Tales – Mystery and Occultism, Edgar Allan Poe (1904)

October 13th, 2009

This is Volume 5 of Funk and Wagnalls’ The Works of Edgar Allan Poe in Ten volumes. I have it because it has been in my family for over 100 years and is signed by C.S. Tuthill on the front page with the address 300 Washington Ave. where the Tuthills lived with the Mansfield family in Nyack, NY after the Civil War. I am descended from both the Tuthills and Mansfields, but C.S. Tuthill would have been a cousin of my great grandfather.

I was very careful of the book, which is in decent condition considering its age and the generations of Tuthills, Mansfields, Hunts and now Grahams who have read it. My Mother gave it to me because she did not want it in the house any more. My brothers are not readers.

The stories consist of The Gold Bug, The Imp of the Perverse and seven of Poe’s lesser works, which I have not read before. There is a reason that I had never encountered works such as Mesmeric Revelation and Metzengerstein. The seven stories that I had never read were not very good. As stories they failed in construction and execution. Several had wonderful ideas or great feelings of mood, but none was without a serious flaw.

The Gold Bug and The Imp of the Perverse have been included in any good Poe collection for 150 years. The Gold Bug is an interesting story, although it seems made of thrown together parts. It is still a good read and deserves to be remembered. The Imp of the Perverse is a wonderful discussion of Poe’s own philosophy of psychology and describes the subconscious or id, long before Freud. The story is less powerful, but the impact of the philosophical preface to the dramatic ending works very well. This, too, deserves to be remembered.

Stories like Von Kemplemen and His Discovery do not need to be read by anyone except literary historians. The rest of the stories have few high points and I think that Poe was quite drunk when he knocked them off. Some Words with a Mummy, is a funny story, but not worth the effort. If I was going to write a story about resurrecting a 4,000 year old mummy, I think it would end in more than a joke.

The several stories about mesmerizing dying people to communicate with them after death are unpleasant and gruesome, and not at all entertaining.

William Wilson, a story about a man’s rivalry with another man who looks like him and has the same name is predictable and the ending is poorly done.

The Man in the Crowd, about a man who follows a crazy man through the streets of London to find his story, is interesting until one finds out that the crazy man’s story is that he is just crazy.

Metzengerstein is the story of a man who rides a horse that magically appears from the remnant of an ancient tapestry. I am not sure what else it was about.

I am forced to conclude that Poe produced at least three bad stories for every classic that he ever wrote, and that the name Poe applied to a story is no guarantee that it is a good story.

There are plenty of great story ideas here, though, even if they are not carried out well. The conversation with a mummy idea alone is worth the price of admission and I think the play "the Mummy" and later the movies by the same name were inspired by it. The original idea would make a good modern story, and I may write it someday. The story of a two men with the same name has also inspired me to plot out a short story about modern identity theft that goes well beyond Poe’s original idea. There is grist for the mill everywhere, even in Edgar Allan Poe’s lesser works.

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