vampires again, with Poe in the Van Helsing role. Wellman (who, incidentally, wrote many marvelous tales of the supernatural,) invests this story with an air of low-key plausibility--just another day in Poe's Philadelphia--that gives his tale a wonderfully quiet effectiveness.

5. "Richmond, Late September, 1849," by Fritz Leiber. Poe finally meets Death in person--who is, of course, a beautiful woman. A subtle, ethereal story, like all of Leiber's best work.

6. "A Revenant," by Walter de la Mare. Poe's spirit listens to a modern-day lecture about himself, and, well, he's not too pleased with it. It's nice to picture Poe finally having the last word. After reading this story, I found myself daydreaming about Poe confronting all these recent biographers and novelists who seem so eager to insult and degrade him: Kenneth Silverman, John Evangelist Walsh, John May, Stephen Marlowe, Joel Rose...

7. "No Spot of Ground," by Walter Jon Williams. You thought Poe met a miserable and obscure end in 1849? Actually, he was rescued from the streets of Baltimore by a benevolent widow, and went on to become a Confederate General. This is one of the odder works of "what-if" historical fiction I've encountered, but it is a quiet, understated story that winds up being surprisingly moving.

8. "The Exiles," by Ray Bradbury. A wonderfully haunting tribute, done in Bradbury's typically evocative style. The ghosts of Poe, Ambrose Bierce, Dickens, Shakespeare, and other literary giants have fled to Mars, as their works have, on Earth, been outlawed as "superstition." Once their writings disappear completely, so will their spirits. The power of words, indeed.