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I think one of the main reasons Poe is so successful as an author (and is still so widely read today) is due to the fact that he taps into real darkness that exists within the human psyche. We would not be so entertained, horrified, or drawn otherwise.
Consider the type of horror in cinema that still scares people today. There is a huge difference between psychological horror (like Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Silence of the Lambs) and cheap, grotesque, graphic horror (like Child's Play or Saw). Sure - most horror movies draw large crowds no matter what kind of flick they may be - but it is the psychological horror that really gets to us - and largely makes these types of stories the most successful.
Poe is the grandfather of horror in American Literature. His influence inspired great writers like Stephen King, HP Lovecraft, even Dean R. Koontz. He is not so influential because he was writing 100% fiction ideas. He successfully taps into real human darkness in nearly all of his stories - The Pit and the Pendulum is only one.
I agree with the post above, and you might also consider the work of even Stephen King in fiction, who explores about every dark corner of mankind there could possibly be in his stories. As for whether or not human nature has a darkness, I think I would say yes with this addition: It has a dark potential. It also has a good potential. It can develop in either direction, and sometimes in one lifetime a human can end up having gone in both directions.
Poe is particularly dark, and personally he was particularly troubled. Certainly there are others in the human race both more and less troubled than him, but I think the point is that every human has the potential for both good and evil, and much of it we have a choice in.
Absolutely. This is why people are so intrigued by horror writers like Stephen King, Poe, and all the movies that people flock to the theatre to see (Saw, Freddy Krueger, Star Wars, etc.)
Humanity has free will. However, we are not perfect creatures. We have the capacity for both great goodness and great evil, and it is our choice which path we will take. Of course, it is also possible to choose the path of goodness after we become disenchanted with the empty darkness of the path of evil.
Even those who follow the path of goodness most of the time are constantly tempted by the power of the "dark side". This is why we entertain ourselves with these horror stories and movies...anyone who's been on the path of darkness will tell you that it is not full of power, but the spell pulls you in until you are full of despair and helplessness from which you feel you can not return.
Fortunately for the speaker in Poe's "Pit and Pendulum", he did not fall into the pit, and he was rescued just in the nick of time from the pendulum. It is not always so convenient or easy when dealing with the rescue of one from psychological horror or from the guilt one lives with after living in darkness for prolonged periods of time.
I think what made Poe so successful at expressing the darkness is that he plays off the fear we all have to some extent, that we could do something evil. He just takes things to an extreme. Exaggerating it to such an extent makes it safe to read, because we know we would never do the things he writes about, or find ourselves in those situations.
Poe was able to tap in to the forces that we all feel within us, but through characters who take these inner darknesses to their chilling conclusions. His storylines and characters are ghoulishly fascinating: removed from the ordinary man but with enough links to engage the reader to question the humanity (or inhumanity) in all of us.
I have been sharing Poe's tales with a senior class and am enjoying their fascination with the world Poe creates. Still creepy and compelling after all these years!
I think #2 really states the case well about how Poe manages to express the horrifying dark side of humanity that so many other authors manage to describe. It is this that makes him so compelling in a sense - because we are forced to recognise that actually, as much as his psychotic characters or narrators repel us, there is something that, perhaps only subconsciously, we identify with as well, and it is this above all that makes him a dangerously attractive author. We all recognise that we have at least the potential to become a Poe character - now how is that thought for you on a Monday morning :-)
Sadly, one only has to pick up a metropolitan daily newspaper (or log into an online version of one) to see the latest story about some sociopath who has tortured another person beyond anything we've ever read in a Poe story. The cable television channels also have entire shows dedicated to chronicling these horrors.
The short answer to your question is yes; the bigger question is, what is it in human nature that compels some to exercise their darkest thoughts?
Without a doubt, human nature has a darkness that Poe addressed in many of his works. I have irrefutable proof. Pick up any large market newspaper and you’ll find evidence of that. Another thing to consider as proof: when children disappeared or were found murdered, we used to look for bad guys around every corner. How many of us, now, first suspect the parents? Do we have Susan Smith to thank for that?
As a Christian, I do believe we are all born into this fallen world with a sin nature, making us sinners. We have pretty clear evidence of that if we watch a baby become a toddler. No one has to teach him to lie, he just does. While he will often share, his natural bent is to be selfish ("mine"). And the list goes on.
Our sin nature is what we're born with, though how we choose to control it, use it, or exploit it becomes our choice. Most of us exhibit restraint and do not let our selfishness or greed or anger rise to the level of criminal behavior. Poe's characters, on the other hand, generally give free reign to their dark passions. They display the unchecked sin nature in all of us, even though all of us don't act on our sinful urgings.
Considering that at the age of three Poe was sat in the front row of the theater six days a week to watch his mother perform the role Juliet, it is not difficult to see the partial origins of his dark view of humanity. What I find even more interesting with Poe's work is that all of his characters struggle mightily with that dark element and some are more successfulthan others in finding redemption. The quality of the mirror that Poe holds before the reader is astonishing.
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