“The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?”
– Edgar Allan Poe, The Premature Burial
Indeed, who can say where life ends and death begins? After all, none of us have had the opportunity to court death and be back to the world of the living. It is no wonder that Edgar Allan Poe had come up with such profound words. Born on January 19, 1809, the highly talented author, editor, and literary critic was a bona fide genius. He not only altered the course of literature but changed it completely. Widely considered the father of detective fiction and the progenitor of psychological horror stories, Poe also made undeniable contributions to the genre of science fiction. Naturally, Poe left an undeniable mark on the literary world. He heavily influenced legendary writers like H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, David Morrell, B. Tavern, Henry James, Vladimir Nabokov, and of course, H.P. Lovecraft. Poe even inspired Alfred Hitchcock.
This Halloween, as we celebrate the macabre and everything scary, let us sit back and enjoy some of Edgar Allan Poe’s eeriest stories.
First Published: 1835
Bernice is one of Poe’s creepiest stories. Published in 1835 in the Southern Literary Messenger, the short story horrified contemporary readers. Yet, it did not stop it from selling, proving that no matter what people say, they are intrigued by the macabre. The tale revolves around the death of a young vibrant girl named Bernice. When she was alive, she was engaged to be married to her cousin, Egaeus, a quiet and sickly scholar who preferred the night to day. Things take a turn when Bernice falls ill. Before her death, her health completely deteriorates, only leaving her teeth intact. Strangely, Egaeus develops an obsession with her teeth. This obsession leads him down a horrifying path that will make you look at your own teeth differently.
First Published: 1835
Morella is one of Poe’s most compelling stories. Published in 1835, it revolves around the death of a beautiful and learned woman named Morella who spent her days studying the German philosophers Fichte and Schelling. The narrator is completely besotted with his wife Morella and considers himself her student. When she dies after giving birth to their baby girl, the narrator is completely devastated. Their daughter grows up to be as beautiful as her mother and bears an uncanny resemblance to her. This unsettles the narrator who takes her to be baptized. To our utter shock, something completely unexpected takes place. This shocking ending leaves us in tethers and makes us ponder the question of identity.
The Pit and the Pendulum
First Published: 1842
The Pit and the Pendulum is bound to send chills up your spine. First published in 1842 in the annual magazine, The Gift: A Christmas and New Year’s Present for 1843, the story enmeshes in the story of a prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition. The nameless narrator has been sentenced to death, however, he is not told how he would die. He is ushered into a dark cell inhabited only by rats. The room has a pit with a scythe-like pendulum swinging above it. The narrator is stuck in this room of horrors till his death arrives. Poe’s use of vivid imagery plays on our senses. We literally feel the doomed narrator’s terror as he languishes in his cell. This sensational tale is sure to fascinate you and horrify you at the same time.
The Premature Burial
First Published: 1844
The Premature Burial was first published in 1844 in The Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper. This horror short story centers around an unnamed narrator who has a phobia of being buried alive, a phenomenon common during Poe’s lifetime. He is so afraid that he is sceptical of sleeping fearing that he will wake up in a coffin. The narrator gives us several examples that justify his fear. In true Poe fashion, the book ends on an unsettling note leaving the readers with a plethora of questions. The Premature Burial is indeed a hair-raising short story that will leave you fearing sleep as well.
The Cask of Amontillado
First Published: 1846
Published in 1846 in the Godey’s Lady’s Book, The Cask of Amontillado is a tale of revenge. Set in Italy, the story revolves around two friends, Montresor and Fortunato. We become the confidante of the murderous Montressor. Montressor is patient in carrying out his vengeance. He bids his time and waits for the carnival season when he lures the unsuspecting Fortunato to the eerie crypt. There, he buries him alive for something as trivial as Fortunato’s knowledge about wine. Montressor is self-righteous and dangerously unhinged. It is both unsettling and fascinating to get into his mind. In The Cask of Amontillado, Poe’s underrated dark sense of humor also shines through.
First Published: 1849
Published in 1849, Hop-Frog is a gory yet somewhat heartwarming tale of vengeance. The story centers around Hop-frog, a dwarf kidnapped from his homeland and forced to perform for a sadistic king and his council of ministers. The king also owns another dwarf named Trippetta. The beautiful Trippetta is also made to dance for the court and humiliated regularly. Hop-frog befriends Trippetta and forms a special bond for her. When Trippetta is degraded, Hop-frog devises a plan of revenge. His violent plan will leave you shocked and sickened. However, it will not stop you from rooting for the two dwarves.
Edgar Allan Poe was a downright genius. He was one of the earliest authors who started earning only through his writing career. In his short life of forty years, he left an impact that very few are able to make during their long lives. Poe’s stories are intriguing and remain with the readers long after they are finished. Most of his tales leave a chill down your spine. Nevertheless, his stories have a message that inadvertently teaches you something about life.
Do comment and let me know which of these tales intrigues you the most.