The ten mysteries are:
- The Murders in the Rue Morgue
- The Purloined Letter
- The Tell-Tale Heart
- The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar
- The Pit and the Pendulum
- A Tale of the Ragged Mountains
- A Descent into the Maelstrom
- The Black Cat
- Thou Art the Man
Some of these are mysteries in the Sherlock Holmes, detective story sense. In fact, Poe is seen as the founder of that genre of writing. But others are just horror stories, the kind Poe is famous for.
Poe often wrote about death, what it is like to die, the process of dying, etc. People in his day loved to read that stuff. I do not. It is just too creepy and strange for my tastes.
In “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”, for example, a man is hypnotized while dying. He gets stuck between life and death for several months: he has stopped breathing, his body is stiff and no longer moves, and yet his body does not waste away and he can still talk, however slowly, saying that he is dead. Not my cup of tea.
Some of Poe’s writing is good, but some of it is over-written. It is not just me: Mark Twain thought so too. Aldous Huxley said it is like putting a diamond ring on each finger.
It is a good thing I read him on a Kindle: that made it easy to look up his now out-of-date medical terms. I had no idea that “hectic” and “mesmerized” were once medical terms. “Thrill” also had a different meaning back then: a thrill could be good, bad or indifferent.
The best thing about Poe is that he does not unthinkingly follow the herd. He thinks for himself. He is intelligent, seems to be up on the latest science of his time and can follow ideas to their bitter end. That is what makes his detective stories good. He would have been a great writer for “The Twilight Zone”.
An example of his detective stories is “The Purloined Letter”, set in France: The queen is having a secret love affair but then is blackmailed by a government minister who gets a hold of one of her love letters. The police tear his place apart looking for the letter but find nothing. They have robbers beat him up and take everything on his person. Still nothing. All of which tells M. Dupin, Poe’s amateur detective, just how to find it….
Of these stories the two most famous are “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Pit and the Pendulum”. They certainly stick in your mind – so much so that I knew how each would end from having heard them years ago as a child.