Monday, January 19, 2009

Poor Edgar, We Knew Him Well

If you’re any kind of crime-fiction fan, you know that today is not only Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday in the United States, but also the 200th birthday of that “master of the macabre” and creator of the detective story, Edgar Allan Poe. The future poet, editor, and author was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on this date in 1809. He perished 40 years later in Baltimore, Maryland.

There have been plenty of tributes to Poe tumbling into the blogosphere in recent days. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal all dutifully published fine tributes to the man who gave us “The Raven,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and pre-Sherlock Holmes sleuth C. Auguste Dupin (“The Murders in the Rue Morgue, “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt,” and “The Purloined Letter”). The Baltimore Sun hosts several Poe-related posts in its Read Street blog, including one by mother-and-son novelists Charlotte and Charles Todd, who, under the latter’s name, write the Ian Rutledge historical mystery series (A Matter of Justice). The Christian Science Monitor recalls the mysterious death of Poe and the yearly tributes placed upon his original Baltimore grave by the so-called Poe Toaster. In her latest “Dark Passages” column for the Los Angeles Times, Sarah Weinman addresses the continuing and often animated debate over which city--Baltimore or Philadelphia--has the stronger claim on Poe’s legacy. (More on that here.) BBC Radio 3 has been broadcasting a series of five 15-minute essays called “Loving the Raven,” written by Andrew Taylor, Joanne Harris, and others, which you ought to go listen to immediately, since they start disappearing from the Web today. Philadelphia public broadcaster WHYY has put together a short documentary about Edgar Allan Poe’s life, which you can watch here, while National Public Radio applauds the poet-author’s two centuries of building renown here. In the meantime, Dark Party Review has assembled a list of 12 signs that suggest you might, yourself, by Mr. Poe, and blogger Xavier Lechard has somehow captured a posthumous interview with the great writer, in which Poe talks about his contributions to the mystery genre and his objections to having literary awards christened in his honor.

Oh, and of course the U.S. Post Office has issued an attractive commemorative stamp in time for Poe’s birthday, featuring an illustration by artist Michael J. Deas (see above).

I thought long and hard on the question of how The Rap Sheet might best commemorate this 200th anniversary of Poe’s birth. I purchased and read through the new collection, In the Shadow of the Master: Classic Tales by Edgar Allan Poe, in which editor Michael Connelly presents not only some of the author’s most thrilling yarns, but also recollections by modern novelists (Stephen King, Tess Gerritsen, Laura Lippman, Peter Robinson, and the like) of their first or most significant experiences with Poe’s writings. And I thought back over my own visit to Poe’s grave in Baltimore during last October’s Bouchercon.

Finally, I decided that the most interesting and entertaining way to celebrate this ill-fated man’s lasting contributions to literature was to present once more that poem through which so many of us first became familiar with his work in high school English classes, “The Raven.” Below, I’ve embedded a video showing Baltimore-born actor John Astin--yes, the same guy who played Gomez Addams in television’s The Addams Family--reciting Poe’s suspenseful 1845 work, and looking an awful lot like the author himself:

If you would prefer to see the same piece read by Vincent Price, simply click here. Much more about Edgar Allan Poe can be found at the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore Web site.

READ MORE:Edgar Allan Poe, Master of Horror,” by Joanne Harris (The Telegraph); “10 Places That Rejected Poe in Life but Celebrate Him in Death,” by Molly McBride Jacobson (Atlas Obscura); “More Bicentennial Tributes” and “Poe Roundup,” by Ed Pettit (The Bibliothecary); “Quoth the Ravens ‘Nevermore’: The Legendary Five NFL Highlights Poem Revived for Poe’s Bicentennial,” by Michael Carlson (... And Over Here).

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