Versus Battle 1: Poe v. King
Ladies and Gentlemen, roll right up for the first of the Versus Battles! Tonight, an all-time heavyweight of the American literary circuit, Edgar Allen Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination dukes it out with the welterweight champion of the best-seller lists, Nightmares and Dreamscapes by your friend and mine, Mr. Stephen King!
Note: This is kind of my cheap way of getting two books done for the price of one. I kind of think it might be interesting to do a little compare and contrast with authors from different periods who go in for the same kind of things – subject matter, style, etcetera. And yes, I do know that it’s very unlikely that you’d ever see a heavyweight box a welterweight, and think that it’s probably even against every boxing rule known to man, but let me see how far I can take this reference, okay? Good. On with the show!
Poe’s volume (at least, the edition that I have, which is the Galley Press edition of 1987, part of the “Golden Heritage Classics series”) stands at 28 stories, 446 pages of maybe 8-point serif font. I have to guess that much, because there’s no handy ‘this edition published in 8-point such-and-thus font. So this is turning into a bit of a bare-knuckle anything goes kind of fight anyway, what with the weight estimations and all, but again, lets see how long we can string this along, eh, cublings? The ISBN for this edition is 0861366522.
King’s book, which is the BCA edition, published in 1993, stands at 23 tales, and runs to 569 pages (I’m subtracting the intro and the author’s note at the end, although those things are always worth reading in King’s books, as much for the jocular style as anything else). The ISBN… it doesn’t have one. Which is probably because it’s a reprint… if any of you cublings knows more than Mama Wolf, send me a comment… it’s got a CN number, but that’s Library of Congress cataloguing… isn’t it? Hmn. Come on, cublings, help a sister out…
Round 1: Authors
Both of these authors are almost preceded by their reputations – I mean, no-one has walked through a bookstore without once (often, more than once) seeing ‘stephen KING’ baking out from one cover or another. Sometimes in gold. Sometimes embossed. Sometimes both. Stephen King is a great one for trying out other formats for stories – obviously films made from his works are very successful, but he’s had great success with serialised e-book releases (The Green Mile), and comic books too (a prequel series to The Dark Tower series, the DC/Vertigo title American Vampire, plus The Stand has been converted into sequential mode too… I’m holding back from that one a bit, but the Dark Tower series is excellent – very well drawn and well written). He’s written a few collections of short story and novellas (Four Past Midnight, Skeleton Crew) , but Nightmares and Dreamscapes is the largest. His work has won awards, if you think that that means anything.
And poor, tragic Edgar, who died at the age of forty, cruelly enhancing his reputation as more Emo than Emo. That’s a bit mean, but really, he’s the perennial poet of choice for the world-weary fifteen year old poet (hang on, one of my favourite poems of all time is his Ulalume… guess that makes me pretty emo too). Aside from that, Poe did wonders for the short story genre in the United States of the 18th century. He’s frequently credited as being the father of the detective fiction genre, but I know him chiefly as the author of some of the creepiest, saddest and eeriest short stories this side of anywhere. As far as I know, he didn’t win any awards, but he does have an award named after him – the Edgars, which are given out by the Mystery Writers Society of America.
Round 2: Writing
King is kind of famous for his ‘everyman’ style of writing – his language isn’t flowery or too verbose, although he does slip an occasional big word in there. One of the best words I know, ‘eldrich’, comes from Stephen King. Well, it doesn’t come from him, he’s not Shakespeare, going around making up words, but you know. That’s where I first read it.
Poe, on the other hand, does have a tendency to be a bit more flowery in his language. Whether this is just 18th Century-itis or if, as Aldous Huxley reckoned it’s the writerly equivalent of ‘wearing a diamond ring on each finger’, it can be a bit off-putting to the modern reader. Personally, I’d say push through it – his stuff is mostly good enough to warrant the effort. Poe was vastly interested in cryptography, which comes through in the story The Gold-Bug, which I’ve still not finished, because it’s too hard on my tiny brain.
Round 3: Scare Factor
Holy Shamoly, either of these guys could give you the willies ten times and back before breakfast. In Tales of Mystery and Imagination we have The Premature Burial, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and The Masque of the Red Death among others. None of these I’d recommend reading by yourself in a dark house before you go to bed. My choices for major scare factor from Nightmares and Dreamscapes would have to be You Know They Got a Hell of a Band and Crouch End, which actually references some nasties from Lovecraft. I think that the thing you have to watch for with these authors is not so much the fright factor (like the feeling you get when you wake up with a jolt in the middle of the night), but the creep factor, you know? The feeling that you get when for no apparant reason you feel like something is watching you in an empty house… icky, but so, so tantalising.
Final Round: Characters
This is the only round where I think Poe loses points to King. It’s mostly because King writes his characters so contemporary – it will remain to be seen if the don’t feel a little faded with handling in ten years or so (I recently finished Bag of Bones, and those characters do feel a little saggy with age). Having said that, the empathy that that creates is pretty worthwhile, though I suppose it’s better if you can still create empathy with your characters several centuries after you’ve written about them. Poe’s stories are awesome, but I just can’t relate to his characters.
It has to go to King, only on a TKO. Close, close points there. I might be letting my own preference for the younger fighter in there, I never claimed to be an unbiased judge. The old dog put up a damn good fight though. Now I’m off to read Murders in the Rue Morgue, because it’s dark and raining – that just feels so right.