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Poll: Best Edgar Allan Poe Short Stories?

hopfrogI know, it’s not Halloween and my October horror novel fest is still nine whole months away. But–I just started reading a quite-crazy horror book called The Pilo Family Circus and now I’m thinking about how little has changed in the horror genre over the last couple of centuries. Things are more explicit, sure, and gore too often takes center stage, but the truly frightening stories, in my opinion, are those that convey a sense of dread. Edgar Allan Poe was doing that very thing a long time ago. And I still think that, when he was on, he did it as well or better than anyone ever has.  So today I’m going to toss out a couple of what I consider to be the best Edgar Allan Poe Short Stories.

Feel free to chime in and add to my list. Or disagree and cry into your pillow.

The Black Cat

This is my personal favorite. I think it’s the scariest thing he ever wrote, and it doesn’t get enough love. Lots of Poe fans don’t even seem to know that it exists.

The Cask of Amontillado

I recently watched the movie Buried. If I had never read Amontillado, I might have needed that movie to tell me that being buried alive is a terrible fate. But Poe beat them to it. I read this in an English class as a sophomore in High School and it was one of my few pleasant memories of that class, which was full of students who hated to read.

Hop Frog

Insane Dwarf-Jester exacts a terrible revenge after a few losers decide to humiliate his little pal. This is one of the best horror stories out there. The build-up is perfect and the ending is just too good.

The Pit and The Pendulum

Just in case you cling to the notion that the Spanish Inquisition was all about tea parties and cozy theological conversations. One of the most striking things about this story is that it is able to reverse the writer’s dictum of “show, don’t tell.” The story takes place almost completely in darkness, so there’s nothing to show.

Now, as I read this list, it looks like I’m just like everyone else who admires Poe’s short fiction. There really aren’t any surprises here and I probably named exactly what you’d expect. Although I’m still not a huge fan of The Raven. And I know I’ve left a couple of very obvious choices out of my list, which hopefully will appear in the discussion down below.

Okay, let’s play fill in the blanks and Name your Favorite. Any under-appreciated Poe stories out there?


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  • Eric | Eden Journal January 26, 2011, 2:42 pm

    I’m not up on my Poe. The only ones I remember are ones I read in high school. The Tell-Tale Heart and The Raven. Both were very creepy. I’m going to have to check out these others you recommend.

  • John Sifferman January 26, 2011, 6:43 pm

    I found a sweet vintage book of all of Poe’s works at a yard sale years ago – black leather cover and everything. Between that and a few literature classes in college, I’ve probably read about half of his short stories. The Cask of Amontillado is definitely my favorite, but the Tell-Tale Heart is a close second.

    • Jeanette Swalberg January 26, 2011, 10:45 pm

      I grew up in a home with a LOT of books, some of which I never read, sadly. On summer afternoons–definitely in the daylight–we would read from a Poe anthology and scare each others silly. The one I remember most was The Mask of the Red Death. I was probably in 5th or 6th grade at the time and probably didn’t even know what half of the words meant, and those stories were still scary. Oh yeah, we also played Authors a lot.

  • Michelle January 27, 2011, 7:53 am

    Here’s another vote for The Tell-Tale Heart. I saw it performed as a play once, which made it even creepier. I guess I like stories where you see the storyteller go insane (the character that is, not the author necessarily).

  • Gustavo January 27, 2011, 9:37 am

    I am a big fan of Allan Poe; he’s on my list of 5 favorite short story writers of all time (consider that English is not my native language). He’s up there with Borges, Chejov , Carver and Cortázar.
    From your list above, I vote for “The Black Cat”, but I would enthusiastically have given my vote for “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether”. I read it when I was very young and I still remember my head blowing of when I discovered that the doctors were supplanted by the patients.

  • Justin Matthews January 27, 2011, 10:18 am

    Just to weigh in with some others, The Tell tale heart gave me nightmares for weeks, and the Cask of Amontillado did as well. I was in a short “cask” play in drama in 8th grade and it creeped me out to read about a guy being buried alive, walled up. “For the love of God, montressor(sp)” has never left me…

  • ami January 28, 2011, 6:48 pm

    It has been so long since I’ve read Poe that I mostly retain emotional reactions, rather than specific memories. However, I do remember Mask of the Red Death – very creepy (and kind of modern feeling as a result)

  • Courtney February 4, 2011, 12:15 pm

    When I was in third grade, I read E.A. Poe’s story “The Gold Bug”. It kicked off a lifelong interest in cryptography.