Saturday, January 20, 2018

Edgar Allan Poe: Horror Writer, Sci Fi Writer

A portrait photo of Edgar Allan Poe.

Yesterday marked the 209th birthday of the father of American horror, Edgar Allen Poe. So I thought it would be neat to make this post a Poe post to honour him. Although my favorite of Poe’s works are his dark supernatural stories, I thought it was important to emphasise his science fiction which has been historically so underrated. So I’m excerpting from an article I had written several years ago for the online news site,, before it went obsolete. The article was about the Edgar Allen Poe House and Museum in Baltimore which was on the edge of permanently closing down at the time which, fortunately, due to a successful petition (which I signed), ended up not happening.

When I wrote the article, I thought it was so important that the Poe House and Museum be preserved because it is both an important landmark to U.S. and pop cultural history. Even though Poe’s imaginative works were often down-criticised and far underrated during his time, the early 19th century, that all paid off in the century following his own. His works influenced famous modern authors of horror and sci fi such as H. P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson and Stephen King. A multitude of movies have adapted his fiction, namely ones produced under American International Pictures which many of starred Vincent Price and Boris Karloff. Several of his stories have also been adapted to comic books. Even rock bands base their songs on him. So he’s definitely become a pop cultural figure even if in postmortem. But many of his influences on these aspects of popular culture have been typically seen in relation to horror rather than science fiction. So here’s the excerpt that explains otherwise:

From “The Closing of Baltimore’s Poe House and Museum”,

Poe, so well known for his gothic horror stories, is seldom thought of as a science fiction author. However, it has been argued that he was an early writer of science fiction as well as horror and detective fiction. In fact, he has been regarded by the University of Baltimore’s Baltimore Literary Heritage Project team to be the first true science fiction writer. According to the Project, Poe “created the first true science fiction story.” Many of Poe’s stories about flying machines and hot air balloons that travel to unknown lands were influences for the better known, late 19th/early 20th centuries’ science fiction authors’ works, such as Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days. In fact, “Jules Verne himself acknowledged his dept to Poe [. . .]”, states Harold Beaver in his book, The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe. California State University, Sacramento English professor, Mark Hennelly, Jr. explains in his article, “Oedipus and Orpheus in the Maelstrom”, the journey in Poe’s stories, such as “A Descent Into the Maelstrom”, in terms of scientific exploration and wonder by saying that the characters are “obsessed with terrestrial (and marine) depth, [. . . and] preoccupied with celestial elevation” which much of science fiction concerns itself with.

Harold Beaver’s book, the Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, collects these stories as Poe’s science fiction:

“Ms. Found in a Bottle”
“The Unparalleled Adventure/Hans Pfaall”
“The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion”
“A Descent into the Maelstrom”
“Colloquy of Monos and Una”
“”The Tale of the Ragged Mountains”
“The Balloon Hoax”
“Mesmeric Revelation”
“The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade”
“Some Words with a Mummy”
“The Power of Words”
“The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether”
“Mellonta Tauta”
“Von Kempelen and His Discovery”

If Poe wasn’t the first science fiction author ever, he still contributed significantly to the genre.

List of My Favourite Poe Tales

As I said, my favorite tales by Poe are the dark supernatural ones. But out of the sci fi ones I would say I like “A Descent into the Maelstrom” most. It’s dark within itself and also has a supernatural element to it as it does a science fiction one, which you can say in today’s sub-genre terms is inter-dimensional travel. But here’s a list of my favourite supernatural fiction by Poe:

The Fall of the House of Usher

The Pit and the Pendulum: This was the first Poe story I ever read. I read it in it’s abridged version when I was 11 from a book of his tales that I checked out at my school’s library. Today (literally) I’m reading this one to celebrate his birthday. It’s from The Illustrated Edgar Allen Poe, a book that contains select full stories but is also beautifully illustrated by the artist, Satty. It’s a copy I came across in the dealer’s room at one of the first full conventions I went to several years ago, BayCon in San Jose, CA.

The Masque of the Red Death

The Murders In the Rue Morgue

Without Poe’s work, there probably wouldn’t be speculative fiction in the sense we know it today. They’re may not even be a horror genre as we know it today.

So what are your favorite works by Poe?

Until next time . . .

No comments:

Post a Comment