Edgar Allan Poe and the Dark Fantasy Crime Fiction of Gothic Literature

According to the editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, the ‘imaginative impulse’ of Gothic novels was ‘drawn from medieval buildings and ruins,’ and ‘commonly used such settings as castles or monasteries equipped with subterranean passages, dark battlements, hidden panels, and trapdoors.’  The first novel to acclaim fame for it’s Gothic elements was titled, Castle of Otranto, written in 1765 by an Englishman named Horace Walpole.  Over these last two hundred fifty years a great number of authors followed in Walpole’s footsteps, with personal favorites such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula among the most enduring of this genre.

Another of those Gothic authors whose fame and impact have lasted through today is, of course, Edgar Allan Poe.  In addition to a number of his works possessing the physical elements as noted in my first sentence, Poe took that darkness and enhanced those ominous environments with stories of death and decay, murder, live burials, physical and mental torture, insanity, and retribution from beyond the grave.  Two of those stories are the main ones highlighted in my novel, The Poe Consequence.  I’m referring to, primarily, The Tell-Tale Heart and, secondly, The Pit and the Pendulum.  In The Pit and the Pendulum, the classic original Gothic elements that I quoted earlier, of ‘monasteries equipped with subterranean passages, dark battlements, hidden panels, and trapdoors,’ are, essentially, the location of the story.  However, in The Tell-Tale Heart, the reader is only provided with a remote location, separate from the rest of the world. In appreciation of Poe’s genius, here’s the opening paragraph of ‘The Tell-Tale Heart,’ the story, as I mentioned previously, is the one most prominently featured in my book about dark fantasy vigilante justice.

“TRUE! --nervous --very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses --not destroyed --not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily --how calmly I can tell you the whole story.”

This introduction to the narrator unequivocally tells us that that he’s mentally unstable and something terrible is about to happen; yet the restraint Poe utilizes reels us in to seek a closer look, drawing our curiosity further along as if tied to a literary leash. Poe uses this “hook” to keep us on the edge of our seats, feeling unease, as we wait to find out what’s going to happen.  There are no wasted words here, no diversion from the effect, and for the reader, no desire to turn away. Poe’s imaginative brilliance is evident in his distinctive ability to stir, frighten and induce apprehension in the mind of the reader, and timeless stories such as ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ are examples of why he remains one of the kings of Gothic literature to this day.