Poe and Clarke– On Tour Again!

If you have any interest in speculative/weird/horror fiction, or have taken a 19th Century American Lit course, you probably have a collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s work. I obtained my “Complete Tales and Poems” from my grandparents. It’s a staple to any self-respecting bookshelf. Certainly, if you already have a tidy Poe collection that includes the word “complete,” you wouldn’t need any other collection.


So thought I, until I was perusing the bargain section of B&N. I came across a handsome, tempting, eerie hardcover of “Tales of Mystery and Imagination.” Forces beyond those of the natural world placed the book–which I had first seen reviewed a couple months ago— in my hands.

The cover. The background design is an illustration in red and black; a skull and a woman in profile stare in opposing directions, imposed over a twisted vortex. In the foreground in black and white, a cloaked man stares at us probingly. The cover design tempts us — and challenges us– to open the pages and discover the dark things within.

I opened.

The frontispiece is an illustration of the pivotal murder scene from “The Tell-Tale Heart.” The figures are long, lean, and mad-eyed. Like Poe’s writing, Harry Clarke’s illustrations forgo realism and sweep us into the dark and unfathomable recesses of the psyche. Fingers and toes are sharp and pointed; a cape swirls parallel to the floor with no apparent breeze. We are entering a dream-state.

There is really no need to comment on the stories themselves here, or discuss Poe’s strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I’d need a separate post (or college course) for that. What makes this edition really special are the illustrations. Harry Clarke was an Irish artist and illustrator from the turn of the twentieth century. His illustrations to a 1919 edition of “Tales” put him on the map, and he went on to illustrate a number of other important works: Goethe’s “Faust,” Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales, and Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” In an eerie twist of fortune, he died at the age of 41– the age of Poe’s death– of tuberculosis– the disease that killed Poe’s wife.

Why seek out this book? There’s something special about finding illustrations that capture and enhance the essence of the prose, and that is the case here. Reading stories in this volume is a different experience than reading them online, or on an e-reader, or even in a “Complete Tales” collection. It’s also the type of book that’s great to leave lying around conspicuously, so that houseguests can idly pick it up, thumb through it, and be either enchanted or disgusted. Think of it as a litmus test of the weird.

Keep an eye out for my next post, in which I’ll talk about a different take on “Tales of Mystery and Imagination.”

Tagged , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Adam Knight

Author and Freelance Writer

Talk Blog Research

What you find changes who you become.

Diane Ravitch's blog

A site to discuss better education for all

Eli Glasman

Site of author Eli Glasman

The Were-Traveler

Don't be afraid, dearie...it's just a story.

Vegan Cinephile

Movies, mindfulness, and musings.

Carpe Libris Writers Group

Seize the Library, Write the Books!

Jill Barville

3Rs = wRiting, Running and Reading

The Day Dreamer and Candy Eater

A lot of reading. Not much sleeping.

Weekends in Paradelle

My weekend retreat online

Utopia or Dystopia

where past meets future

Pechorin's Journal

A literary blog

Biography As Fiction

Telling other people's stories.


easy reading is damn hard writing

Shane Halbach

Author, blogger, parent

Writingalife's Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog


Steampunk: Nostalgia for a Time that Never Was...


The pagan housewife: Mindful parenting, relationship advice and modern pagan lifestyle.

%d bloggers like this: