Friday, October 5, 2012

"The Raven" & A Dummy's Guide to Poe

With the release of “The Raven,” the dark thriller starring John Cusack about to be released on Blu-Ray and DVD, the question arises: How much do you know about Edgar Allan Poe?

We've all heard his name, know some of his stories – or at least their names, but how much do you really know about the man himself?

The great people at Think Jam asked if I'd write up a post with some quick facts that will not only help you to know more about one of history’s greatest writers, but likely catch more little things in “The Raven," of course I agreed! I had a great time putting this together and hope you'll find out something new.

Before we get to the post I've prepared (with a bit of from Think Jam) about the man at the center of “The Raven,” here’s a bit about the film:

Edgar Allan Poe Comes To Life In This Dark Thriller Available on Blu-ray and DVD October 9th

Some of the references in The Raven may have been lost to those who don't know much about the great Edgar Allan Poe. Here, we will create a cheat sheet with the most important Poe facts, including information on his most famous works, major life events and the many theories surrounding his mysterious death.

Baltimore, 1849. While investigating a horrific double murder, police detective Emmett Fields (Evans) makes a startling discovery: the killer's methods mirror the twisted writings of Edgar Allan Poe (Cusack). Suspecting Poe at first, Fields ultimately enlists his help to stop future attacks. But in this deadly game of cat and mouse, the stakes are raised with each gruesome slaying as the pair races to catch a madman before he brings every one of Poe's shocking stories to chilling life...and death. (copy provided by Think Jam)

and now for your guide to Poe's life as well as a few things he inspired:

What’s in a Name?

The man we all know of as Edgar Allan Poe, wasn’t even born with that name. Born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 19, 1809. Born to two actors – who were performing King Lear at the time – Edgar may have been named after the Shakespearean character. Edgar Poe, lived with his mother and two siblings – after his father abandoned the family -until her death when he was two. He was then taken in, but never adopted, by a foster family who gave him a slightly new name. Their last name? Allan.

 Family Strife

Not always a writer, Poe attended the (one year-old) University of Virginia for a year before dropping out. He then lied about his age and used a false name to join the military. Two years later, after reaching the highest rank he could, Poe tried to end his five year enlistment early. It would only be allowed if he resolved things with Allan.

After much time – and letters from Poe, the two seemed on better footing and Poe left the military, stayed with his aunt in Baltimore for about a year and then started at West Point. It was during his time as a student there that things became strained again with Allan – over Poe’s gambling debts at university, Allan’s possible children out of wedlock – and Allan eventually disowned Poe and Poe got himself purposely kicked out of West Point.

I’m a Writer

Edgar Allan Poe was the person to introduce the idea of ‘writer’ as a profession, a way to make a living. His first go at publishing, Tamerlane and Other Poems was published when he was just 18 and did not give his name. Instead, Tamerlane – which published only 50 copies –was ‘By a Bostonian.”

Tamerlane did not receive much attention, critical or otherwise, but Poe did not give up. He had short stories and poems published in different magazines and periodicals from New York to Baltimore to Philadelphia.

Figure You Out

Almost everyone knows of Sherlock Holmes, but it was Edgar Allan Poe who wrote the first detective novel. His character C. Auguste Dupin appeared in several of his stories and led Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to say, “ "Each [of Poe's detective stories] is a root from which a whole literature has developed.... Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?"” (pg 103)

Turn to You

After his early attempts at poetry, Poe turned to prose. One of his earliest attempts, “MS: Found in a Bottle”, won a prize from the Baltimore Saturday Visiter. The win brought Poe to the attention of the public – notably those of means to get his work placed in publications and find him employment.

Dark Side

Poe’s writing occurred during the Dark Romanticism or American Romantic Movement of the 19th century. This was in contrast to the Transcendentalists writings occurring at the same time. (The Transcendentalists writings were about the inherent goodness of man, whereas Poe’s writings show man prone to sin.)

Then Comes Marriage

And a shocking one at that. Before entering West Point, Poe had stayed with his aunt and cousins in Baltimore. In 1835 when Poe was 26 and one of those cousins, Virginia Clemm was 13, they married, in secret – with her age listed as 21. The next year they had a public ceremony.

The two remained married until Virginia’s death from tuberculosis at age 24 though some accounts say the two were more like brother and sister than husband and wife.

"The Raven"

The poem, perhaps Poe's best known is the one that begins,"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary." It tells of a young man, sitting alone and thinking on his lost love, Lenore, when he hears a tapping at his door - it's not a human visitor, but a raven. With allusions to allusions to Greek mythology, black magic, English literature, as well as the Bible, the poem made Poe famous when it was published in 1845.

It's also the poem from which the film takes its title.

In Death . . .

Found in the streets of Baltimore on October 3, 1849 in distress and immediate need of assistance, Poe was taken to the hospital. He died at 5:00 am on October 7, 1849, never recovering enough to explain how he had come to be in such a state or why he was wearing clothes that were not his own.

. . . A Mystery

His cause of death is still a mystery, with the death certificate and all medical records lost. Speculation as to his cause of death runs rampant. Everything from his alcoholism to epilepsy to meningitis to rabies has been suggested.

Was it Murder

Some believe Poe’s death was murder. Murder by cooping, that is. A cooping gang, employed by a political candidate, would grab someone (possibly Poe, it’s suggested) off the street, give them alcohol or beat them to make them compliant and force them to vote multiple times. The gang would change a person’s clothes to keep them from being recognized as they voted again and again – explaining Poe’s odd attire. They would also be killed if they did not vote.

Poe’s sway and reach does not stop with his death, though. Read on to find out how his life and work have continued to influence . . .

Here’s to You

Adding to the intrigue around Poe’s death had been the Poe Toaster. Rumored to have started in 1849, every year, in the early morning hours, on the anniversary of Poe’s birth, a mystery visitor the Poe Toaster would toast Poe’s gravestone with cognac and leave three roses. No one knows who the Toaster was – the claims have been made – and the tradition seems to have ended as of 2009.

My Tale

Several modern day novels have been retellings or adaptations of works by Poe:

Released earlier in 2012 Bethany Griffin’s sophomore novel The Masque of the Red Death was based a dystopian based on the poem of the same name

Ashes on the Waves by Shattered Souls author Mary Lindsey is based on the Poe poem ‘Annabel Lee’ and will be out June 2013.

Kelly Creagh’s Nevermore – the first in the Nevermore series, has two main characters paired up for a school project on Edgar Allan Poe and begins with an imagination of Poe’s last moments. This paranormal romance seems to be one where some foreknowledge of Poe’s life may be helpful.

On the Day I Died: Stories from the Grave by Candace Fleming an MG/YA release from this summer offers up ten ghost stories – one of which “Edgar” has a bit of Poe flavor to it.

Not about Poe’s stories but rather about his death, The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl is a historical fiction mystery. It centers around a young lawyer, Quentin, who is in Baltimore at the time of Poe’s death and determined to find the truth to it – deciding it requires finding the real life model for C. August Dupin.

That’s not to forget the Edgars, the Edgar Allan Poe Awards – awarded each year by the Mystery Writers of America, with the award for Best Young Adult Mystery established in 1989. 2012’s winner was The Silence of Murder by Dandi Daley Mackall.

Feel all caught up on your Poe info now?  Look for my post on "The Raven" movie tomorrow and get your own copy when it's released on Tuesday!

Thank you to the great people at Think Jam for the chance to write up this feature :)

(images - except for book covers - thanks to Think Jam)

1 comment:

  1. What a fun post! I have always loved Edgar Allen Poe and loved reading these facts about him :)


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