Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy Birthday, Poe

Two hundred years ago today, a child was born who would, in the course of a too short and over troubled life, help spawn the detective story and the science fiction story. One of his stories would generate public interest in cryptography and cryptograms, another would inspire a sequel by Jules Verne. Amazingly enough, these are not what Edgar Allan Poe is best remembered for today.

The macabre was Poe's best remembered milieu. The Raven, an ode to a love lost to death, is Poe's best remembered work and has an football team named in its honor and has inspired a song:

a Simpson's episode:


and innumerable readings.

His other macabre and Gothic stories have been made into films of varying quality, but largely entertaining. My favorite scene being from a portmanteau script of The Black Cat and the Cask of Amontillado in which Peter Lorre, drunken and shabby, has a wine tasting contest with the superbly coiffed and dressed Vincent Price.

To this day, the true cause of Poe's death is not known. His death, after being found collapsed in the streets of Baltimore, dressed in someone else's clothes, was enough to cause the staid citizens to shake their heads. Things were not helped when one of his literary enemies (Rufus Griswold, a name destined to be attached to a villain) managed to, under a pen name and using forged letters as evidence, ascribed his death to alcohol and opium. As Poe's literary executor, he included a libelous "Memoir of the Author" in future editions of Poe's works so that the lies continued to spread and became the accepted version of Poe's life.

Today, his stories can still give chills. Raise a toast (but not an opium pipe, we now know) to a great author, one whose books have long outlived the libels spread about him.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

You were never a number

It was sad to see that Patrick McGoohan had passed away. I realize that as I get older, the stars I enjoyed as a kid are getting MUCH OLDER, but logic cannot stop wistfulness. The Prisoner is still one of the most inventive and thought provoking TV series of which I know. Very 60's, very mod, with wry humor and seriously twisting plots, it starts as a spy series, and wanders into science fiction and surrealism.

It is too bad that he couldn't have lived to see the revisiting of his series on AMC (or maybe it is a blessing, remakes can be an iffy proposition.) Now I have to head over to Netflix and queue up the series. I would buy it, but last time I checked on it, it took 8 DVDs to show 17 episodes and it cost more than I was willing to pay. (Looking it up, I was wrong,it is 10 DVDs!)

Honey! Do you want to visit Portmeirion this summer?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Audio Gutenberg

Something I found, while looking for the information in the last post, was LibriVox. This is a project that puts the same Public Domain texts that Gutenberg has worked to provide into Public Domain audiobooks, read by volunteers. The reading quality is good, if variable, and they also are looking for more readers, for short works, individual chapters or whole books.

I have heard several books and stories so far, from Arsene Lupin stories to the excellent Uller Uprising by the late H. Beam Piper. Many of my favorite older books, Burroughs, Sherlock Holmes, Jules Verne and Poe are already available. I am glad to see that they include some of the newer translations of Verne, which are superior to the old translations which have been recycled over and over because they are Public Domain.

For those of us who enjoy the sound of our own voice, this looks like a great opportunity! My kids no longer want me to read to them and grandkids are, with any luck, still a few years away. Now I can read to the whole world! Well, a few people in it anyway. Take a look at LibriVox if you like audio books.