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Book review: <i>Poe: Illustrated Tales of Mystery and Imagination</i> by Edgar Allen Poe

the cover of the book

This volume brings together thirteen of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories and poems and couples them with the visual art of thirteen talented and engaging artists.

I like this volume a lot because it’s not what it could easily be; a resurrection of some stock standard American literary figure as an excuse to showcase the cloying clamouring wares of some collection of over eager, ambitious, 'look-at-me's who are GAGGING for the heraldry and praise that they themselves above all else believe that they so richly deserve.

It is in fact a beautifully constructed edition that stands as not only a luxurious homage to a worthy author but also as an exciting marriage of beautiful words and beautiful images.

The book itself is classy as hell, bound in hard board with embossed titling and a gorgeous front cover illustration by Vania Zouravliov. Inside the text is printed on beautiful, creamy, heavy-gauge paper that can’t help but flatter both the text and the illustrations.

This sucker has a ribbon book-mark. Come on. Is the ribbon book-mark not the ultimate symbol of ‘classy’ in book making?? I vote Yes.

The content delivers nine of Poe’s most famous short stories including The Pit and the Pendulum, The Tell-Tale Heart and The Black Cat. The poems included are The Raven no doubt the one piece of work synonymous with the authors name, The Bells and The Conqueror Worm.

The work itself, as anyone familiar with old Edgar will tell you, is suitably dark and gothic and to a certain extent the slightest bit naive and formulaic. But let’s face it, if you’re reading Poe for the inside scoop on what’s cutting edge in the world of Literature you’re a million miles off the mark already. Just get over it and enjoy the shtick-horror glory of it all.

Yeats called The Raven “insincere and vulgar”. I am somewhat less fussy however, and to me at least it has it’s place in the history of poetry and to a larger degree in the history of horror fiction. It’s undoubtedly entertaining and like I said if you take off your serious hat for a moment and dig the antiquated language and the gothic lore, The Raven is nothing short of a gem.

The Pit and the Pendulum is a suspenseful and exciting story concerning a man imprisoned for crimes undisclosed and sentenced to death. Of course it’s a give-away that the protagonist escapes this grisly fate since the story is narrated in the FIRST PERSON. But hey, I guess that just adds to the old-world charm of it all doesn’t it?

The Black Cat is a classic tale of dark comedy wherein the narrator chronicles his troubled relationship with his pet cat. Think Kevin Bloody Wilson’s The Fucking Cat’s Back set in the eighteen hundreds. Dark, gothic and deliciously humorous (Slightly more sophisticated than Kevin Bloody Wilson…) The Conqueror Worm is a beautifully nihilistic poem about the inevitability of death and the nature of man’s mortality. The poem describes a cast of mimes performing a tragedy to an audience of benign angels who are powerless to lessen the suffering of the poor mimes. An unerringly fatalistic analogy for life the performance ends with The Conqueror Worm’s entrance to the stage. This beast comes along and DEVOURS the entire cast. Poe insinuates that death is the only kind act in life, a the release from tragedy ends the suffering of the mimes. (And historians are reluctant to put his untimely death down to suicide??)

All in all this collection of poems and short stories is sumptuous in it’s physical construction, it’s elaborate illustration and it’s well earned reverence in hind sight at the work of an extremely engaging if not always entirely ground-breaking author and poet.

In short

Title: Poe: Illustrated Tales of Mystery And Imagination
Author: Edgar Allen Poe
Publisher: Dgv
ISBN: 3899551591
Year published: 2006
Pages: 191
Genre(s): Classic literature, Short stories
Review Type: