Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Book Review: Tales of Mystery and Imagination

TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION: The origin of the most iconic horror elements and detective fiction

            Tales of Mystery and Imagination is a collection of suspenseful and related stories by Edgar Allan Poe -- a good collection at that. What makes it so is the fact that these tales have actually penetrated popular culture that they come to the point of defining the horror genre itself. In fact, when I read the stories, I have instantly seen how they have inspired the modern and popular concept of psychological horror, and all the sub-concepts it contains therein. Stories like ‘William Wilson,’ ‘The Tell-Tale Heart,’ and ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ are just perfect portrayals of abnormal psychological states, so it is not very surprising that the concept of these three is still being exploited in contemporary horror fiction. ‘The Cask of Amontillado,’ ‘Premature Burial,’ and ‘The Pit and the Pendulum,’ are also not to be overlooked, for they also have essentials that have marked themselves as iconic elements of the genre. To top it all off, ‘The Gold Bug’, ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue,’ and ‘The Mystery of Marie Roget,’ have been the obvious pioneers of detective fiction. ‘The Gold Bug’ has popularized the concept of ciphers, while the other two’s main protagonist, Auguste Dupin, has been Arthur Conan Doyle’s inspiration in Sherlock Holmes. And if these will not be enough to consider Poe’s collection as a game changer, then I don’t know what will.

The concepts of the stories are very original for me, but I must admit that their creativity feels to be held back by my familiarity of them, for they are so reiterated in contemporary fiction. In fact, I have guessed the twists and turns of some of the stories that it somehow diminishes my excitement in the unfolding of events. However, when I come to think that these concepts have been conceived in the 19th century, I still couldn’t help but consider them as a work of a genius. Further proof of Edgar Allan Poe’s brilliance is his mastery of language. He is able to exploit it in his lyrical style. But this mastery proves to have a drawback. I find the author’s writing to be too complicated that, sometimes, it loses the power of his stories. Even though I am used to reading classics, I find myself repeating several passages of this book because the prose is too sophisticated. I find it too hard to comprehend at one reading. What makes it even harder is his incorporation of his poetic skills, meaning that there are many things between the lines. This makes Tales of Mystery and Imagination a very tiring read -- fun nonetheless.

            What makes the book a fun read, quite paradoxically, is the author’s voice. Even though it is overly complicated, it possesses an atmosphere of desperation and other negative feelings that it is sufficient to keep me reading forward. Edgar Allan Poe has so much negativity incorporated in his tales; hardly anything is cathartic! Most of them depict the extreme anxiety and misery of the characters and end in the same way -- they don’t conclude in a manner that will give me a feeling of relief.

As for the detective stories, they are written with the same complicated prose. But the voice, instead of possessing desperation, has very apparent intelligence suited for stories that involve deductive reasoning. The stories themselves are also worth noting, for the mysteries behind them are complicated enough to be immune to premature deciphering. Aside from that, hints are also scattered all throughout, meaning that the mysteries behind them are planned out and not just pulled out of the author’s mind without much thinking.

These factors that I have enumerated from the beginning, when all put together, are the reasons why Edgar Allan Poe is a timeless author, and Tales of Mystery and Imagination a timeless work. They have continued to fascinate readers with their macabre and detective tales. I’m actually disappointed that I have already read most of Poe’s tales, for I want more of them. However, I won’t be redirecting my attention towards his poems, because I’m not a fan of that literary faculty. Perhaps I have no choice but to enjoy the re-reading value of his stories.

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