Friday, September 28, 2012

"To Elizabeth" Published 1835

"To Elizabeth" (1835)
Edgar Allan Poe

Elizabeth, it surely is most fit
[Logic and common usage so commanding]
In thy own book that first thy name be writ,
Zeno and other sages notwithstanding;
And I have other reasons for so doing
Besides my innate love of contradiction;
Each poet - if a poet - in pursuing
The muses thro' their bowers of Truth or Fiction,
Has studied very little of his part,
Read nothing, written less - in short's a fool
Endued with neither soul, nor sense, nor art,
Being ignorant of one important rule,
Employed in even the theses of the school-
Called - I forget the heathenish Greek name
[Called anything, its meaning is the same]
"Always write first things uppermost in the heart."

To F——s S. O——d (1835 / 1845)

Originally a poem called "To Elizabeth," dedicated to Poe's cousin Elizabeth Herring and written in an album of hers. It was then published in a revised version in the September 1835 issue of the Southern Literary Messenger as "Lines Written in an Album" and apparently addressed to Eliza White. The poem in this version began, "Eliza! let they generous heart / From its present pathway part not." White was the then 18-year old daughter of Thomas Willis White, Poe's employer while he worked at the Messenger. Poe may have considered pursuing a relationship with her before his marriage to his cousin Virginia. One story suggests that Virginia's mother Maria expedited Poe's marriage to Virginia in order to prevent Poe's involvement with Eliza White. T. W. White's apprentice in old age would later say that Poe and Eliza were nothing more than friends.

The poem was renamed to the ambiguous "To —" in the August 1839 issue of Burton's Gentlemen's Magazine. With minor revisions, it was finally renamed in honor of Frances Sargent Osgood (above) and published in the 1845 collection The Raven and Other Poems.
The speaker asks the addressee, "Thou wouldst be loved?" and suggest she stay on her current path to achieve that goal.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Deathday: Robert Bloch 1994 - Father of PSYCHO

(This photo is from my 1989 interview with RB.)

Robert Albert Bloch (April 5, 1917 – September 23, 1994) was a prolific American writer, primarily of crime, horror and science fiction.

Bloch wrote hundreds of short stories and over twenty novels, usually crime fiction, science fiction and, perhaps most influentially, horror fiction (Psycho). He was one of the youngest members of the Lovecraft Circle. H. P. Lovecraft was Bloch's mentor and one of the first to seriously encourage his talent. He was a contributor to pulp magazines such as Weird Tales in his early career, and was also a prolific screenwriter. He was the recipient of the Hugo Award (for his story "That Hell-Bound Train"), the Bram Stoker Award, and the World Fantasy Award. He served a term as president of the Mystery Writers of America. Robert Bloch was also a major contributor to science fiction fanzines and fandom in general. In the 1940s, he created the humorous character Lefty Feep in a story for Fantastic Adventures. He also worked for a time in local vaudeville and tried to break into writing for nationally-known performers. He was a good friend of the science fiction writer Stanley G. Weinbaum. In the 1960s, he wrote three scripts for Star Trek. In 2008, The Library of America selected Bloch’s story “The Shambles of Ed Gein” for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American True Crime.


Bloch was born in Chicago, the son of Raphael "Ray" Bloch (1884 - 1952), a bank cashier, and his wife Stella Loeb (1880 - 1944), a social worker, both of German-Jewish descent.

Bloch died in 1994 in Los Angeles. He was cremated and interred in the Room of Prayer columbarium at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.


During the 1930s, Bloch was an avid reader of the pulp magazine Weird Tales. H. P. Lovecraft, a frequent contributor to that magazine, became one of his favorite writers. As a teenager, Bloch befriended and corresponded with Lovecraft, who gave the promising youngster advice on his own fiction-writing efforts.[1] Bloch's first professional sales, at the age of just seventeen, were to Weird Tales with the short stories "The Feast in the Abbey" and "The Secret in the Tomb". Bloch's early stories were strongly influenced by Lovecraft. Indeed, a number of his stories were set in, and extended, the world of Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. It was Bloch who invented, for example, the oft-cited Mythos texts De Vermis Mysteriis and Cultes des Goules.

The young Bloch appears, thinly disguised, as the character "Robert Blake" in Lovecraft's story "The Haunter of the Dark", which is dedicated to Bloch. In this story, Lovecraft kills off the Bloch character, repaying a courtesy Bloch earlier paid Lovecraft with his tale "The Shambler from the Stars", in which the Lovecraft-inspired figure dies; the story goes so far as to use Bloch's then-current street address in Milwaukee. (Bloch even had a signed certificate from Lovecraft [and some of his creations] giving Bloch permission to kill Lovecraft off in a story.) Bloch later wrote a third tale, "The Shadow From the Steeple," picking up where "The Haunter of the Dark" finished.

After Lovecraft's death in 1937, Bloch continued writing for Weird Tales, where he became one of its most popular authors. He also began contributing to other pulps, such as the science fiction magazine Amazing Stories. He gradually evolved away from Lovecraftian imitations towards a unique style of his own. One of the first distinctly "Blochian" stories was "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper", which was published in Weird Tales in 1943. The story was Bloch's take on the Jack the Ripper legend, and was filled out with more genuine factual details of the case than many other fictional treatments.[2] Bloch followed up this story with a number of others in a similar vein dealing with half-historic, half-legendary figures such as the Man in the Iron Mask ("Iron Mask," 1944), the Marquis de Sade ("The Skull of the Marquis de Sade," 1945) and Lizzie Borden ("Lizzie Borden Took an Axe...," 1946).

Campaign manager for Carl Zeidler

In 1939, Bloch was contacted by James Doolittle, who was managing the campaign for a little-known assistant attorney in Milwaukee, Wisconsin named Carl Zeidler. He was asked to work on his speechwriting, advertising, and photo ops, in collaboration with Harold Gauer. They created elaborate campaign shows; in Bloch's 1993 autobiography, Once Around the Bloch, he gives an inside account of the campaign, and the innovations he and Gauer came up with — for instance, the original releasing-balloons-from-the-ceiling shtick. He comments bitterly on how, after Zeidler's victory, they were ignored and not even paid their promised salaries. He ends the story with a wryly philosophical point:

If Carl Zeidler had not asked Jim Doolittle to manage his campaign, Doolittle would never have contacted me about it. And the only reason Doolittle knew me to begin with was because he read my yarn ("The Cloak") in Unknown. Rattling this chain of circumstances, one may stretch it a bit further. If I had not written a little vampire story called "The Cloak," Carl Zeidler might never have become mayor of Milwaukee.

Psycho and screenwriting

Bloch became most famous as the author of the novel Psycho, one of the first examples of modern urban horror relying on realism rather than the supernatural[citation needed], which was adapted by Joseph Stefano into the screenplay for the 1960 film of the same name, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. He had written an earlier split-personality short story, "The Real Bad Friend," which appeared in the February, 1957 Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, that foreshadowed the 1959 novel Psycho. His best-known work as a screenwriter is probably The Night Walker (1964), which he wrote for William Castle, although he also penned several scripts for the original series of Star Trek including "What Are Little Girls Made Of?," "Wolf in the Fold," and "Catspaw." He seemed happiest, among his television work, with his contributions to the Boris Karloff-hosted series Thriller.

Bloch also contributed to Harlan Ellison's science fiction anthology, Dangerous Visions. His story, "A Toy for Juliette," evoked both the Marquis de Sade and Jack the Ripper. In fact, Ellison's own contribution to the anthology was a direct follow-up of Bloch's, and was titled "The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World."

Writings on Bloch

An early reference work by Australia's Graeme Flanagan, Robert Bloch: A Bio-Bibliography (1979) includes valuable material including interviews with Bloch and memoirs by fellow writers such as Harlan Ellison, Mary Elizabeth Counselman and Fritz Leiber.

Randall D. Larson has authored three reference books about Robert Bloch: The Robert Bloch Reader's Guide (1986, a literary analysis of Bloch's entire output through 1986), The Complete Robert Bloch (1986, an illustrated bibliography of Bloch's writing), and The Robert Bloch Companion (1986, collected interviews). In addition, an issue of Paperback Parade magazine (No. 39, August 1994) contains two articles by Larson on collecting Bloch - "Paperblochs: Robert Bloch in Paperback" and "Robert Bloch in Paperback."

There is an essay on Bloch's work, with particular reference to the novels Psycho and The Scarf, in S. T. Joshi's book The Modern Weird Tale (2001). Joshi examines Bloch's literary relationship with Lovecraft in a further essay in The Evolution of the Weird Tale (2004).

A new essay collection focusing on a range of Bloch's work is Robert Bloch: the Man Who Collected Psychos, edited by Benjamin J. Szumskyj (McFarland, 2009).



The Scarf (1947, rev. 1966)
Spiderweb (1954)
The Kidnapper (1954)
The Will to Kill (1954)
Shooting Star (1958) (note: published in a double volume with the ss collection Terror in the Night)
This Crowded Earth (1958)
Psycho (1959) (adapted into the 1960 film, Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock; later remade in 1998 by Gus Van Sant)
The Dead Beat (1960)
Firebug (1961)
The Couch (1962)
Terror (1962)
Ladies Day / This Crowded Earth (1968)
The Star Stalker (1968)
The Todd Dossier (1969)
Sneak Preview (1971)
It's All in Your Mind (1971)
Night World (1972)
American Gothic (1974)
Strange Eons (1978) (a Cthulhu Mythos novel)
There Is a Serpent in Eden (1979)
Psycho II (1982) (unrelated to the film of the same name)
Night of the Ripper (1984)
Unholy Trinity (1986) (collects The Scarf, The Couch and The Dead Beat)
Lori (1989)
Screams: Three Novels of Suspense (collects The Will to Kill, Firebug and The Star Stalker)
Psycho House (1990) (unrelated to the films Psycho II, Psycho III or Psycho IV: The Beginning)
The Jekyll Legacy (1991)
Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper (1991) (Pulphouse; a 100-copy hardbound signed edition of Bloch's famous short story)
The Thing (1993) (Pretentious Press; a limited edition of 85 copies, only 9 bound in cloth, of the author's first appearance in print - a parody of H.P. Lovecraft which originally appeared in the April 1932 issue of The Quill, his Lincoln High School literary magazine)
Psycho - The 35th Anniversary Edition (1994) (Gauntlet Press; limited edition of 500 copies; the last work to be signed by Bloch before his death; includes a new intro by Richard Matheson and a new Afterword by Ray Bradbury)

Short-story collections

The Opener of the Way (1945)
Sea Kissed (1945)
Terror in the Night (1958) (note: published in a double volume with the novel Shooting Star)
Pleasant Dreams: Nightmares (1960)
Blood Runs Cold (1961)
Nightmares (1961)
More Nightmares (1961)
Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper (1962)
Atoms and Evil (1962)
Horror 7 (1963)
Bogey Men (1963)
House of the Hatchet (1965)
The Skull of the Marquis de Sade (1965)
Tales in a Jugular Vein (1965)
Chamber of Horrors (1966)
The Living Demons (1967)
Dragons and Nightmares (1968)
Bloch and Bradbury (1969)
Fear Today, Gone Tomorrow (1971)
House of the Hatchet (1976)
The King of Terrors (1977)
The Best of Robert Bloch (1977)
Cold Chills (1977)
Out of the Mouths of Graves (1978)
Such Stuff as Screams Are Made Of (1979)
Mysteries of the Worm (1981)
Midnight Pleasures (1987)
Lost in Space and Time With Lefty Feep (1987)
The Complete Stories of Robert Bloch: Volume 1: Final Reckonings (1987)
The Complete Stories of Robert Bloch: Volume 2: Bitter Ends (1987)
The Complete Stories of Robert Bloch: Volume 3: Last Rites (1987)
Fear and Trembling (1989)
Mysteries of the Worm (rev. 1993) from Chaosium books
The Early Fears (1994)
Flowers from the Moon and Other Lunacies (1998)
The Lost Bloch: Volume 1: The Devil With You! (1999)
The Lost Bloch: Volume 2: Hell on Earth (2000)
The Lost Bloch: Volume 3: Crimes and Punishments (2002)
The Reader's Bloch: Volume 1: The Fear Planet and Other Unusual Destinations (2005)
The Reader's Bloch: Volume 2: Skeleton in the Closet and Other Stories (2009)


The Eighth Stage of Fandom (1962)
Out of My Head (1986)
Once Around the Bloch: An Unauthorized Autobiography (1993)
Robert Bloch: Appreciations of the Master (1995)


The following is a list of films based on Bloch's work. For some of these he wrote the original screenplay; for others, he supplied the story or a novel (as in the case of Psycho) on which the screenplay was based.

Psycho (1960)
The Couch (1962)
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1962)
Strait-Jacket (1964)
The Night Walker (1964)
The Skull (1965)
The Psychopath (1966)
Torture Garden (1967)
The Deadly Bees (1967)
The House That Dripped Blood (1970)
Asylum (1972)
The Cat Creature (Tv movie 1973)
The Dead Don't Die (Tv movie 1974)
The Amazing Captain Nemo (1978)
Psycho (1998)


1.^ Haining, Peter (1975). The Fantastic Pulps. Victor Gollancz Ltd. ISBN 0-575-02000-8.
2.^ Zinna, Eduardo. "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper". Casebook: Jack the Ripper.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"Ligeia" Published 1838

"Ligeia" is an early short story by American writer Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1838. The story follows an unnamed narrator and his wife Ligeia, a beautiful and intelligent raven-haired woman. She falls ill, composes "The Conqueror Worm," and quotes lines attributed to Joseph Glanvill (which suggest that life is sustainable only through willpower) shortly before dying. After her death, the narrator marries the Lady Rowena. Rowena becomes ill and she dies as well. The distraught narrator stays with her body overnight and watches as Rowena slowly comes back from the dead – though she has transformed into Ligeia. The story may be the narrator's opium-induced hallucination and there is debate whether the story was a satire. After the story's first publication in The American Museum, it was heavily revised and reprinted throughout Poe's life.

Plot summary

The unnamed narrator describes the qualities of Ligeia, a beautiful, passionate and intellectual woman, raven-haired and dark-eyed, that he thinks he remembers meeting "in some large, old decaying city near the Rhine." He is unable to recall anything about the history of Ligeia, including her family's name, but remembers her beautiful appearance. Her beauty, however, is not conventional. He describes her as emaciated, with some "strangeness." He describes her face in detail, from her "faultless" forehead to the "divine orbs" of her eyes. They marry, and Ligeia impresses her husband with her immense knowledge of physical and mathematical science, and her proficiency in classical languages. She begins to show her husband her knowledge of metaphysical and "forbidden" wisdom.

After an unspecified length of time Ligeia becomes ill, struggles internally with human mortality, and ultimately dies. The narrator, grief-stricken, buys and refurbishes an abbey in England. He soon enters into a loveless marriage with "the fair-haired and blue-eyed Lady Rowena Trevanion, of Tremaine."

In the second month of the marriage, Rowena begins to suffer from worsening fever and anxiety. One night, when she is about to faint, the narrator pours her a goblet of wine. Drugged with opium, he sees (or thinks he sees) drops of "a brilliant and ruby colored fluid" fall into the goblet. Her condition rapidly worsens, and a few days later she dies and her body is wrapped for burial.

As the narrator keeps vigil overnight, he notices a brief return of color to Rowena's cheeks. She repeatedly shows signs of reviving, before relapsing into apparent death. As he attempts resuscitation, the revivals become progressively stronger, but the relapses more final. As dawn breaks, and the narrator is sitting emotionally exhausted from the night's struggle, the shrouded body revives once more, stands and walks into the middle of the room. When he touches the figure, its head bandages fall away to reveal masses of raven hair and dark eyes: Rowena has transformed into Ligeia.


The narrator relies on Ligeia as if he were a child, looking on her with "child-like confidence." On her death, he is "a child groping benighted" with "childlike perversity." It has been suggested that, despite this dependency on her, the narrator has a simultaneous desire to forget her (perhaps causing him to be unable to love Rowena). This desire to forget is exemplified in his inability to recall Ligeia's last name.[1] The story tells us however that the narrator never knew her last name at all.

Ligeia, the narrator tells us, is extremely intelligent, "such as I have never known in a woman." Most importantly, she served as the narrator's teacher in "metaphysical investigation", passing on "wisdom too divinely precious not to be forbidden!" So, her knowledge in mysticism, combined with an intense desire for life may have led to her revival. The opening epigraph, which is repeated in the body of the story, is attributed to Joseph Glanvill, though this quote has not been found in Glanvill's extant work. Poe may have fabricated the quote and attached Glanvill's name in order to associate with Glanvill's belief in witchcraft.[2]

Ligeia and Rowena serve as aesthetic opposites:[3] Ligeia is raven-haired from a city by the Rhine while Rowena (presumably named after the character in Ivanhoe) is a blonde Anglo-Saxon. This symbolic opposition implies the contrast between German and English romanticism.[4]

Exactly what Poe was trying to say in the metamorphosis scene has been debated, fueled in part by one of Poe's personal letters in which he denies that Ligeia was reborn in Rowena's body[5] (a statement he later retracts). If Rowena had actually transformed into the dead Ligeia, it is only evidenced in the words of the narrator, leaving room to question its validity. The narrator has already been established as an opium addict, making him an unreliable narrator. In fact, perhaps tellingly, the narrator early in the story describes Ligeia's beauty as "the radiance of an opium-dream." He also tells us that "in the excitement of my opium dreams, I would call aloud upon her name, during the silence of the night... as if... I could restore her to the pathway she had abandoned... upon the earth." This may be interpreted as evidence that Ligeia's return was nothing more than a drug-induced hallucination.

If Ligeia's return from death is literal, however, it seems to stem from her assertion that a person dies only by a weak will. This implies, then, that a strong will can keep someone alive. It is unclear, however, if it is Ligeia's will or her husband's will that brings Ligeia back from the dead.[6]

The poem within the story, "The Conqueror Worm," also leads to some questioning of Ligeia's alleged resurrection. The poem essentially shows an admittance of her own inevitable mortality. The inclusion of the bitter poem may have been meant to be ironic or a parody of the convention at the time, both in literature and in life. In the mid-19th century it was common to emphasize the sacredness of death and the beauty of dying (consider Charles Dickens's Little Johnny character in Our Mutual Friend and or the death of Helen Burns in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre). Instead, Ligeia speaks of fear personified in the "blood-red thing."[7] Other interpretations have been suggested however.[8]

Poe's friend and fellow Southern writer Philip Pendleton Cooke suggested the story would have been more artistic if Rowena's possession by Ligeia was more gradual; Poe later agreed, though he had already used a slower possession in "Morella."[9] Poe also wrote that he should have had the Ligeia-possessed Rowena relapse back to her true self so that she could be entombed as Rowena, "the bodily alterations having gradually faded away."[10] However, in a subsequent letter he retracted this statement.

As satire

There has been some debate that Poe may have intended "Ligeia" to be a satire of Gothic fiction. The year that "Ligeia" was published, Poe published only two other prose pieces: "Siope—A Fable" and "The Psyche Zenobia," both Gothic-styled satires.[11] Supporting evidence for this theory includes the implication that Ligeia is from Germany, a main source of Gothic fiction in the 19th century, and that the description of her hints at much but says nothing, especially in the description of her eyes. The narrator describes their "expression," which he admits is a "word of no meaning." The story also suggests Ligeia is a transcendentalist, a group of people Poe often criticized.[12]

Major themes

Death of a beautiful woman (see also: "Berenice", "The Fall of the House of Usher", "Morella")
Resurrection (see also: "The Fall of the House of Usher", "Morella", "Metzengerstein")
Substance abuse (see also: "The Black Cat", "Hop-Frog")

Publication history

"Ligeia" was first published in the September 18, 1838, edition of the American Museum, a magazine edited by two of Poe's friends, Dr. Nathan C. Brooks and Dr. Joseph E. Snodgrass. The magazine paid Poe $10 for "Ligeia."[13]

The story was extensively revised throughout its publication history. It was reprinted in Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840), the one volume of Phantasy Pieces (1842), and Tales by Edgar Allan Poe (1845), the New York World (February 15, 1845), and the Broadway Journal (September 27, 1845). The poem "The Conqueror Worm" was first incorporated into the text (as a poem composed by Ligeia) in the New York World.[14]

Critical reception

Charles Eames of The New World commented: "The force and boldness of the conception and the high artistic skill, with which the writer's purpose is wrought out, are equally admirable."[15] Thomas Dunn English, writing in the October 1845 Aristidean, said that "Ligeia" was "the most extraordinary, of its kind, of his productions."[16]

Irish critic and playwright George Bernard Shaw said, "The story of the Lady Ligeia is not merely one of the wonders of literature: it is unparalleled and unapproached."

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

Roger Corman adapted the story into The Tomb of Ligeia in 1964. It would be the last of Corman's eight film adaptations of works by Edgar Allan Poe.

Ligeia's theme of the death and resurrection of a beloved woman was subsequently developed by Alfred Hitchcock in Vertigo.

The story has also recently been adapted into the 2008 independent feature Edgar Allan Poe's Ligeia by writer John Shirley. The film stars Wes Bentley, Michael Madsen, and Eric Roberts.


1.^ Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991: 139–140. ISBN 0-06-092331-8
2.^ Hoffman, Daniel. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1972: 248. ISBN 0-8071-2321-8
3.^ Kennedy, J. Gerald. Poe, Death, and the Life of Writing. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987: 83. ISBN 0-300-03773-2
4.^ Kennedy, J. Gerald. "Poe, 'Ligeia,' and the Problem of Dying Women" collected in New Essays on Poe's Major Tales, edited by Kenneth Silverman. Cambridge University Press, 1993: 119–120. ISBN 0-521-42243-4
5.^ Kennedy, J. Gerald. "Poe, 'Ligeia,' and the Problem of Dying Women" collected in New Essays on Poe's Major Tales, edited by Kenneth Silverman. Cambridge University Press, 1993: 119. ISBN 0-521-42243-4
6.^ Hoffman, Daniel. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1972: 249. ISBN 0-8071-2321-8
7.^ Kennedy, J. Gerald. Poe, Death, and the Life of Writing. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987: 1–2. ISBN 0-300-03773-2
8.^ Mabbott, T. O. Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Poems. University of Illinois Press, 2000. ISBN 0-252-06921-8
9.^ Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998: 270–271. ISBN 0-8018-5730-9
10.^ Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998: 271. ISBN 0-8018-5730-9
11.^ Griffith, Clark. "Poe's 'Ligeia' and the English Romantics" in Twentieth Century Interpretations of Poe's Tales. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971: 64.
12.^ Griffith, Clark. "Poe's 'Ligeia' and the English Romantics" in Twentieth Century Interpretations of Poe's Tales. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971: 66.
13.^ Ostram, John Ward. "Poe's Literary Labors and Rewards" in Myths and Reality: The Mysterious Mr. Poe. Baltimore: The Edgar Allan Poe Society, 1987: 38.
14.^ Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. New York: Checkmark Books, 2001: 134. ISBN 0-8160-4161-X
15.^ Thomas, Dwight and David K. Jackson. The Poe Log: A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe, 1809–1849. Boston: G. K. Hall and Co., 1987: 502. ISBN 0-8161-8734-7

16.^ Thomas, Dwight and David K. Jackson. The Poe Log: A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe, 1809–1849. Boston: G. K. Hall and Co., 1987: 586–587. ISBN 0-7838-1401-1

Monday, September 17, 2012

"King Pest" Published 1835

"King Pest" (1835)

by Edgar Allan Poe

The gods do bear and will allow in kings
The things which they abhor in rascal routes.
—Buckhurst's Tragedy of Ferrex and Porrex.

About twelve o'clock, one night in the month of October, and during the chivalrous reign of the third Edward, two seamen belonging to the crew of the "Free and Easy," a trading schooner plying between Sluys and the Thames, and then at anchor in that river, were much astonished to find themselves seated in the tap-room of an ale-house in the parish of St. Andrews, London—which ale-house bore for sign the portraiture of a "Jolly Tar."

The room, although ill-contrived, smoke-blackened, low-pitched, and in every other respect agreeing with the general character of such places at the period—was, nevertheless, in the opinion of the grotesque groups scattered here and there within it, sufficiently well adapted to its purpose.

Of these groups our two seamen formed, I think, the most interesting, if not the most conspicuous.

The one who appeared to be the elder, and whom his companion addressed by the characteristic appellation of "Legs," was at the same time much the taller of the two. He might have measured six feet and a half, and an habitual stoop in the shoulders seemed to have been the necessary consequence of an altitude so enormous.—Superfluities in height were, however, more than accounted for by deficiencies in other respects. He was exceedingly thin; and might, as his associates asserted, have answered, when drunk, for a pennant at the mast-head, or, when sober, have served for a jib-boom. But these jests, and others of a similar nature, had evidently produced, at no time, any effect upon the cachinnatory muscles of the tar. With high cheek-bones, a large hawk-nose, retreating chin, fallen under-jaw, and huge protruding white eyes, the expression of his countenance, although tinged with a species of dogged indifference to matters and things in general, was not the less utterly solemn and serious beyond all attempts at imitation or description.

The younger seaman was, in all outward appearance, the converse of his companion. His stature could not have exceeded four feet. A pair of stumpy bow-legs supported his squat, unwieldy figure, while his unusually short and thick arms, with no ordinary fists at their extremities, swung off dangling from his sides like the fins of a sea-turtle. Small eyes, of no particular color, twinkled far back in his head. His nose remained buried in the mass of flesh which enveloped his round, full, and purple face; and his thick upper-lip rested upon the still thicker one beneath with an air of complacent self-satisfaction, much heightened by the owner's habit of licking them at intervals. He evidently regarded his tall shipmate with a feeling half-wondrous, half-quizzical; and stared up occasionally in his face as the red setting sun stares up at the crags of Ben Nevis.

Various and eventful, however, had been the peregrinations of the worthy couple in and about the different tap-houses of the neighbourhood during the earlier hours of the night. Funds even the most ample, are not always everlasting: and it was with empty pockets our friends had ventured upon the present hostelrie.

At the precise period, then, when this history properly commences, Legs, and his fellow Hugh Tarpaulin, sat, each with both elbows resting upon the large oaken table in the middle of the floor, and with a hand upon either cheek. They were eyeing, from behind a huge flagon of unpaid-for "humming-stuff," the portentous words, "No Chalk," which to their indignation and astonishment were scored over the doorway by means of that very mineral whose presence they purported to deny. Not that the gift of decyphering written characters—a gift among the commonalty of that day considered little less cabalistical than the art of inditing—could, in strict justice, have been laid to the charge of either disciple of the sea; but there was, to say the truth, a certain twist in the formation of the letters—an indescribable lee-lurch about the whole—which foreboded, in the opinion of both seamen, a long run of dirty weather; and determined them at once, in the allegorical words of Legs himself, to "pump ship, clew up all sail, and scud before the wind."

Having accordingly disposed of what remained of the ale, and looped up the points of their short doublets, they finally made a bolt for the street. Although Tarpaulin rolled twice into the fire-place, mistaking it for the door, yet their escape was at length happily effected—and half after twelve o'clock found our heroes ripe for mischief, and running for life down a dark alley in the direction of St. Andrew's Stair, hotly pursued by the landlady of the "Jolly Tar."

At the epoch of this eventful tale, and periodically, for many years before and after, all England, but more especially the metropolis, resounded with the fearful cry of "Plague!" The city was in a great measure depopulated—and in those horrible regions, in the vicinity of the Thames, where amid the dark, narrow, and filthy lanes and alleys, the Demon of Disease was supposed to have had his nativity, Awe, Terror, and Superstition were alone to be found stalking abroad.

By authority of the king such districts were placed under ban, and all persons forbidden, under pain of death, to intrude upon their dismal solitude. Yet neither the mandate of the monarch, nor the huge barriers erected at the entrances of the streets, nor the prospect of that loathsome death which, with almost absolute certainty, overwhelmed the wretch whom no peril could deter from the adventure, prevented the unfurnished and untenanted dwellings from being stripped, by the hand of nightly rapine, of every article, such as iron, brass, or lead-work, which could in any manner be turned to a profitable account.

Above all, it was usually found, upon the annual winter opening of the barriers, that locks, bolts, and secret cellars, had proved but slender protection to those rich stores of wines and liquors which, in consideration of the risk and trouble of removal, many of the numerous dealers having shops in the neighbourhood had consented to trust, during the period of exile, to so insufficient a security.

But there were very few of the terror-stricken people who attributed these doings to the agency of human hands. Pest-spirits, plague-goblins, and fever-demons, were the popular imps of mischief; and tales so blood-chilling were hourly told, that the whole mass of forbidden buildings was, at length, enveloped in terror as in a shroud, and the plunderer himself was often scared away by the horrors his own depreciations had created; leaving the entire vast circuit of prohibited district to gloom, silence, pestilence, and death.

It was by one of the terrific barriers already mentioned, and which indicated the region beyond to be under the Pest-ban, that, in scrambling down an alley, Legs and the worthy Hugh Tarpaulin found their progress suddenly impeded. To return was out of the question, and no time was to be lost, as their pursuers were close upon their heels. With thorough-bred seamen to clamber up the roughly fashioned plank-work was a trifle; and, maddened with the twofold excitement of exercise and liquor, they leaped unhesitatingly down within the enclosure, and holding on their drunken course with shouts and yellings, were soon bewildered in its noisome and intricate recesses.

Had they not, indeed, been intoxicated beyond moral sense, their reeling footsteps must have been palsied by the horrors of their situation. The air was cold and misty. The paving-stones, loosened from their beds, lay in wild disorder amid the tall, rank grass, which sprang up around the feet and ankles. Fallen houses choked up the streets. The most fetid and poisonous smells everywhere prevailed;—and by the aid of that ghastly light which, even at midnight, never fails to emanate from a vapory and pestilential at atmosphere, might be discerned lying in the by-paths and alleys, or rotting in the windowless habitations, the carcass of many a nocturnal plunderer arrested by the hand of the plague in the very perpetration of his robbery.

-- But it lay not in the power of images, or sensations, or impediments such as these, to stay the course of men who, naturally brave, and at that time especially, brimful of courage and of "humming-stuff!" would have reeled, as straight as their condition might have permitted, undauntedly into the very jaws of Death. Onward—still onward stalked the grim Legs, making the desolate solemnity echo and re-echo with yells like the terrific war-whoop of the Indian: and onward, still onward rolled the dumpy Tarpaulin, hanging on to the doublet of his more active companion, and far surpassing the latter's most strenuous exertions in the way of vocal music, by bull-roarings in basso, from the profundity of his stentorian lungs.

They had now evidently reached the strong hold of the pestilence. Their way at every step or plunge grew more noisome and more horrible—the paths more narrow and more intricate. Huge stones and beams falling momently from the decaying roofs above them, gave evidence, by their sullen and heavy descent, of the vast height of the surrounding houses; and while actual exertion became necessary to force a passage through frequent heaps of rubbish, it was by no means seldom that the hand fell upon a skeleton or rested upon a more fleshly corpse.

Suddenly, as the seamen stumbled against the entrance of a tall and ghastly-looking building, a yell more than usually shrill from the throat of the excited Legs, was replied to from within, in a rapid succession of wild, laughter-like, and fiendish shrieks. Nothing daunted at sounds which, of such a nature, at such a time, and in such a place, might have curdled the very blood in hearts less irrevocably on fire, the drunken couple rushed headlong against the door, burst it open, and staggered into the midst of things with a volley of curses.

The room within which they found themselves proved to be the shop of an undertaker; but an open trap-door, in a corner of the floor near the entrance, looked down upon a long range of wine-cellars, whose depths the occasional sound of bursting bottles proclaimed to be well stored with their appropriate contents. In the middle of the room stood a table—in the centre of which again arose a huge tub of what appeared to be punch. Bottles of various wines and cordials, together with jugs, pitchers, and flagons of every shape and quality, were scattered profusely upon the board. Around it, upon coffin-tressels, was seated a company of six. This company I will endeavor to delineate one by one.

Fronting the entrance, and elevated a little above his companions, sat a personage who appeared to be the president of the table. His stature was gaunt and tall, and Legs was confounded to behold in him a figure more emaciated than himself. His face was as yellow as saffron—but no feature excepting one alone, was sufficiently marked to merit a particular description. This one consisted in a forehead so unusually and hideously lofty, as to have the appearance of a bonnet or crown of flesh superadded upon the natural head. His mouth was puckered and dimpled into an expression of ghastly affability, and his eyes, as indeed the eyes of all at table, were glazed over with the fumes of intoxication. This gentleman was clothed from head to foot in a richly-embroidered black silk-velvet pall, wrapped negligently around his form after the fashion of a Spanish cloak.—His head was stuck full of sable hearse-plumes, which he nodded to and fro with a jaunty and knowing air; and, in his right hand, he held a huge human thigh-bone, with which he appeared to have been just knocking down some member of the company for a song.

Opposite him, and with her back to the door, was a lady of no whit the less extraordinary character. Although quite as tall as the person just described, she had no right to complain of his unnatural emaciation. She was evidently in the last stage of a dropsy; and her figure resembled nearly that of the huge puncheon of October beer which stood, with the head driven in, close by her side, in a corner of the chamber. Her face was exceedingly round, red, and full; and the same peculiarity, or rather want of peculiarity, attached itself to her countenance, which I before mentioned in the case of the president—that is to say, only one feature of her face was sufficiently distinguished to need a separate characterization: indeed the acute Tarpaulin immediately observed that the same remark might have applied to each individual person of the party; every one of whom seemed to possess a monopoly of some particular portion of physiognomy. With the lady in question this portion proved to be the mouth. Commencing at the right ear, it swept with a terrific chasm to the left—the short pendants which she wore in either auricle continually bobbing into the aperture. She made, however, every exertion to keep her mouth closed and look dignified, in a dress consisting of a newly starched and ironed shroud coming up close under her chin, with a crimpled ruffle of cambric muslin.

At her right hand sat a diminutive young lady whom she appeared to patronise. This delicate little creature, in the trembling of her wasted fingers, in the livid hue of her lips, and in the slight hectic spot which tinged her otherwise leaden complexion, gave evident indications of a galloping consumption. An air of gave extreme haut ton, however, pervaded her whole appearance; she wore in a graceful and degage manner, a large and beautiful winding-sheet of the finest India lawn; her hair hung in ringlets over her neck; a soft smile played about her mouth; but her nose, extremely long, thin, sinuous, flexible and pimpled, hung down far below her under lip, and in spite of the delicate manner in which she now and then moved it to one side or the other with her tongue, gave to her countenance a somewhat equivocal expression.

Over against her, and upon the left of the dropsical lady, was seated a little puffy, wheezing, and gouty old man, whose cheeks reposed upon the shoulders of their owner, like two huge bladders of Oporto wine. With his arms folded, and with one bandaged leg deposited upon the table, he seemed to think himself entitled to some consideration. He evidently prided himself much upon every inch of his personal appearance, but took more especial delight in calling attention to his gaudy-colored surtout. This, to say the truth, must have cost him no little money, and was made to fit him exceedingly well—being fashioned from one of the curiously embroidered silken covers appertaining to those glorious escutcheons which, in England and elsewhere, are customarily hung up, in some conspicuous place, upon the dwellings of departed aristocracy.

Next to him, and at the right hand of the president, was a gentleman in long white hose and cotton drawers. His frame shook, in a ridiculous manner, with a fit of what Tarpaulin called "the horrors." His jaws, which had been newly shaved, were tightly tied up by a bandage of muslin; and his arms being fastened in a similar way at the wrists, I I prevented him from helping himself too freely to the liquors upon the table; a precaution rendered necessary, in the opinion of Legs, by the peculiarly sottish and wine-bibbing cast of his visage. A pair of prodigious ears, nevertheless, which it was no doubt found impossible to confine, towered away into the atmosphere of the apartment, and were occasionally pricked up in a spasm, at the sound of the drawing of a cork.

Fronting him, sixthly and lastly, was situated a singularly stiff-looking personage, who, being afflicted with paralysis, must, to speak seriously, have felt very ill at ease in his unaccommodating habiliments. He was habited, somewhat uniquely, in a new and handsome mahogany coffin. Its top or head-piece pressed upon the skull of the wearer, and extended over it in the fashion of a hood, giving to the entire face an air of indescribable interest. Arm-holes had been cut in the sides, for the sake not more of elegance than of convenience; but the dress, nevertheless, prevented its proprietor from sitting as erect as his associates; and as he lay reclining against his tressel, at an angle of forty-five degrees, a pair of huge goggle eyes rolled up their awful whites towards the celling in absolute amazement at their own enormity.

Before each of the party lay a portion of a skull, which was used as a drinking cup. Overhead was suspended a human skeleton, by means of a rope tied round one of the legs and fastened to a ring in the ceiling. The other limb, confined by no such fetter, stuck off from the body at right angles, causing the whole loose and rattling frame to dangle and twirl about at the caprice of every occasional puff of wind which found its way into the apartment. In the cranium of this hideous thing lay quantity of ignited charcoal, which threw a fitful but vivid light over the entire scene; while coffins, and other wares appertaining to the shop of an undertaker, were piled high up around the room, and against the windows, preventing any ray from escaping into the street.

At sight of this extraordinary assembly, and of their still more extraordinary paraphernalia, our two seamen did not conduct themselves with that degree of decorum which might have been expected. Legs, leaning against the wall near which he happened to be standing, dropped his lower jaw still lower than usual, and spread open his eyes to their fullest extent: while Hugh Tarpaulin, stooping down so as to bring his nose upon a level with the table, and spreading out a palm upon either knee, burst into a long, loud, and obstreperous roar of very ill-timed and immoderate laughter.

Without, however, taking offence at behaviour so excessively rude, the tall president smiled very graciously upon the intruders—nodded to them in a dignified manner with his head of sable plumes—and, arising, took each by an arm, and led him to a seat which some others of the company had placed in the meantime for his accommodation. Legs to all this offered not the slightest resistance, but sat down as he was directed; while tile gallant Hugh, removing his coffin tressel from its station near the head of the table, to the vicinity of the little consumptive lady in the winding sheet, plumped down by her side in high glee, and pouring out a skull of red wine, quaffed it to their better acquaintance. But at this presumption the stiff gentleman in the coffin seemed exceedingly nettled; and serious consequences might have ensued, had not the president, rapping upon the table with his truncheon, diverted the attention of all present to the following speech:

"It becomes our duty upon the present happy occasion" --

"Avast there!" interrupted Legs, looking very serious, "avast there a bit, I say, and tell us who the devil ye all are, and what business ye have here, rigged off like the foul fiends, and swilling the snug blue ruin stowed away for the winter by my honest shipmate, Will Wimble the undertaker!"

At this unpardonable piece of ill-breeding, all the original company half started to their feet, and uttered the same rapid succession of wild fiendish shrieks which had before caught the attention of the seamen. The president, however, was the first to recover his composure, and at length, turning to Legs with great dignity, recommenced:

"Most willingly will we gratify any reasonable curiosity on the part of guests so illustrious, unbidden though they be. Know then that in these dominions I am monarch, and here rule with undivided empire under the title of 'King Pest the First.'

"This apartment, which you no doubt profanely suppose to be the shop of Will Wimble the undertaker—a man whom we know not, and whose plebeian appellation has never before this night thwarted our royal ears—this apartment, I say, is the Dais-Chamber of our Palace, devoted to the councils of our kingdom, and to other sacred and lofty purposes.

"The noble lady who sits opposite is Queen Pest, our Serene Consort. The other exalted personages whom you behold are all of our family, and wear the insignia of the blood royal under the respective titles of 'His Grace the Arch Duke Pest-Iferous'—'His Grace the Duke Pest-Ilential'—'His Grace the Duke Tem-Pest'—and 'Her Serene Highness the Arch Duchess Ana-Pest.'

"As regards," continued he, "your demand of the business upon which we sit here in council, we might be pardoned for replying that it concerns, and concerns alone, our own private and regal interest, and is in no manner important to any other than ourself. But in consideration of those rights to which as guests and strangers you may feel yourselves entitled, we will furthermore explain that we are here this night, prepared by deep research and accurate investigation, to examine, analyze, and thoroughly determine the indefinable spirit—the incomprehensible qualities and nature—of those inestimable treasures of the palate, the wines, ales, and liqueurs of this goodly metropolis: by so doing to advance not more our own designs than the true welfare of that unearthly sovereign whose reign is over us all, whose dominions are unlimited, and whose name is 'Death.'

"Whose name is Davy Jones!" ejaculated Tarpaulin, helping the lady by his side to a skull of liqueur, and pouring out a second for himself.

"Profane varlet!" said the president, now turning his attention to the worthy Hugh, "profane and execrable wretch!—we have said, that in consideration of those rights which, even in thy filthy person, we feel no inclination to violate, we have condescended to make reply to thy rude and unseasonable inquiries. We nevertheless, for your unhallowed intrusion upon our councils, believe it our duty to mulct thee and thy companion in each a gallon of Black Strap—having imbibed which to the prosperity of our kingdom—at a single draught—and upon your bended knees—ye shall be forthwith free either to proceed upon your way, or remain and be admitted to the privileges of our table, according to your respective and individual pleasures."

"It would be a matter of utter impossibility," replied Legs, whom the assumptions and dignity of King Pest the First had evidently inspired some feelings of respect, and who arose and steadied himself by the table as he spoke—"It would, please your majesty, be a matter of utter impossibility to stow away in my hold even one-fourth part of the same liquor which your majesty has just mentioned. To say nothing of the stuffs placed on board in the forenoon by way of ballast, and not to mention the various ales and liqueurs shipped this evening at different sea-ports, I have, at present, a full cargo of 'humming stuff' taken in and duly paid for at the sign of the 'Jolly Tar.' You will, therefore, please your majesty, be so good as to take the will for the deed—for by no manner of means either can I or will I swallow another drop—least of all a drop of that villainous bilge-water that answers to the hall of 'Black Strap.'"

"Belay that!" interrupted Tarpaulin, astonished not more at the length of his companion's speech than at the nature of his refusal—"Belay that you tubber!—and I say, Legs, none of your palaver! My hull is still light, although I confess you yourself seem to be a little top-heavy; and as for the matter of your share of the cargo, why rather than raise a squall I would find stowageroom for it myself, but" --

"This proceeding," interposed the president, "is by no means in accordance with the terms of the mulct or sentence, which is in its nature Median, and not to be altered or recalled. The conditions we have imposed must be fulfilled to the letter, and that without a moment's hesitation—in failure of which fulfilment we decree that you do here be tied neck and heels together, and duly drowned as rebels in yon hogshead of October beer!"

"A sentence!—a sentence!—a righteous and just sentence!—a glorious decree!—a most worthy and upright, and holy condemnation!" shouted the Pest family altogether. The king elevated his forehead into innumerable wrinkles; the gouty little old man puffed like a pair of bellows; the lady of the winding sheet waved her nose to and fro; the gentleman in the cotton drawers pricked up his ears; she of the shroud gasped like a dying fish; and he of the coffin looked stiff and rolled up his eyes.

"Ugh! ugh! ugh!" chuckled Tarpaulin without heeding the general excitation, "ugh! ugh! ugh!—ugh! ugh! ugh!—ugh! ugh! ugh!—I was saying," said he, "I was saying when Mr. King Pest poked in his marlin-spike, that as for the matter of two or three gallons more or less of Black Strap, it was a trifle to a tight sea-boat like myself not overstowed—but when it comes to drinking the health of the Devil (whom God assoilzie) and going down upon my marrow bones to his ill-favored majesty there, whom I know, as well as I know myself to be a sinner, to be nobody in the whole world, but Tim Hurlygurly the stage-player—why! it's quite another guess sort of a thing, and utterly and altogether past my comprehension."

He was not allowed to finish this speech in tranquillity. At the name Tim Hurlygurly the whole assembly leaped from their name seats.

"Treason!" shouted his Majesty King Pest the First.

"Treason!" said the little man with the gout.

"Treason!" screamed the Arch Duchess Ana-Pest.

"Treason!" muttered the gentleman with his jaws tied up.

"Treason!" growled he of the coffin.

"Treason! treason!" shrieked her majesty of the mouth; and, seizing by the hinder part of his breeches the unfortunate Tarpaulin, who had just commenced pouring out for himself a skull of liqueur, she lifted him high into the air, and let him fall without ceremony into the huge open puncheon of his beloved ale. Bobbing up and down, for a few seconds, like an apple in a bowl of toddy, he, at length, finally disappeared amid the whirlpool of foam which, in the already effervescent liquor, his struggles easily succeeded in creating.

Not tamely, however, did the tall seaman behold the discomfiture of his companion. Jostling King Pest through the open trap, the valiant Legs slammed the door down upon him with an oath, and strode towards the centre of the room. Here tearing down the skeleton which swung over the table, he laid it about him with so much energy and good will, that, as the last glimpses of light died away within the apartment, he succeeded in knocking out the brains of the little gentleman with the gout. Rushing then with all his force against the fatal hogshead full of October ale and Hugh Tarpaulin, he rolled it over and over in an instant. Out burst a deluge of liquor so fierce—so impetuous—so overwhelming—that the room was flooded from wall to wall—the loaded table was overturned—the tressels were thrown upon their backs—the tub of punch into the fire-place—and the ladies into hysterics. Piles of death-furniture floundered about. Jugs, pitchers, and carboys mingled promiscuously in the melee, and wicker flagons encountered desperately with bottles of junk. The man with the horrors was drowned upon the spot-the little stiff gentleman floated off in his coffin—and the victorious Legs, seizing by the waist the fat lady in the shroud, rushed out with her into the street, and made a bee-line for the "Free and Easy," followed under easy sail by the redoubtable Hugh Tarpaulin, who, having sneezed three or four times, panted and puffed after him with the Arch Duchess Ana-Pest.

"King Pest" September 1835 Southern Literary Messenger Horror / Humor Originally "King Pest the First," published anonymously

Saturday, September 15, 2012

"The Happiest Day" Published 1827

"The Happiest Day" (1827)

by Edgar Allan Poe

The happiest day—the happiest hour,
My sear'd and blighted heart has known,
The brightest glance of pride and power

I feel hath flown —

Of power, said I? Yes, such I ween —
But it has vanish'd—long alas!
The visions of my youth have been —

But let them pass. —

And pride! what have I now with thee?
Another brow may e'en inherit
The venom thou hast pour'd on me:

Be still my spirit.

The smile of love—soft friendship's charm —
Bright hope itself has fled at last,
'T will ne'er again my bosom warm—

'Tis ever past.

The happiest day,—the happiest hour,
Mine eyes shall see,—have ever seen, —
The brightest glance of pride and power,

I feel has been.

W. H. P.

The Happiest Day (1827)

"The Happiest Day" or "The Happiest Day, the Happiest Hour" is a six quatrain poem . It was first published as part of in Poe's first collection Tamerlane and Other Poems. Poe may have written it while serving in the army. The poem discusses a self-pitying loss of youth, though it was written when Poe was about 19.

A nearly identical poem called "Original" written by Poe's brother William Henry Leonard Poe was first published in the September 15, 1827 issue of the North American. It is believed Poe wrote the poem and sent it to his brother, who then sent it to the magazine. T. O Mabbott felt that the rather tepid value of this slightly edited version of the poem suggests that they were made by William Henry, though perhaps with Edgar's approval.

Monday, September 10, 2012

"Never Bet the Devil Your Head" Published 1841

"Never Bet the Devil Your Head," often subtitled "A Tale With a Moral", is a short story by American author Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1841. The satirical tale pokes fun at the notion that all literature should have a moral[1] and spoofs transcendentalism.

Plot summary

The narrator, presented as the author himself, is dismayed by literary critics saying that he has never written a moral tale. The narrator then begins telling the story of his friend Toby Dammit. Dammit is described as a man of many vices, presumably at least in part due to his left-handed mother flogging him with her left hand, considered improper. Dammit often made rhetorical bets, becoming fond of the expression "I'll bet the devil my head." Though the narrator tries to break Dammit of bad habits, he fails. Nevertheless, the two remain friends.

While traveling one day, they come across a covered bridge. It is gloomy and dark, lacking windows. Dammit, however, is unaffected by its gloom and is in an unusually good mood. As they cross the bridge, they are stopped by a turnstile partway across. Dammit bets the devil his head that he can leap over it. Before the narrator can reply, a cough alerts them to the presence of a little old man. The old man is interested in seeing if Dammit is capable of making such a leap and offers him a good running start. The narrator thinks to himself that it is improper for an old man to push Dammit into making the attempt—"I don't care who the devil he is," he adds.

The narrator watches as Dammit makes a perfect jump, though directly above the turnstile he falls backwards. The old man quickly grabs something and limps away. The narrator, upon checking on his friend, sees that Dammit's head is gone ("what might be termed a serious injury"). He realizes that just above the turnstile, lying horizontally, was a sharp iron bar that happened to be lying at just the spot where his friend's neck hit when he jumped. The narrator sends for the "homeopathists", who "did not give him little enough physic, and what little they did give him he hesitated to take. So in the end he grew worse, and at length died". After the bill for his funeral expenses are left unpaid, the narrator has Dammit's body dug up and later has it sold for dog meat.


"Never Bet the Devil Your Head" is a clear attack on transcendentalism, which the narrator calls a "disease" afflicting Toby Dammit. The narrator, in fact, sends the bill for Dammit's funeral expenses to the transcendentalists, who refuse to pay because of their disbelief in evil.[2] Despite specific mentions of transcendentalism and its flagship journal The Dial, Poe denied that he had any specific targets.[3] Elsewhere, he certainly admitted a distaste for transcendentalists, whom he called "Frogpondians" after the pond on Boston Common.[4] He ridiculed their writings in particular by calling them "metaphor-run," lapsing into "obscurity for obscurity's sake" or "mysticism for mysticism's sake."[5] Poe once wrote in a letter to Thomas Holley Chivers that he did not dislike transcendentalists, "only the pretenders and sophists among them."[1]

Publication history

The story was first published in the September 1841 issue of Graham's Magazine as "Never Bet Your Head: A Moral Tale". Its republication in the August 16, 1845 issue of the Broadway Journal included its now-standard title "Never Bet the Devil Your Head".[3] Noted Poe biographer Arthur Hobson Quinn dismissed the story, saying "it is a trifle."[6]


"Never Bet the Devil Your Head" is the final segment (retitled "Toby Dammit") of the three-part Histoires extraordinaires (1968), directed by Federico Fellini.[3]

"Never Bet the Devil Your Head" was adapted as a radio play for the CBS Radio Workshop in 1957. The cast featured noted voice actors Daws Butler as Toby Dammit and Howard McNear as the Devil.[7] You can listen to that CBS Radio Workshop adaptation at


1.^ Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991. p. 169. ISBN 0060923318
2.^ Herndon, Jerry A. "Poe's Ligeia: Debts to Irving and Emerson" collected in Poe and His Times: The Artist and His Milieu, edited by Benjamin Franklin Fisher IV. Baltimore: The Edgar Allan Poe Society, 1990. p. 118. ISBN 0961644923
3.^ Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. New York: Checkmark Books, 2001. p. 170. ISBN 081604161X
4.^ Royot, Daniel. "Poe's humor," as collected in The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe, Kevin J. Hayes, ed. Cambridge University Press, 2002. pp. 61-2. ISBN 0521797276
5.^ Ljunquist, Kent. "The poet as critic" collected in The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe, Kevin J. Hayes, ed. Cambridge University Press, 2002. p. 15. ISBN 0521797276
6.^ Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. p. 325. ISBN 0801857309
7.^ Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs: CBS Radio Workshop

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The House Of Usher (clip) Kratky Film Prague

As Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" is read by a narrator, scenes that create impressions of the story appear on the screen in both live-action and animation. The live-action sequences are devoid of actors. Rather, tilt-angle shots of the haunted house, chairs inside it falling down and doors opening on their own create suspense and illuminate the drama that is being narrated. In the animated sequences, which use stop-action photography, amorphous images take on shapes to accompany the narration of Poe's spine-tingling story. Produced by Kratky Film Prague. 16 minutes, B/W.

Friday, September 7, 2012

House of Usher (1960) Roger Corman

Director: Roger Corman
Producer: Roger Corman and James H. Nicholson
Stars: Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey, and Harry Ellerbe

House of Usher (1960) is an American International Pictures horror film starring Vincent Price, Myrna Fahey, and Mark Damon: the story is about a New England family cursed with madness, criminal conduct, and debauchery. The film was directed by Roger Corman and its screenplay written by Richard Matheson from the short story "The Fall of the House of Usher" by American author Edgar Allan Poe. The film was the first of eight Corman/Poe feature films. In 2005, the film was listed with the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." The film is also known as Fall of the House of Usher and The Mysterious House of Usher.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) James Sibley Watson & Melville Webber

Directed by James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber

Psychadelic at times, this unusual and memorable movie version of Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" has some creative details, and although it is one of the more obscure versions of the story, it offers a distinctive look at a couple of its many interesting aspects. The style is deliberately murky, and it has not so much as an inter-title, so that you do need to know at least the basic plot in order to understand what is happening.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) Directed by Jean Epstein

Director: Jean Epstein

English dubs over French cards in this haunting version of Poe's classic tale. A stranger called Allan (Charles Lamy) goes to an inn and requests transportation to the House of Usher. The locals remain reluctant, but he gets a coach to transport him to the place. He is the sole friend of Roderick Usher (Jean Debucourt), who leaves in the eerie house with his sick wife Madeleine Usher (Marguerite Gance) and her doctor (Fournez-Goffard). Madeleine is the beloved muse and model and is being painted by Roderick. When she dies, Roderick does not accept her death, and in a dark night, Madeleine returns.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

"The Fall of the House of Usher" Published 1839

"The Fall of the House of Usher" is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in September 1839 in Burton's Gentleman's Magazine. It was slightly revised in 1840 for the collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. It contains within it the poem "The Haunted Palace," which had earlier been published separately in the April 1839 issue of the Baltimore Museum magazine.


The tale opens with the unnamed narrator arriving at the house of his boyhood friend, Roderick Usher, having received a letter from him in a distant part of the country complaining of an illness and asking for his help. Although Poe wrote this short story before the invention of modern psychological science, Roderick's symptoms can be described according to its terminology. They include hyperesthesia (hypersensitivity to light, sounds, smells, and tastes), hypochondria (an excessive preoccupation or worry about having a serious illness), and acute anxiety. It is revealed that Roderick's twin sister, Madeline, is also ill and falls into cataleptic, death-like trances. The narrator is impressed with Roderick's paintings, and attempts to cheer him by reading with him and listening to his improvised musical compositions on the guitar. Roderick sings "The Haunted Palace," then tells the narrator that he believes the house he lives in to be sentient, and that this sentience arises from the arrangement of the masonry and vegetation surrounding it.

Roderick later informs the narrator that his sister has died and insists that she be entombed for two weeks in a vault (family tomb) in the house before being permanently buried. The narrator helps Roderick put the body in the tomb, and he notes that Madeline has rosy cheeks, as some do after death. They inter her, but over the next week both Roderick and the narrator find themselves becoming increasingly agitated for no apparent reason. A storm begins. Roderick comes to the narrator's bedroom, which is situated directly above the vault, and throws open his window to the storm. He notices that the tarn surrounding the house seems to glow in the dark, as it glowed in Roderick Usher's paintings, although there is no lightning.

The narrator attempts to calm Roderick by reading aloud The Mad Trist, a novel involving a knight named Ethelred who breaks into a hermit's dwelling in an attempt to escape an approaching storm, only to find a palace of gold guarded by a dragon. He also finds hanging on the wall a shield of shining brass of which is written a legend: that the one who slays the dragon wins the shield. With a stroke of his mace, Ethelred kills the dragon, who dies with a piercing shriek, and proceeds to take the shield, which falls to the floor with an unnerving clatter.

As the narrator reads of the knight's forcible entry into the dwelling, cracking and ripping sounds are heard somewhere in the house. When the dragon is described as shrieking as it dies, a shriek is heard, again within the house. As he relates the shield falling from off the wall, a reverberation, metallic and hollow, can be heard. Roderick becomes increasingly hysterical, and eventually exclaims that these sounds are being made by his sister, who was in fact alive when she was entombed and that Roderick knew that she was alive. The bedroom door is then blown open to reveal Madeline standing there. She falls on her brother, and both land on the floor as corpses. The narrator then flees the house, and, as he does so, notices a flash of light causing him to look back upon the House of Usher, in time to watch it break in two, the fragments sinking into the tarn.


"The Fall of the House of Usher" was published widely in the September 1839 issue of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine."The Fall of the House of Usher" is considered the best example of Poe's "totality," where every element and detail is related and relevant.[1]

The theme of the crumbling, haunted castle is a key feature of Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto, a late 18th Century novel which largely contributed in defining the Gothic genre.

The article written by Walter Evans "'The Fall of the House of Usher' and Poe's Theory of the Tale," reprinted in Short Story Criticism, says the house and the setting are really a reflection of Roderick Usher. As described in "The Fall of the House of Usher," could symbolize the "'bleak' cheeks, huge eyes ... 'rank' and slightly bushy mustache, and perhaps even 'white trunks of decayed' teeth" of Usher.

"The Fall of the House of Usher" shows Poe's ability to create an emotional tone in his work, specifically feelings of fear, doom, and guilt.[2] These emotions center on Roderick Usher who, like many Poe characters, suffers from an unnamed disease. Like the narrator in "The Tell-Tale Heart", his disease causes his hyperactive senses. The illness manifests physically but is based in Roderick's mental or even moral state. He is sick, it is suggested, because he expects to be sick based on his family's history of illness and is, therefore, essentially a hypochondriac.[3] Similarly, he buries his sister alive because he expects to bury her alive, creating his own self-fulfilling prophecy.

The House of Usher, itself doubly referring both to the actual structure and the family, plays a significant role in the story. It is the first "character" that the narrator introduces to the reader, presented with a humanized description: its windows are described as "eye-like" twice in the first paragraph. The fissure that develops in its side is symbolic of the decay of the Usher family and the house "dies" along with the two Usher siblings. This connection was emphasized in Roderick's poem "The Haunted Palace" which seems to be a direct reference to the house that foreshadows doom.[4]

L. Sprague de Camp, in his Lovecraft: A Biography [p. 246f], wrote that "[a]ccording to the late [Poe expert] Thomas O. Mabbott, [H. P.] Lovecraft, in "Supernatural Horror", solved a problem in the interpretation of Poe" by arguing that "Roderick Usher, his sister Madeline, and the house all shared one common soul". The explicit psychological dimension of this tale has prompted many critics to analyze it as a description of the human psyche, comparing, for instance, the House to the unconscious, and its central crack to the personality split which is called dissociative identity disorder. Mental disorder is also evoked through the themes of melancholy, possible incest, and vampirism. An incestuous relationship between Roderick and Madeline is not explicitly stated, but seems implied by the strange attachment between the two.[5]

Major themes

The doppelgänger theme, prominent in such works of Poe as "William Wilson," appears as well in "The Fall of the House of Usher." The reflection of the house in the tarn is described in the opening paragraph, and "a striking similitude between the brother and sister" is mentioned when Madeline "dies." Poe uses the theme of the death and resurrection of a woman here as well as in "Ligeia" and "Morella." The theme of mental illness is explored in this work, as it is in numerous other tales such as "Berenice." Interment while alive is also explored in "The Premature Burial," "Berenice" and "The Cask of Amontillado." There are also various Gothic elements, such as the decrepit castle and tarn, whose signs of decay reflect the mental condition of Usher, which is rapidly deteriorating.

Allusions and references

The opening epigraph quotes "Le Refus" (1831) by the French songwriter Pierre-Jean de Béranger (1780–1857), translated to English as "his heart is a suspended lute, as soon as it is touched, it resounds". Béranger's original text reads "Mon cœur" (my heart) and not "Son cœur" (his/her heart). The narrator describes one of Usher's musical compositions as "a ... singular perversion and amplification of the wild air of the last waltz of Von Weber". Poe here refers to a popular piano work of his time — which, though going by the title "Weber's Last Waltz" was actually composed by Carl Gottlieb Reissiger (1798–1859).[6] A manuscript copy of the music was found among Weber's papers upon his death in 1826 and the work was mistakenly attributed to him.

Usher's painting reminds the narrator of the Swiss-born British painter Henry Fuseli (1741–1825).

Roderick Usher's library

Though Poe does not always render the titles correctly, all of the books mentioned in the story are real works except for The Mad Trist. No book like the Vigiliae Mortuorum secundum chorum Ecclesiae Maguntinae exists exactly as Poe described it, though there is a real (and very rare) book by that title, which means "The Office of the Dead as sung by the choir of the Church of Mainz." Aside from these, the books are:

Jean-Baptiste-Louis Gresset (1709–1777): Vert-Vert (1734), La Chartreuse
Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527): Novella di Belfagor Arcidiavolo (1545)
Emanuel Swedenborg né Swedberg (1688–1772): De Coelo et Ejus Mirabilibus, et de Inferno, et Auditis et Visis (1758)
Ludvig Holberg (1684–1754): Niels Klims underjordiske Rejse (1741)
Robert Fludd/Robertus de Fluctibus (1574–1637):
Utriusque Macrocosmi at Microcosmi Historia (published between 1617 and 1619)
Integrum Morborum Mysterium: Medicinae Catholicae (1631)
Joannes Indagine (1467–1537): Die Kunst der Chiromantzey (c.1523)
Marinus Cureau de la Chambre (1594–1669): Discours sur les Principes de la Chiromancie (1653)
Johann Ludwig Tieck (1773–1853): Das alte Buch und die Reise ins Blaue hinein. Eine Mährchen-Novelle (1835)
Tommaso Campanella né Giovanni Domenico Campanella (1568–1639): Civitas Solis (1623)
Nicolau Aymerich (c. 1320–1399): Directorium Inquisitorum (1376)
Pomponius Mela: De situ orbis (c.43 CE)


Fludd wrote two works which had sections on chiromancy (palmistry). Both have been given above. The relevant sections are entitled, respectively, De Scientia Animae Naturalis cum vitali seu astrologia chiromantica and De Signis sine praesagis chiromanticis. Campanella originally wrote City of the Sun in Italian in 1602 as La città del Sole before rewriting it in Latin between 1613 and 1623, and its subsequent publication in Latin as Civitas Solis in Frankfurt in 1623. De la Chambre later published Discours sur les Principes de la Chiromancie as part of L'Art de Connaitre Les Hommes in 1662.

Literary significance and criticism

"The Fall of the House of Usher" is considered Poe's most famous work of prose.[7] This highly unsettling macabre work is considered to be the masterpiece of American Gothic literature. Indeed, as in many of his tales, Poe borrows much from the Gothic tradition. Still, as G. R. Thomson writes in his Introduction to Great Short Works of Edgar Allan Poe [p 36], "the tale has long been hailed as a masterpiece of Gothic horror; it is also a masterpiece of dramatic irony and structural symbolism."

In fact, "The Fall of the House of Usher" has been criticized for being too formulaic. Poe was criticized for following his own patterns established in works like "Morella" and "Ligeia" using stock characters in stock scenes and stock situations. Repetitive themes like an unidentifiable disease, madness, and resurrection are also criticized.[8]

Poe's inspiration for the story may be based upon events of the Usher House, located on Boston's Lewis Wharf. As that story goes, a sailor and the young wife of the older owner were caught and entombed in their trysting spot by her husband. When the Usher House was torn down in 1800, two bodies were found embraced in a cavity in the cellar.[9]

Scholars speculate that Poe, who was an influence on Herman Melville, inspired the character of Ahab in Melville's novel Moby-Dick. John McAleer maintained that the idea for "objectifying Ahab's flawed character" came from the "evocative force" of Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher." In both Ahab and the house of Usher, the appearance of fundamental soundness is visibly flawed — by Ahab's livid scar, and by the fissure in the masonry of Usher.[10]

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

In the low-budget Roger Corman film from 1960, known in the United States as House of Usher, the narrator falls in love with the sickly Madeline, much to Roderick's horror. As Roderick reveals, the Usher family has a history of evil and cruelty so great that he and Madeline pledged in their youth never to have children and to allow their family to die with them. When Madeline falls into a deathlike catalepsy, her brother (who knows that she is still alive) rushes to have her placed in the family crypt. When she wakes up, Madeline goes insane from being buried alive and breaks free with insanity-induced strength. She confronts her brother and begins throttling him to death. Suddenly the house, already aflame due to a fallen lit candle, begins to collapse and the narrator flees as Roderick is killed by Madeline and both she and the Usher's sole servant are consumed by the falling house. The film was Corman's first in a series of eight films inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

In 1980 the Czech surrealist film maker Jan Švankmajer adapted the story as a short film relying entirely on imagery and inanimate objects in place of actors.

In the 2008 David DeCoteau film, it is implied that the house is a living being, dependent on the human souls that Roderick and Madeline provide it with. The central character is called Victor Reynolds, a reference to the name allegedly called out by Poe the night before his death.

William Beckett announced on July 12, 2010 that his friend Nathan Wrann will be making a "short film adaptation" of the story to begin filming in December that he will be starring in (that post has since been deleted and replaced with an update post)[11][12][13][14]

List of films

La Chute de la maison Usher (France, 1928) by Jean Epstein
The Fall of the House of Usher (US, 1928) by James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber
The Fall of the House of Usher (UK, 1949) directed by Ivan Barnett
House of Usher (a.k.a. Fall of the House of Usher and The Mysterious House of Usher) (1960) by Roger Corman with Vincent Price
The Fall of the House of Usher Starred Denholm Elliott and Susannah York in the UK ITV series Mystery and Imagination (1966) (TV)
'"Zánik domu Usheru" (The Fall of the House of Usher) (1980) (animated version by Jan Švankmajer)
"Histoires extraordinaires: La chute de la maison Usher" (1981) (TV) with Mathieu Carrière
Revenge in the House of Usher (1982)
The Fall of the House of Usher (1982) (TV) with Martin Landau and Ray Walston
"El hundimiento de la Casa de Usher'" (1983) by Jesús Franco with Howard Vernon
The House of Usher (1988) with Oliver Reed
The House of Usher (2006)
House of Usher (2008) by David DeCoteau
The Fall of the House of Usher (short film) (2011) by Nathan Wrann


The Fall of the House of Usher (1974) adaptation by Steven Berkoff
The Fall of the House of Usher (2009) musical adaptation written by Brent Cirves and composed by Mike Johnson for the 2009 Capital Fringe Festival and the New York International Fringe Festival[15]


Between 1908 and 1917, French composer Claude Debussy worked on an opera called La chute de la maison Usher. The libretto was his own, based on Poe, and the work was to be a companion piece to another short opera (Le diable dans le beffroi) based on Poe's "The Devil in the Belfry." At Debussy's death the work was unfinished, however. In recent years completions have been attempted by two different musicologists.

Lady Eleanor, a song first released in 1970 by the British folk-rock band Lindisfarne is based on this story.

The Alan Parsons Project's first release (1976's Tales of Mystery and Imagination) features a long instrumental named after this story. The track has five parts: "Prelude," "Arrival," "Intermezzo," "Pavane," and "Fall" and its style showcases 20th century classical music and progressive rock. The music incorporates fragments of Debussy's unfinished opera.

Another operatic version, composed by Philip Glass in 1987 with a libretto by Arthur Yorinks, was presented by the Nashville Opera in 2009.[16]

Peter Hammill composed an opera based on the story between 1973 and 1991 and released it in 1991. In this work, the house itself becomes a vocal part, to be sung by the same performer who sings the role of Roderick Usher. The libretto by Chris Judge Smith adopts the subplot of a romantic attraction between Madeline Usher and the narrator, who is given the name Montresor. This recording still had drums in it though and thus was not a real opera. Hammill released a totally overhauled version in 1999, without drums but with an added violin and layers of electric guitar that created an orchestral sound. He also resang all of his own vocals.

This story is also the inspiration for the classical guitarist Nikita Koshkin's "Usher-Waltz," a piece for solo guitar.

Further, the story served as inspiration to the American composer Ian Krouse's "Roderick Usher’s ‘Phantasmion’ (Grand Sonata ‘Quasi una fantasia’) Op. 25, 1836," which was composed for - and premiered by - classical guitarist Scott Tennant.


1.^ Beebe, Maurice. "The Universe of Roderick Usher" as collected in Poe: A Collection of Critical Essays, Robert Regan, ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1967. p. 123.
2.^ Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. New York City: Cooper Square Press, 1992. ISBN 0815410287 p. 111
3.^ Butler, David. "Usher's Hypochondriasis: Mental Alienation and Romantic Idealism in Poe's Gothic Tales" as collected in On Poe: The Best from "American Literature". Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-8223-1311-1 p. 189–90.
4.^ Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. New York City: Cooper Square Press, 1992. ISBN 0815410287 p. 111.
5.^ Hoffman, Daniel. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1972. ISBN 0-8071-2321-8 p. 297.
6.^ E. A. Poe Society of Baltimore — A Few Minor Poe Topics
7.^ Kennedy, J. Gerald. "Introduction: Poe in Our Time" collected in A Historical Guide to Edgar Allan Poe. Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-19-512150-3 p. 9
8.^ Krutch, Joseph Wood. Edgar Allan Poe: A Study in Genius. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1926. p. 77
9.^ A.I.A. Guide to Boston. Susan and Michael Southworth p. 59
10.^ McAleer, John J. "Poe and Gothic Elements in Moby-Dick", Emerson Society Quarterly, No. 27 (II Quarter 1962): 34.
11.^ The William Beckett Blog update post
12.^ Alternative Press news story
13.^ Nathan's blog answering questions and introducing the project
14.^ Nathan's blog update post
16.^ Waleson, Heidi. "Two by Philip Glass." Wall Street Journal. year = 2009.

Further reading

Evans, Walter. "'The Fall of the House of Usher' and Poe's Theory of the Tale." Studies in Short Fiction. 14.2 (1977): 137–44. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. Ed. Laurie Lanzen Harris and Sheila Fitzgerald. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1988. 403–5.