Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) lived a relatively short, unhappy life but during it he produced some of the world’s most recognizable poetry and stories. Orphaned before the age of two, he became estranged from his foster father in his teens and became an alcoholic who had difficulty keeping a job. He married his thirteen year old cousin Virginia Clemm, (who probably inspired much of his fiction and poetry) only to see her sicken and die of tuberculosis in her twenties. His drinking was exacerbated by her death and only two years later he himself died in Baltimore, four days after being found wandering the streets delirious, and in clothing other than his own. His first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, was published anonymously in May 1827. Although his first love was always poetry, he wrote stories, reviews, essays, and commentaries, in order to support himself and Virginia, and working as assistant editor for the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond, Virginia, then at Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, and finally in 1841 was appointed assistant editor of Graham’s Magazine both in Philadelphia. Some of his work was collected in the two volumes of Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque in 1840. It was during this period that he wrote what many consider the first detective story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Both “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” were also written while Poe was living in Philadelphia. The publication of his poem “The Raven” in the February 1845 issue of The American Review and subsequently in The Raven and Other Poems the same year finally brought him the recognition he had long desired.
For the reader unfamiliar with Poe’s work, one can’t go wrong picking up a copy of Tales of Mystery and the Imagination-- they can be purchased in inexpensive editions with or without illustrations.
In honor of Edgar Allan Poe’s Bicentennial in 2009, I commissioned our intrepid contributors to write stories inspired by Poe. I only specified that I did not want pastiches. I asked each writer to tell me in advance what work of Poe’s to be riffed on and then write an afterward discussing her choice. Although I discouraged Poe being used as a character in the stories, a couple of writers came up with such ingenious uses of Poe within their stories that I was delighted to include them.
So we have nineteen stories and novelettes that have been influenced by Poe’s work ranging from “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “William Wilson,” and “The Masque of the Red Death,” (three of the latter, all quite different from each other) to one of Poe’s essays, his poetry, and even an unfinished fragment of a story. The periods and the styles and backgrounds are varied. The subject matter and themes sometimes address contemporary concerns and fears. The contributors are from the United States, Great Britain, Australia, and Canada and just about evenly split male-female (all inadvertent).
I’ve always been a fan of Edgar Allan Poe’s prose and poems and have appreciated the movies made from his work--as dumb as some of them have been. Kim Newman starts off the anthology using his immense filmic knowledge to create a tale “celebrating” these mostly cheapie efforts to take advantage of public domain fiction. John Langan finishes with a story that includes among other things, a postmodern exegesis of one of Poe’s most famous stories.
Each author contributes an afterword explaining from which of Poe’s works they’ve taken inspiration. Although the reader can check out these Afterwords in advance, I urge you not to. It may spoil the surprise, the shock and, yes, the horror these authors have in store for you.