Thursday, April 12, 2012

Did Edgar Allan Poe Write a Vampire Story?



Edgar Allan Poe was the undisputed king of the early horror story. He was ten when John Polidori published the first vampire story in the English language that was followed a few months later by "The Black Vampyre," which was published anonymously by Robert Sands in 1819. Both caused quite a stir in the literary community. Many people thought Lord Byron wrote Polidori's tale and "The Black Vampyre" was pinned on the valedictorian of Columbia. Both were published with background information in The Best Vampire Stories 1800-1849 and are a must read for vampire aficionados. 


Surely Edgar Allan Poe heard of these stories and likely read one or both when he got older. Did he respond in kind with his own vampire tale? Sorry to disappoint, but from my research Poe did not pen a vampire story. If a reader has to stretch their imagination to determine if a character is a vampire, then it is likely not a vampire. After all, a vampire is what a vampire does.


Teeth play a telling role (as does the presence of blood) in many vampire tales. Because of this a number of anthologist have placed Poe’s “Ligeia” in their collections with hopes that if the tale is included in a substantial number of vampire anthologies it will be transmogrified into a vampire story. **Spoiler Alert** When Ligeia dies and is subsequently brought back to life through Rowena’s body, the unnamed protagonist touches her and she moves away, again displaying no lust for blood. Before her death, Rowena is given a cup of reddish liquid that could easily be wine or a potion concocted by the protagonist. There is no evidence that anyone’s blood was spilt. The only other hint of vampirism comes when Rowena’s lips part on her deathbed to display a line of “pearly teeth.” If she was a vampire we would learn of long teeth or sharp teeth, but that is not the case.


Poe’s only slight references to vampires were in his poems. “Tamerlane” references a vampire-bat and “To Helen” calls out vampire-winged panels. Articles about the vampire motif in “The Fall of the House of Usher” have been disorganized and unconvincing. There is no hint that Roderick Usher was a vampire. Essays about a volitional vampire in “Morella” have . . . well . . . sucked. The ponderous dissertations that seek to attribute the protagonist’s lust for teeth to a vampire fixation in “Berenice” have felt chompy. A tooth fixation is not a blood fixation.


Yes, it would be nice for this fifty year period, this cradle of all vampire short stories in the English language, to include a vampire tale by Edgar Allan Poe. But the sad answer is that Poe never penned a vampire story. A Poe story listed in the Table of Contents for an anthology boosts sales. Nevertheless, in the case of vampire anthologies, Poe’s inclusion is misdirected. 




4 comments:

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Anonymous said...

For the most part I agree with you, but as a graduate student, you don't have to stretch the imagination too far to see potential vampiric undertones within "The Man of the Crowd."