Monday, October 6, 2014

Why I like The Tell-Tale Heart

Why I like The Tell-Tale Heart

1) The Tell-Tale Heart was one of the very first horror stories I'd ever read. It was in either third or fourth grade and we read it as part of the class's October celebration. The teacher handed out copies and we read along on little xeroxed print-outs.  I was waaaaaay too fragile for that story and it gave me nightmares for months.

2) Most of Poe's stories read like lucid, vivid nightmares. The narrator's insanity and fixation on the old man's eye has a sort of dream-logic that becomes infectious the more time the reader spends in the narrator's head. I've seen and read a lot of depictions of insanity, but I've never read anything more compelling than Poe. 

3) "If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs. I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye --not even his --could have detected any thing wrong. There was nothing to wash out --no stain of any kind --no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all --ha! ha!"

4) Never read about someone dismembering a corpse before, especially written in a way that feels like the act of dismembering your murder victim is simply an arduous chore, cleverly planned out. Child-Joe had some very vivid images in his head after reading that scene.

5) The Tell-Tale Heart is a weird story. You're not quite clear who you're supposed to be "rooting" for. Obviously the narrator is a murderous madman, but by the time the cops show up the tension comes from whether or not he'll get away with it.

6) The metronome ticking of the heart, mixed with the narrator's rising madness, makes for absolutely horrific imagery. Poe effectively brings us into the man's mental state in a way that no other horror writer seems able to. Most horror fiction portrays madness with witchlike cackling and otherwise-lucid characters who simply do terrible things. Poe's characters feel insane, and that compounds the fear a hundred-fold.

7) I remember one visit to my grandparent's house in Utah, maybe a little less than a year after I read the book. They had a small windowless guest bedroom that my friend and I slept in. One night, I started getting fixated on passages from The Tell-Tale Heart. I stared into the corner of the grayish-green wallpapered room and imagined the deathwatch beetles, the ticking heart, the disembodied corpse under the floor. Needless to say, that was a sleepless night.

8) "Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! --tear up the planks! here, here! --It is the beating of his hideous heart!"

Conclusion: The Tell-Tale Heart completely scared the crap out of me as a kid. Those simple, powerful images rattled my cage like few other things ever had, and reprogrammed my brain into building a tolerance and eventual taste for the genre.    

No comments: