Summer reading: Edgar Allan Poe

I kicked off this year’s summer reading with Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849), just because I stumbled upon the story about his rivalry with Rufus Griswold (1815–1857), and I wanted to know more. All I knew about Poe was that he wrote horror tales and was the man behind “The Raven.” The dive into his writing and the history of his life turned out to be a highly entertaining one, with the great Christopher Lee’s recitation of “The Raven” as the highlight — see video at the end of this post.

Among Poe’s horror stories, The Tell-Tale Heart became one of my favorites. The narrator/killer hides his victim under the floorboards, while at the same time he tries to convince the readers of his sanity: “If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismemb…” Then he starts hearing the dead man’s beating heart from under the floor, louder and Louder and LOUDER. Thump! Thump! Thump!

Another favorite is The Murders in the Rue Morgue, introducing us to C. Auguste Dupin who thanks to his deductive skills cleverly solves the murders. His friend narrates the story. Holmes and Watson, right? Poirot and Hastings. Before Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot there was C. Auguste Dupin.

Well equipped for a Poe session at the library: a baguette with roast beef, a bottle of orange juice, two chocolates, and a Danish to go with the coffee

Poe and Griswold
The infamous Rufus Griswold, literary critic and editor, and Poe’s arch-nemesis. The feud between the two is almost like a Poe story, and one is hardly mentioned without the other.

While Griswold was putting together the anthology that would become The Poems and Poetry of America, Poe submitted several of his poems, of which three were included in the collection. Griswold paid Poe to write a review of the book but didn’t get the praise he had expected. Poe questioned Griswold’s choice of poets, and the rivalry was on. The already strained relationship didn’t improve when Griswold not only succeeded Poe as the editor of Grahams Magazine but was paid more. AND WHAT DID POE DO? He openly attacked Griswold in a series of lectures.

Fast-forward a few years. Poe dies, and Griswold writes a less than flattering obituary, signed Ludwig. It starts like this: “Edgar Allan Poe is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it.”

The story doesn’t end there. Griswold somehow became Poe’s literary executor. AND WHAT DID HE DO? He attempted a character assassination of his bitter rival by writing a biographical article in which he depicted Poe in a very negative light, based on lies and half-truths. Luckily, this distorted view has since been rectified.

This is a clip from The Poe Museum: “Griswold’s distorted image of Poe created the Poe legend that lives to this day while Griswold is only remembered (if at all) as Poe’s first biographer.”

As I said, a highly entertaining experience. Who says research is boring?

Comedy Central’s Drunk History team dramatized the feud between Poe and Griswold in their own way, with a narrator telling the story in an inebriated state and actors re-enacting it:

And finally, “The Raven,” read by Christopher Lee. Enjoy!


What are you reading this summer?


Lady in red

You think characters vanish just because you ditch them from a story you plan to write? They don’t. They continue their travel from one writer to another begging to be heard: What am I to be?

Imagine you sketch an idea for a story on a yellow Post-it about an author who, while giving a presentation on a stage at the city’s Grand Hotel, suddenly sees a lady dressed in red being forcefully removed from the room by a scar-faced man with an ugly grin and taken away. She desperately turns her head to the author and he reads her lips: Help me! Then you sigh in resignation: O-M-G ― and put the Post-it in the drawer, stacked on top of your other Post-its outlining half-hearted ideas, and forget all about it.

Meanwhile, the abandoned author makes it his mission to find the lady in red and begins his journey from author to author. Sometimes he makes a brief appearance in a story, maybe standing on a crime scene looking for her. Sometimes he is brought in for interrogation before he is released and disappears from yet another story.

This is all unbeknownst to you until one fine day, a new book makes the headlines as a debuting author releases a crime novel called Lady in Red. Critics and readers alike are overjoyed: “Sensational!” “A new Mankell!” The novel is about an author who travels all over Europe searching for a lady dressed in red who was forcefully removed from his reading gig at the city’s Grand Hotel by a scar-faced man with an ugly grin. “Lady in red?” you mutter to yourself and a vague memory of a character on a yellow Post-it surfaces.

It can happen.

Inspired by the WordPress Daily Prompt: Doppelgänger

Medieval help desk

This clip is an oldie but goodie that still makes me laugh. I almost LOL-ed, but that’s sooo 2015.

Sometimes, when you move from one system to another, let’s say from scrolls to books, you need assistance from the help desk. This happens to Brother Ansgar in this hilarious video classic from Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) (2001). A guy from the monastery user support finally arrives: “We’re introducing this new system and everybody wants help immediately.” Sounds familiar? Well worth watching or re-watching.

WordPress Daily Prompt: Archaic

Letter from a vicar’s wife

“Not to be opened until May 14th, 2002.” Those were the instructions.

In 1902, a vicar’s wife named Hanna wrote a letter to the woman who would be the vicar’s wife in the same parish in 2002. Her instructions were to leave the letter unopened for 100 years, until May 14th, 2002.

The letter was brought to public attention in the 1990’s. On the Sunday following May 14th, 2002, the present vicar’s wife read the letter in a packed church. Among the attendants were several of Hanna’s descendants. Hanna wrote about the daily life and hardship in the old vicarage in the far north of Norway, high above the Arctic Circle, and the grieving of the premature loss of a baby girl, 14 months old. If the grave is not razed to the ground, she wrote, would you be so kind as to look after it?

The grave is still there, right outside the sacristy. After the service, flowers were laid on it.

Hanna sealed the letter the same day she left the parish together with her husband and two sons after eight years of service. She was not yet 30. Despite its sadness, I think the letter was a wonderful legacy to leave behind and reminds us of the continuity of things. The present vicar’s wife made a promise to write her own letter.

I got to visit the small grave some years ago when I attended my brother’s funeral in that same church. I took some of the wild flowers we had picked for the reception and placed them at the tiny headstone, where her name is still legible: Anna.

Her name was Anna.

WordPress Daily Prompt: Premature

Summer Meadow

By Tomas Tranströmer

There’s so much we must be witness to.
Reality wears us so thin
but here is summer at last:

a large airport — the controller brings
down planeload after planeload of frozen
people from outer space.

The grass and the flowers — here’s where we land.
The grass has a green supervisor
I report to him.

WordPress Daily Prompts: Thin