Being a collection of Edgar Allen Poe’s entire bibliography, it’s a rather difficult title to review. Instead, I’ve chosen the greatest story of the collection, the most underrated and the most overrated to share my insight on.
The Masque of Red Death, a tale of madness in a medieval setting, is easily Poe’s most atmospheric story, and ultimately the eeriest. It unfolds in a land plagued by a malady referred to as “the Red Death”. The short story details a prince’s attempt to outwit death by constructing a massive abbey. He rules a small community within the confines and after holding a masquerade ball, makes the startling discovery that one can never escape death. What makes The Masque of Red Death a chilling horror story is through Poe’s description of the stark landscape rendered ill from the Red Death. His style of writing a sentence brings out the macabre and the sinister with such tremendous ease. Then of course, his vivid and cryptic word choice makes the colouring so vivid and real. Colouring is very prominent to the story, as it relates directly to the Red Death. It a fit of denial, the prince forbids the use of the colour red anywhere around his sanctuary. When the danger arises, as it surely will in a Poe story, the description of red colouring is as terrifying as any writer could depict it. Poe’s grip on evocative wording is most noticeable in this story. The result is, without a doubt, his most effective tale.
An undiscussed story from Poe is known under the simple name of Ligeia. It follows the obsession of a man after his beloved wife, Ligeia, is rendered ill. She passes away, and he’s marked by extreme sadness. However, he soon finds himself remarried, and Ligeia has begun to escape his mind. That is until his current wife falls ill, and displays the same symptoms of Ligeia. In concept, this is Poe’s most startling story. It captures the protagonist’s paranoia and grief, and then soon transforms it into terror as the twists begin to unfold.
Perhaps Poe’s most overrated story is The Murders in the Rue Morgue, a detective story based on sociology. The tale is long, detailed, boring and builds up to a deeply unsatisfying climax. During the dull buildup, Poe’s writing style is shown in its most dated form. The dialogue is old-fashioned and does nothing but detract from the central mystery. But while reading it, the reader is captivated enough to apologize for these flaws, until the reading is complete. Most disappointing is the promise that The Murders in the Rue Morgue shows, but ignores in the end. The resolution to the mystery is illogical and feels terribly inconsequential. My best guess is that Poe thought up such an elaborate and intricate crime scene that he was corner when solving it. While it’s one of the earliest examples of detective fiction, it’s unable to surpass a sense of dated prose or mediocre ending.
Edgar Allen Poe holds the position as the most influential writer in the history of mystery and horror fiction. Reading through The Complete Tales will give the reader a sense of why he’s treated with such merit. There certainly are duds (specifically his earlier work) but for the most part the stories are enriching and atmospheric. I specifically admire Poe’s ability to reflect on the social and political climate through what a lesser writer would make into one-dimensional horror stories. Be sure to check out The Complete Tales, because it acts as a tremendous demonstration as to how Poe developed as a writer, and what he means to literature.