The Mysterious Death (and Strange Afterdeath) of Mr. Edgar Allan Poe

Midnight Dreary-1Whilst the bicentennial of the nativity of Edgar Allan Poe was amply commemorated here at The Cimmerian, we somehow let the one hundred and sixtieth anniversary of his death on October 7 slip right by us. However, J. Kingston Pierce over at The Rap Sheet, one of the premiere crime-fiction blogs, was on the job. In his entry, “What Happened to Edgar?”, Pierce looks at Midnight Dreary: The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe by John Evangelist Walsh. The book was Walsh’s third foray into Poe-related historical research and he admits to being fascinated by Poe and his works. Check it out.

Pierce also took a look at the shenanigans surrounding the possession of Poe’s remains, as well as the lavish commemorative celebrations sponsored by the city of Baltimore this year, in “Evermore, Mr. Poe, Evermore.” Our own Steve Tompkins also commented on the nigh-Illiadic struggle over Poe’s remains in this blog post.



Considering the size of Cross Plains in comparison to Baltimore and the relatively recent date of Robert E. Howard’s passing, I would say the organizers of Robert E. Howard Days, and REH fandom in general, have plenty to be proud of.

REH’s “Pigeons From Hell” Onstage at Greystone Mansion


The Nom de Guerre Theatre Guild is proud to announce that the 2009 Wicked Literature Halloween Theatre Festival will debut at Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. Wicked Lit will be produced as a joint venture between Nom de Guerre and Theatre 40 in association with the City of Beverly Hills Recreation and Parks Division.

The plays featured for 2009 include:

The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe ~ Adapted and Directed by Paul Millet
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving ~ Adapted by Jonathan Josephson & Directed by Paul Millet
Pigeons from Hell by Robert E. Howard ~ Adapted and Directed by Jeff G. Rack (Continue reading this post)

American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny From Poe to the Pulps: An Update


Edgar Allan Poe • Bret Harte • Charlotte Perkins Gilman • Ambrose Bierce • Edith Wharton • Ellen Glasgow • Robert E. Howard • H. P. Lovecraft • Clark Ashton Smith • Robert Bloch •

That’s the lead-in list of authors on the Library of America site for their forthcoming edition of American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny From Poe to the Pulps, edited by Peter Straub. Apparently, Robert E. Howard rates in the “Top Ten” of American weird/horror authors (published prior to 1940) out of a total of forty-five. We are grading on the curve here, but in a good way. Since one would assume all authors in a Library of America collection should be “A-List” writers of some sort, Robert E. Howard would seem to be in the “A+” grouping.

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The Call of Kathulos: Secret Oceans and Black Seas of Infinity


In his first letter to H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard informed HPL that he considered the Man From Providence to be superior to Machen or Poe. In other words, the finest horror writer of them all. In another letter (ca. June 1931), Howard wrote to Lovecraft that “the three foremost weird masterpieces” were Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Machen’s “The Novel of the Black Seal” and last, but not least, “The Call of Cthulhu.” Thus, it is not surprising that some trace of REH’s enthusiasm for HPL’s landmark tale might be found in Howard’s own yarns.

“Skull-Face” would seem to echo with whispers out of R’lyeh. That is not to say “The Call of Cthulhu” was Howard’s only source of inspiration for his tale of Kathulos of Atlantis. Far from it. Over at the Official Robert E. Howard Forum, I went into some depth regarding the influence of Sax Rohmer’s writings upon “Skull-Face.” As I’ll demonstrate below, it appears that a Rohmer novel might have exerted some influence upon “The Call of Cthulhu” as well.

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Sticking to the Poe-Boy Diet


With luck a couple of Edgar Allan Poe straggler-items won’t seem excessive. The slideshow of Poe manuscripts and letters at the Paper Cuts blog of the New York Times is not to be missed, and be sure to click on the link to a PDF of “What Literature Owes to Edgar Allan Poe,” a rewarding trip in the wayback machine to the mindset of 1909 as the newspaper acknowledges Poe’s Centenary. Where we might expected overstuffed prose, a stylistic portliness suggestive of the about-to-be-inaugurated William Howard Taft, the NYT‘s Percival Pollard is gratifyingly lively: “Halls of fame are largely built by press agents and by prejudice. ” Of the post-Griswoldian EAP-bashers he says “[Poe] does not seem to have been much of an equestrian, or I am sure they would have said he was a horse thief.” The ink-stained tide is clearly turning in Poe’s favor; Pollard sees the animus of one region in particular as being washed away Howard-style by an influx of newer barbarians: “The New Englanders gave us sneers about Poe, and they themselves are now merely a convention that will die when the last New Englander has disappeared before the Celt and the Calabrian.” He does concede that “A halo of inebriety all too often encircles [Poe’s] head,” but then that’s also true of an Ard Righ or three in Howard Studies…

Anyone who has watched one or more seasons of HBO’s The Wire will recall that the West Baltimore corner boys, when they don’t call out “5-0! 5-0!” whenever the cops roll up on them, sometimes refer to “Po-po” instead. Obviously an unaffectionate diminutive of police, but it’s fun to pretend our Eminent Baltimorean is being commemorated.

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Bicentennial Bash at the Dank Tarn of Auber!


Monday, January 19, 2009 is the 200th birthday of America’s first-ever genre grandmaster, the writer described by Vincent Starrett as “a morose young man, stricken with poverty and genius.” Abraham Lincoln would follow Edgar Allan Poe into the world less than a month later (February 12, 1809), a fact that by 1860 must have had Poe draining several casks of Amontillado in the afterlife. And were his carry-me-back-to-old-Virginny spirit somehow to learn that he was sharing his special 2009 date with not only the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday but also the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration — well, the kindest thing might be for him to ascribe the double affront to delirium tremens so severe as to continue bedevilling even ectoplasm.

Back in January of 1809, were his last several weeks in utero uncomfortably reminiscent of being buried alive for our feted and fated fetus? When Eliza Poe’s contractions bore down and became task-oriented, did he experience birth as a just-in-time rescue-by-exhumation? Yes, I’m turning Poe into a Poe character with such questions, but that’s been going on since his own lifetime. As Leslie Fiedler describes the syndrome in Love and Death in the American Novel

Yet Poe produced, after all, one completely achieved work of art in his writing career, a character who belonged specifically to none of his stories though he is, in part, the creation of all of them — a composite of Julius Rodman, Gordon Pym, William Wilson, Roderick Usher, and all the other pale, tormented failures at aggression, exploration, and love, who are haunted, buried alive, or clasped the arms of corpses. That character, who is, of course, Edgar Allan Poe. . .Poe not only wrote but lived.

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Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance — Plus Bodysnatching?

The tug-of-war for the remains of a fallen champion is a motif as old as the Iliad, and in today’s New York Times Ian Urbina fills us in on just such a struggle for Edgar Allan Poe’s corpse and corpus:

…Last year Edward Pettit, a Poe scholar in Philadelphia, began arguing that Poe’s remains belong in Philadelphia. Poe wrote many of his most noteworthy works there and, according to Mr. Pettit, that city’s rampant crime and violence in the mid-19th century framed Poe’s sinister outlook and inspired his creation of the detective fiction genre.
“So, Philadelphians, let’s hop in our cars, drive down I-95 and appropriate a body from a certain Baltimore cemetery,” Mr. Pettit wrote in an article for the Philadelphia City Paper in October. “I’ll bring the shovel.”
So far, no one has taken up Mr. Pettit’s call for Philadelphia’s best grave robbers to bring home the city’s prodigal son before the bicentennial of Poe’s birth in January 2009. But the ghoulish argument between the cities over the body and legacy of the master of the macabre has continued in blogs and newspapers, and on Jan. 13 Mr. Pettit is to square off with an opponent from Baltimore to settle the matter in a debate at the Philadelphia Free Library.
“Philadelphia can keep its broken bell and its cheese steak, but Poe’s body isn’t going anywhere,” said Jeff Jerome, the curator of the Poe House in Baltimore and Mr. Pettit’s opponent in the debate.
“If they want a body, they can have John Wilkes Booth,” Mr. Jerome added, referring to Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, who is also buried in Baltimore.

In a nation where the next vice president could very well be a politician whose first instinct after taking office as mayor was to ban various books in her town’s library (Which might explain why she attended so many colleges in so few years: she kept being offended every time she ventured into the stacks of the successive institutions of learning), it’s reassuring to see cities fighting over a major writer. Urbina briefly considers the claims of not only Baltimore and Philadelphia but also Richmond and New York (The fact that Poe was actually born in Boston now seems as incongruous as Rusty Burke’s Brooklyn birth).

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