Poe and Dreams

Posted: November 7, 2013 in Uncategorized
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The first “adult” story I remember picking up and reading on my own was “The Telltale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe.  I was, perhaps 7 or 8 when I discovered a collection of thin books in bright hues on the bookshelf at the base of the stairs up to my parents’ room.  It was at the little window there that I used to read, by early morning light, the stories that would become my oldest and most cherished friends.  Each book was a classic work of fiction designed for children.  Pictures opened worlds on every other page.  How a collection of Poe stories, including “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Raven” came to be in a child’s book, I will never know.  Rats have terrified me beyond rational reason and ravens have become wise seers in my mind ever since.

But I digress.  I remember devouring every single one of those books in the mornings before the rest of the house stirred.  I didn’t like being downstairs alone, so I would read until I knew an older sibling or a parent was awake.  Huckleberry Finn, Romeo and Juliet, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and, of course, Poe – the master of darkness – entertained my mornings.  Something about “The Telltale Heart” made my own heart beat faster.  The narrator’s descent into madness was evident to me even as a child and yet, there was something chilling about the old man’s eye and his heart’s incessant beating even after death that made me grieve for the narrator.  The same first-person view that would later draw me into many of H. P. Lovecraft’s most unsettling stories hooked me from the beginning.  I think the viewpoint is what really hooked me from the first sentence.  “True! nervous – very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?”

As I grew older and, primarily through books and other entertainment, came to realize that mental stability is a highly questionable thing, I found myself latching on to “The Telltale Heart” more and more.  The idea of a mind unhinging both fascinates and terrifies me.

Though it was such a short story (the children’s version was barely pared down; the only true differences I’ve found from the original are a couple of word choices), it’s clung to me all these years.  I’ve since read everything Poe wrote.  Some of his poems oddly comforted me during my teen years.  “A Dream within a Dream” accompanied me to bed many nights.  “Kingdom by the Sea” gave me a reason to cry.  “The Raven”…well, it’s “The Raven.”  It’s beautiful and haunting.   But the one story that I’ve read countless dozens of times and still, though I practically know it verbatim, makes me hunch over my book, eyes wide, heart racing, deaf to the world, is “The Telltale Heart.”

If, somehow, you have made it this far in life without having read Poe, I highly recommend you read it as soon as you can.  Every decent library ought to have at least one copy of his complete works.  Or you can just go here.

What story first truly captured you: heart, mind, and soul?  Tell us in the comments.

This post was inspired by the Creative Task of the Week in the Future of Storytelling MOOC. 


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