Saturday, January 10, 2009

Dore's Raven

Paul Gustave Dore, the 19th century French artist whose pictures of demons and hell from Dante's Inferno, Milton's Paradise Lost, and de Plancy's Dictionnaire Infernal might have terrified you as a child, also illustrated Poe's "The Raven." Below are some examples; click on thumbnails to see them in all their dark glory (Downloaded from Project Gutenberg).

Poe's Mysterious Death

The death of Poe himself is as sordid and mysterious as one of his grimmer stories. After disappearing for several days, he was found delirious and wearing someone else's clothing in a Baltimore saloon, muttering the name "Reynolds," whom no one has ever identified. Brought to a hospital, he died after four days.

Trutv Crime Library has an exhaustive article on "The Murder of Edgar Allan Poe," giving several theories about how he died, including the possibility that he was the victim of an election-rigging practice known as cooping:

...[G]angs of men picked up or even carried off by force, men whom they found in the streets - and transported them to cellars in various slums of the city, where they were kept under guard, threatened, maltreated if they attempted to escape, often robbed, and always compelled to drink whiskey [sometimes mixed with other drugs] - until they were stupefied and helpless.

At the election these miserable wretches were brought up to the polls in carts or omnibuses, under guard, and made to vote the tickets in their hands [repeatedly at different voting places]. Death from the ill-treatment was not very uncommon. The general belief here is that Poe was seized by one of these gangs - "cooped," stupefied with liquor, dragged out and voted [again and again], then turned adrift to die.

Some proponents of the "cooping" theory state that the gang members may have changed Poe's clothes so that he wouldn't be recognized by those running the elections, in case he was brought to a specific voting place more than once or possibly Poe's fine clothing was taken and sold by the thugs.

While death may have been a possible side effect of "cooping," death was not the primary intent, and those involved in such practices may have been guilty of unintentional homicide.

The article points to other possible homicide theories as well. The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore has an article that includes these, as well as the possibility that Poe was suffering from some sort of disease. Tuberculosis, epilepsy, and diabetes have all been named as potential culprits. In 1996, a doctor published a paper theorizing Poe had died of rabies, based on an account of Poe's end that described how he had difficulty swallowing water. The article takes issue with the doctor's research however, and says Poe did in fact drink a substantial amount of water before the end.

Poe was a heavy drinker, and alcohol could have easily brought about his end. But at the time of his death, he seemed to have sobered up. That plus the missing time, the changed clothing, and the mysterious Reynolds cast some doubt on what really killed Edgar Allan Poe.

The Fall of the House of Usher

A very surreal 13-minute film, this adaptation of Usher appeared in 1928, according to IMDB. Some of the effects seem dated, and very Flock-of-Seagulls to a 21st century audience. But the surreal sets, odd camera angles, and visual tricks have an undeniably creepy and unsettling quality. During the first scene, pay attention to the black gloved hands that serve the brother and sister. And notice how often the directors play around with moving images of staircases. You might almost get vertigo watching this film. It deserves close scrutiny.

Afterwards, compare it to scenes from the 1920 German Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (the film itself is here with thumbnail images here). And read Poe's story.

The Tell-Tale Heart -- An Animated Film

Produced in 1953, this version of Poe's tale features the gentle, wonderfully creepy voice of James Mason along with a cool visual style.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Three Dozen

No piece bigger than a quarter, that’s my rule. You can use knives and acid to strip the meat off the bone. The clothes you can burn. But then you have to break up the skeleton into fragments small enough that they won’t attract attention, that they don’t look human if you come across them. There are plenty of places to scatter them if you’ve done the job right. I’ve taken down three dozen this way.

Of course you have trophies, but you must hide those too. The police can find them in your crawlspace, in your attic. If you rent a storage unit you’re asking to be caught. But you can’t just give them up. You have to be able to take them out once in awhile and… remember.

I’ve found the perfect way. It’s not for everyone. The tools hurt worse than you can imagine. You might get infection if you don’t sterilize everything. But when you’re done, you can just let the authorities search any part of your house. I have three dozen trophies, hiding in perfect plain sight. I just smile when the police come. And no ever counts my four extra teeth.

(Read Poe's Berenice here)
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