Jill’s Notes: Edgar Allan Poe

This is the first of what I hope to be many posts detailing important literature in our culture. By “detailing,” I mean explaining in layman’s terms with a little of my own flair thrown in. Most people don’t appreciate true greatness in the written word because teachers tell them that literature is to be revered or ignored.

So wrong, people. Literature is to be revered and then severely mocked, as no human being is capable of writing anything sublimely flawless. Not only is it not possible, but I also refuse to believe that every famous author for all of history had a huge stick up his or her butt and thought that he or she was God’s gift to the great ignorant world. John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, actually did think that, but that alone makes him deserving of mockery. Arrogant ass.

Originally, this idea came to me when I heard a disgusting misinterpretation of Romeo and Juliet. I was going to write about it, but I didn’t have the time to re-read the story of the suicidal idiots and describe the finer points of how Romeo is a schmuck. Instead, I am beginning this endeavor with a story by the great Edgar Allan Poe. Mostly because I have to read a ton of his stuff for a class I am taking, so you can probably expect to hear more from him.

God, I’m going to be such a good teacher.

Rule number one in literature is that the author is not necessarily the narrator. It’s a confusing piece of mind-trickery, as I am both the author and the narrator of this blog, but life’s not fair. So we’ll call the author “Poe” and the narrator “Eddie.”

Here’s Poe’s story about Eddie’s trip to visit his old BFF, Roderick.

The Fall of the House of Usher

Once upon a time, in the fall because the fall is all about death and decay, Eddie was riding a horse down the road to visit his friend Roderick. He was not thinking about why, in the name of all that is good, someone would ever name their child Roderick, but instead was thinking about how he was supposed to be really happy to see this old house– because old houses are charming and fill your heart with joy and black mold– but was actually acutely aware that he was deeply depressed by the dreary setting. And who can blame him?

He was going to visit ol’ Roderick, whom he hadn’t heard from since they were boys, because Roderick was super sick and really wanted to see Eddie one more time before he died. Roderick and Eddie hadn’t spoken in many years, but Eddie didn’t seem to think it was suspicious because he knew that Roderick was not a Nigerian prince trying to steal his money, plus he owed him from that one time with the guy in the place.

Although Roderick and Eddie had been besties as kids, Eddie didn’t know anything personal about Roderick at all– except that Roderick was suffering from some severe mental illness and his whole family was the product of incest. But neither of them took it personally when the other forgot a birthday or two.

Eddie finally rode all the way to the house and noticed that although the house looked whole, every brick was about to crumble like feta cheese. There was a lightning-bolt-shaped crack running from top to bottom, probably from the unfulfilled curse of an evil wizard. Again, he felt like he should be super worried about something because the place felt strangely creepy. But hey, hakuna matata. When he walked inside, he was “greeted” by the household staff, but they weren’t exactly warm and fuzzy companions. Roderick was just chillin’ in another room, obsessively thinking about how he’s going to die any day now. Did you know that if you think about how scared you are, it actually makes you more scared? Life’s funny that way. Roderick was pretty sure that the house had feelings, kinda like how plants have feelings, you know? They chatted about these natural and only slightly morbid things when Eddie noticed something briefly passing through one of the doors to the chamber.

The figure, of course, was Roderick’s sister Madeline, who was also very sick. Roderick and Madeline were twins, but not identical, because he’s a boy and she’s a girl. Except they totally looked exactly alike, down to the wispy white hair, a la Albert Einstein. This was all made even creepier by the fact that all of the Ushers are the product of incest so he had to wonder if Roderick and Madeline were doing the dirty. (I added that part. Neither Poe nor Eddie mention it, but really, you just know they were…)

Madeline’s disease was incurable, despite many doctors trying to help, and sometimes she suffered from bouts of sleep that made her appear dead. Totally normal and not at all key to the story as a whole.

Roderick and Eddie chatted for days and days about all the crap that’s been bothering Roderick for so long, and you have to wonder if Eddie was getting tired of him because they haven’t seen each other in years and suddenly Eddie is the therapist in the relationship. But they were doing ok, because Roderick was an artist– of both the visual and music variety. He painted these amazing pictures that rival this one guy who you’ve never heard of. The other guy painted a really scary horse, called a “night mare,” in the world’s worst pun. Roderick painted a really creepy room with light but no light, kinda like when Roderick can’t stand to hear sounds except from certain instruments. (That makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?)

Roderick also wrote a poem, which Poe once tried to publish separately but the editors “just didn’t get it.” (This gives me hope. No one gets my poetry either…) The poem was about this beautiful palace which gets completely overrun by demons. It symbolizes the dangers of an unorganized mind. Or it’s a warning not to leave your palace unlocked in a neighborhood full of demons. Kids these days…

Unfortunately, one day, Madeline died. It wasn’t exactly shocking, and Roderick had made plans for her body to be placed in a locked room under the house, because she was considered a medical anomaly, and he didn’t want body snatchers to dig up her grave and turn her into Frankenstein’s monster. They locked her body up in a room completely encased in copper, so clearly it had been used as a tomb slash dungeon before– boding really well for Eddie’s attempts to convince himself that this house wasn’t as creepy as he originally thought.

Roderick basically went off the deep end after his sister died. He stopped sleeping and wandered around the house at all hours of the night, muttering to himself and staring into space. About a week after Madeline died, Eddie couldn’t sleep either because there was a metaphorical vampire sitting on his chest. Or Edward Cullen decided to stalk him, too. You know, just to “watch over him.” Eddie started pacing back and forth in his room, because the best way to make himself feel better was to walk ten feet and then turn around. Roderick showed up and made strange comments about something that Eddie had supposedly seen, except Eddie had been in his room the whole time, like the good little boy that he is.

Roderick was totally cracked at this point, and Eddie was starting to freak out too. In order to get Roderick to calm down, Eddie grabbed a random book off the shelf and pretended that it was Roderick’s favorite, because apparently Roderick was so unreasonable that he couldn’t even tell the difference between things that he liked and things that he didn’t. As Eddie was reading, the riveting story had some allusions to sounds, as all good fairy tales do. The first was about some big crack that the obscurely famous knight heard, and Eddie thought he heard a similar cracking sound deep within the mansion. The second was the roar of a dragon, which could not possibly be held deep in the dungeons of the House of Usher. And finally, the obscurely famous knight dropped his sword on the floor and heard a resounding clang– a clang which was heard resounding over and over and over and over again in the house itself.

Roderick was tweaking out in a chair, rocking from side to side with his eyes wider than an eleven-year-old with a picture of a naked woman. Eddie stopped reading, and Roderick finally started talking, revealing that he had heard all of the sounds even though it looked like he was ready to eat the heads off live rats.

“MADELINE IS ALIVE AND AT THE DOOR!” he yelled in a complete and utter surprise. Madeline, who had been afflicted with a timely bout of catatonic sleep which made her appear to have kicked the bucket, then crashed through the hefty chamber doors and fell upon her brother. As they got entangled in a mess of identical arms and legs, they both died. For good. After all that talk and painting and poetry and tombs and zombies.

Eddie ran screaming from the house. As he turned for one last look to check to make sure that the zombies weren’t chasing after him, he noticed that the gigantic lightning crack in the house was getting larger…and larger…and larger. Until the whole house crumbled faster than a fictional criminal in a Gibbs’ interrogation. If Roderick and Madeline weren’t dead already, they were now, because no bricks were left standing, thus giving an appropriately depressing ending to the physical and genealogical

House of Usher.

(Pop superstar Usher not included.)

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