“It is the beating of his hideous heart!” says Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘insane’ narrator.
Wait. Narrator? What kind of story has a narrator the reader can’t depend upon to tell them the truth?An ingenious one is the simple answer. The longer answer is that one of Poe’s great talents was surprising his reader, letting the truly horrific details of the story unfold, page by page, until the reader realizes that yes, the nagging suspicions they had, the unbelievable reality they suspected actually happened.
In Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, a horror story almost all eighth grade English books contain in order to grab the attention of even the most lagging and reluctant readers, the narration is in a rare second person point of view which draws the reader in, despite themselves. The narrator begins by addressing his audience and asking why they say that he is mad when clearly he is not. Instantly the reader wants to know why the narrator has been accused of being insane, and why the more he protests, the more the reader realizes he is indeed raving mad.
Two of the most frequently asked questions many authors get asked is who inspired us to write, and how do we get ideas for our writing. While I read many, many different authors growing up, one of my favorite books was the complete works of Edgar Allen Poe. What kid didn’t love to watch Saturday fright matinees on TV staring Vincent Price bringing classics like The Pit and the Pendulum to life?
The unusual way in which he masterfully manipulated his reader’s response, how he anticipated their reaction and was thus able to deploy the pace and flow of his stories with twists and turns and breathtaking surprises still fascinates me.
There are reasons that classic tales become just that, and the intriguing use of point of view in Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart is just one of the many reasons he’s still one of my all time favorite authors. If it’s been a while, you may want to revisit some of those classic tales.
What stories inspire you?