Guest Post from Kate Boorman
Today, I am excited to have a guest post from Kate Boorman, about Edgar Allen Poe's Masque of the Red Death. Kate read the ARC of Masque and then beta-read the sequel, and I have to say she's either the best reader (or worst, but I'm voting for best) because she likes the same stuff as me, and was in love with the same parts of the story as me! While I still need my critical readers, the ones whose emails make me cringe, Kate's critiques confirmed everything I thought, so obviously she is a genius.
Kate is a writer, reader, traveller and mom to two brilliantly exhausting children. After several years of theatre collaboration, Kate's creative/hamster brain is now employed writing YA fiction about past lives, faraway lands, and things that blow up real good. She likes hanging out with her fam, planting green things, and drinking coffee in foreign countries. Visit her at: www.kateboorman.blogspot.com
In Defense of Poe(sy)
I have acquaintances who are sincerely puzzled by my obsession with things I consider ‘beautiful-creepy’. Catacombs, shrouded corpses, dusty crypts… skeletal trees, distorted shadows, abandoned houses: stuff I find simultaneously gorgeous and teeth-grindingly scary.
Maybe you have a similar penchant. Maybe you have the same acquaintances: the ones who cast a wary eye and move a couple of inches away when you get excited about things that go bump in the night? Maybe they leaf through your dog-eared copy of Poe’s short stories and ask, “But why do you like it?”
My answer requires a brief (I promise) recap of a particular moment in history*. You see the title of this post is not my attempt at cutesy-ing up the great Sir Edgar Allen Poe’s name—it’s my attempt at subverting the title of an important historical publication (which is clearly more forgivable).
In 1579 (or so) a man named Sir Phillip Sidney wrote an essay entitled “In Defense of Poesy”. I’m Cliff Notes-ing here in the worst way but suffice to say: for centuries a debate had raged about the purpose of art and literature (and whether or not it was dangerous!) and Sidney was arguing for literature’s ability to instruct the public in good morals and warn them away from vice.
Part of his argument echoed a rather popular idea that art should only portray the good and the beautiful, so as not to lead us commoners down an unsavory path (since we all find it impossible to differentiate between fact and fiction, right? Riiiight.). Fast forward a couple of hundred years, and the debate about the purpose of art rages on (actually the debate rages still—check your twitter feed), but that notion of portraying only ‘the good and the beautiful’ remains.
Enter Romanticism: the aesthetic era to which Poe belongs, and a marked departure from that prevailing idea. The Romantics thought art should depict and examine life in its entirety. Part of that was, logically, the underbelly of reality: the grotesque.
For the Romantics, the grotesque was not the opposite of all things worthwhile, it was one critical half of a well-balanced whole: good art should show the beautiful and the not-so beautiful, the nice and the not-so nice, the light… and the dark.
And Poe’s dark is truly dark. But it is also honest and wonderful.
It is rife with sumptuous, disjointed imagery: jewel black eyes and sickly smiles, scarlet stains on alabaster skin, blood-red moons, unsealed tombs. It invokes claustrophobia, longing. The rhythm is mesmerizing—(Neil Gaiman suggests we read Poe aloud to “feel the way the words work in your mouth, the way the syllables bounce and roll and drive and repeat”**)—it builds relentlessly and explodes in a cacophony of shrieking, ticking, toiling, chiming, only to cut off again in heart-stopping silence. It unearths and examines our fears and superstitions, our most bizarre preoccupations. Poe’s dark is humorous: his fools can be comical in their disregard for the inevitable (I often want to sit back after reading and exuberantly quote Dr. Seuss: “He HADN’T stop
from coming. It CAME! Somehow or other, it came just the same!”). That underbelly of reality resonates; it gets under your skin and steals your breath and keeps you reading on and on.
I love the dark and the grotesque because it feels real to me; it feels whole. I love it because it challenges a saccharine tyrant that only wants us to have the nice and pretty half of the story. And I love Poe because he shows us there is beauty and truth in that terrifying other half.
And so, in celebration of Bethany’s release month, in praise of her beautiful-creepy reimagining of Poe’s short story, there it is: my own Defense of Poe(sy)—why I love the dark.
Why do you?
* with apologies to everyone—past and present—who knows how many important details I’m about to gloss over
** Poe, Edgar Allan, “Selected Poems & Tales”. Illustrated by Mark Summers, introduction by Neil Gaiman, New York: Barnes & Noble, 2004.