Review of Edgar Allan Poe: Collected Works by Edgar Allan Poe

It was nice to pick up a leather bound edition of Poe for my Halloween rereading of his stories. 

I rediscovered amazing stories like “King Pest” and “The Devil in the Belfry.” this activity reminded me of the many qualities I admire about his writing.

I was disappointed in the presentation of the text, however, in the Canterbury Edition. The editing and formatting is inferior to the Library of America edition and even some digital editions I’ve obtained with innumerable errors which occasionally obscure the meaning of the text.

The Leather binding is sound but the design feels a little cartoonish. I prefer the gold leaf arabesques of my Franklin Library classics to Canterbury’s modern covers. Still, as one of the few publishers still putting out leather bound classics, I want them to better represent the tradition by properly examining the text for formatting errors.

I also own their edition of Les Miserables and Stevenson. Of the three this is the only one with microscopic font. The editions are also conspicuously lacking in illustrations.

I hope someone eventually gives Poe the proper treatment and prints his complete works in elegant leather with profuse illustrations, but until then I can settle for this and my several other editions of his works. He is an endlessly entertaining author who excelled at satire, horror, mystery, science fiction and adventure. His fiction output was relatively small compared to Verne or Wells, but one gets the sense that his powers were thereby concentrated.

The body of his criticism, essays, reviews, letters and marginalia is more massive and often less interesting, but I have come to the point where I wish to appreciate even his dry jottings in printed form. He remains one of my favorite authors for the delight of his descriptions and the majesty of his sentences. Less than subtle, the majority of his works are pure description, or narrative, sufficing to entrance through their pure suggestion of form and feature. A few dramatic pieces intersperse his dark and haunting tales, explicating mystical conceits and futuristic speculations. He composed a series of conversations between figures beyond time in a method anticipating Lovecraft with such stories as “The Colloquy of Monos and Una” and “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion.”

“Some Words with a Mummy,” contains some of his strangest ideas and his usual caricatures, striking as they are ridiculous. He displays a fascination or possibly an obsession with Mesmerism, which was in fashion at the time, and fails to root out its full and modern applications, instead speculating as is his custom on its metaphysical uses – most powerfully in “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.”

I will make no mention of the six or seven masterpieces which are so thoroughly anthologized, adapted and consumed by the modern reader that portions of their imagery are lodged in the collective unconscious. I do think there are many hidden treasures in Poe’s fiction which are rarely mentioned anymore. It is a grave mistake to simply read the most famous stories and move on to something else before coming to know the full taste of his inventive capacities in his obscurer works.

Despite its flaws, Poe’s immaculate and sinister writing style is adaptable and always entertaining. His work was the beginning of my discovery of the power of literature later to be consummated in the works of Dostoyevsky, Dickens, and many others. This book is a fine gateway drug into macabre storytelling techniques.

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