Monday, October 29, 2012

These Stories Prove the Scariness of Birds, Cats, and Books

I've been reading scary stories all month. But now I'm down to my absolute favorites -- the books that I reread every year at Halloween. Like the Works of Edgar Allan Poe, vol. 1 and vol. 2, and the Complete Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe, which I read again last weekend. "The Raven," which is in the Poetical Works, is near the top of my required-reading list for Halloween.

(Cover of the 1884 edition, with illustrations by Gustave Dore.)

I don't know why I'm so drawn to stories where reading old books leads to horror and madness. But I am, and that is what "The Raven" is about. It starts with a guy who is up late reading his rare books "of forgotten lore." That's exactly what drove Mr. Jennings insane in "Green Tea." Not to mention basically everyone in all of the M.R. James stories. Do not stay up late reading old books, people! 

(Because look at this Dore illustration. What if you're dozing over your books and the creepy little face of your dead girlfriend sidles up beside you?)

Not even if you have a very fancy library like the guy in "The Raven:" purple silk curtains, a fireplace, armchairs upholstered in violet velvet, and a bust of Pallas Athena over the door. (Do you think it would be bad luck to decorate a room exactly like that? Because I might do it.)

(This Mothology armchair is no longer available, but that store would be a great resource for a Poe room. I need these and this and also this.)

If I have learned one thing from the ghost stories I've read this month, it is this: reading at night will make you see demons. You might see a ghost, or a transparent monkey, or a raven with fiery eyes, a lordly demeanor, and a message of eternal despair. Either way, maybe it was a bad idea for me to start a blog recommending old books? Please try to read them in the daylight.

(Dore illustration of the demonic bird and the amazing silk curtains.)

I really like almost everything by Poe. I love his gorgeous, creepy images: the drowned city with its jeweled sculptures in "The City in the Sea" (in the Poetical Works), the mossy catacombs in "The Cask of Amontillado," the stained glass windows and lavishly-colored rooms in "The Masque of the Red Death" (both stories are from vol. 2 of the Complete Works).

(Illustration by W. Heath Robinson, 1900.)

Also, I love Poe's language. I even love it in my least favorite Poe story, "The Black Cat" (vol. 2 of the Complete Works). "The Black Cat" was the hardest story for me to get through because of the graphic violence -- the narrator kills his wife and tortures his pet cat. It's seriously disturbing. But it was worth it to get to this great line: "... I was answered by a voice from within the tomb! -- by a cry, at first muffled and broken, like the sobbing of a child, and then quickly swelling into one long, loud, and continuous scream, utterly anomalous and inhuman -- a howl -- a wailing shriek, half of horror and half of triumph, such as might have arisen only out of hell, conjointly from the throats of the damned in their agony and of the demons that exult in the damnation."

(Illustration by Fritz Eichenberg, 1943.)

I'm pretty sure that I've heard this sound too, also from a certain black cat, when she shows up with her prey in my bedroom in the middle of the night.

(She also has fiery eyes. And fangs. Is it possible that I summoned her by reading old books late at night?)

1 comment:

  1. That is one of the cutest black cats I've ever seen. :)