Today’s the day when those of with triskaidekaphobia fear the worst. There’s no evidence Poe suffered from this bizarre malady, but suffer he did in his short life. One of the few pleasures Poe enjoyed was scaring the hell out of the rest of us. In celebration of Friday the Thirteenth, I’d like to share some of my favorite Poe horrors.
Note, if some of these now might make you laugh, it’s good to remember that Poe was writing this stuff in the first half of the 1800’s, a time much more straight-laced than our own. He shocked readers, amazed them, and on several occasions publishers even refused to print some of the madness Mr. Poe dreamt up.
The insane narrator maims his beloved pet cat in ‘The Black Cat’:
The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer. My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body and a more than fiendish malevolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every fibre of my frame. I took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen-knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity.
The insane narrator rips out the teeth of his beloved while she’s still alive in ‘Berenice’:
He pointed to garments;—they were muddy and clotted with gore. I spoke not, and he took me gently by the hand: it was indented with the impress of human nails. He directed my attention to some object against the wall. I looked at it for some minutes: it was a spade. With a shriek I bounded to the table, and grasped the box that lay upon it. But I could not force it open; and in my tremor, it slipped from my hands, and fell heavily, and burst into pieces; and from it, with a rattling sound, there rolled out some instruments of dental surgery, intermingled with thirty-two small, white and ivory-looking substances that were scattered to and fro about the floor.
The insane narrator murders his landlord, then realizes, in a passing fit of sanity, that he has a body to dispose of in ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’:
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 dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.
The quite sane (sorry), August Dupin, detective extraordinaire, investigates a gruesome murder in ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’:
Of Madame L’Espanaye no traces were here seen; but an unusual quantity of soot being observed in the fire-place, a search was made in the chimney, and (horrible to relate!) the corpse of the daughter, head downward, was dragged therefrom; it having been thus forced up the narrow aperture for a considerable distance. The body was quite warm. Upon examining it, many excoriations were perceived, no doubt occasioned by the violence with which it had been thrust up and disengaged. Upon the face were many severe scratches, and, upon the throat, dark bruises, and deep indentations of finger nails, as if the deceased had been throttled to death.
The insane narrator wreaks revenge on Fortunato by walling him up in a catacomb so his victim can slowly starve to death in ‘The Cask of Amontillado’:
“For the love of God, Montressor!”
“Yes,” I said, “for the love of God!”
But to these words I hearkened in vain for a reply. I grew impatient. I called aloud—
No answer. I called again—
No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within. There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells. My heart grew sick—on account of the dampness of the catacombs. I hastened to make an end of my labor. I forced the last stone into its position; I plastered it up. Against the new masonry I re-erected the old rampart of bones. For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat!
And finally, the pathologically neurotic narrator obsesses on his greatest fear–to be buried alive–in ‘The Premature Burial’. Of course, by story’s end, he is buried alive.
It may be asserted, without hesitation, that no event is so terribly well adapted to inspire the supremeness of bodily and of mental distress, as is burial before death. The unendurable oppression of the lungs—the stifling fumes from the damp earth—the clinging to the death garments—the rigid embrace of the narrow house—the blackness of the absolute Night—the silence like a sea that overwhelms—the unseen but palpable presence of the Conqueror Worm—these things, with the thoughts of the air and grass above, with memory of dear friends who would fly to save us if but informed of our fate, and with consciousness that of this fate they can never be informed—that our hopeless portion is that of the really dead—these considerations, I say, carry into the heart, which still palpitates, a degree of appalling and intolerable horror from which the most daring imagination must recoil. We know of nothing so agonizing upon Earth—we can dream of nothing half so hideous in the realms of the nethermost Hell.