Reading Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories is never easy. It doesn’t matter that his short story that I read is only several pages long or more than 10 pages, his works present before me new challenges. From understanding his investigative method to reading the minds of his characters, Poe’s works are very worthy of further personal researching.
In Tales of Mystery and Imagination that I bought a few weeks ago, I skipped his famous detective fictions; Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Mystery of Marie Roget. I was trying hard to get his ideas but his style was too complicated for me. I didn’t understand what he was conveying. Probably I will get back to them later on when I feel my brain is smart enough.
In the meantime, here are some titles that I read (some are with hard efforts):
- The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar (1845)
This was my first experience of knowing that Poe is indeed a very creepy author. M. Ernest Valdemar, as the main character in the short story foreshadows, suffered from severe illness that he was dying. On approaching his death, he asked for the narrator to try saving him by conducting mesmerism. Mesmerism was the name given by German doctor Franz Mesmer in the 18th century to what he believed to be an invisible natural force (Lebensmagnetismus) possessed by all living things, including humans, animals and vegetables. The doctor believed that the force could have physical effects, including healing and he tried but to no avail for achieving scientific recognition of his ideas.
The narrator put the sick man in a suspended hypnotic state. Seven months passed yet M. Valdemar didn’t get better. Each time the narrator visited him, he neither really awoke nor slept. He replied the narrator’s questions by saying “I have been sleeping – and now- now- I am dead”, among the things. Until the very last visit, M. Valdemar instead asked for the narrator to end the practice, saying, “For God’s sake! – quick!- quick! Put me to sleep -or quick! Waken me- quick! I say to you that I am dead!”
What disturbs me is when the narrator halted the practice and the sick man eventually dead. This is because M. Valdemar’s body was changed, decayed into loathsome putrescence. Two things that attract me are the term mesmerism and the disgusting description of M. Valdemar on his way to death.
- MS. Found in a Bottle (1833)
The plot of the short story is very simple. An unnamed narrator sailed from Batavia (now Jakarta) but then faced horrible circumstances that made him and other passengers sinking into the sea in a series of disasters. MS means manuscript, which in this short story means the manuscript that the narrator wrote to have described his experiences before the ship he was in was sinking while reaching Antartica.
Poe fascinates me with his narration style here. He vividly describes scenes, facial changes of the narrator and other passengers he came across. The way Poe depicts when the ship sinks, the narrator’s fear and his struggle to get back on waters bring me strong pictures on tremendous, horrific situations that the narrator faces at that time. There isn’t any better technique of inviting readers to closely feel what characters in fictions experience than the one like in MS. Found in a Bottle.
- A Descent into the Maelstrom (1841)
The core of this short story is quite similar to the second I mentioned here. Poe presents a man who recalled his life-and-death experience with his brother when a whirlpool and shipwreck suddenly struck them. Unlike the unnamed narrator in the second story, the man in the third story survived so that he was able to have described the deadly and frightening moment in his life.
I really like how Poe, again, describes the man’s experience here. Much like the second story, Poe details every single process when the disasters occur. He is so skilled at building tension that the climax reaches my nerve. Poe successfully makes me feeling the tense and the suspense of the shipwreck and the whirlpool. I can’t imagine if I were experiencing them.
- The Purloined Letter (1844)
I honestly didn’t follow details of the story because of the intricate story full of clues, suspicions, guesses and political relations. This is the third part of the three detective stories other than The Murder of the Rue Morgue and The Mystery of Marie Roget with fictional C. Auguste Dupin as the detective.
As the title suggests, the short story revolves around a letter that went missing from the boudoir of an unnamed woman done by Minister D. Dupin and the narrator of the story were joined by one of their friends called as G from Perfect police unit. He told them on the missing letter that was believed to contain important information. But the Perfect couldn’t find the letter even after they searched the apartment of the minister. Dupin applied his tactic that eventually earned him the letter and the reward the G gave to him.
I am awed by Poe’s complicated story-telling style and (after I read Wikipedia) doubly mind reading applied by the minister and Dupin. Despite Dupin is said as amateur, his strategy of getting the letter is brilliant.
- The Fall of the House of Usher (1839)
I had known the title long, long time ago and last night I finally read it. I was enjoying the story very much despite the fact I am a coward. I couldn’t help being hypnotized by Poe’s smooth, beautiful way of describing the atmosphere, the scenery, the night mode and many small elements that were leading to the climax of the story. Add to that was Poe’s depiction of Roderick Usher as dying man. And of course Usher’s only sister, Madeline, who was severely ill then dead. Better not to provide details of the story. You have to read it by yourself then feel horrific, hysterical mode in it. A sense of supranatural, metaphysical is well-combined into major theme on loneliness, isolation and madness.
I intentionally didn’t complete reading the story last night then resumed it this morning because of very powerful scary mode that I felt when the story hadn’t reached the peak. I was afraid I couldn’t sleep imagining how the finale scene would be. That’s how influential Poe’s writing style left me with.