The Poetic Principle: Edgar Allan Poe Retellings and Readalikes

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Nightfire, publisher of What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

When Alex Easton, a retired soldier, receives word that their childhood friend Madeline Usher is dying, they race to the ancestral home of the Ushers in the remote countryside of Ruritania. What they find there is a nightmare of fungal growths and possessed wildlife surrounding a dark, pulsing lake.

For a man who died at 40, Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) certainly Lived A Life. It is difficult to quantify Poe’s literary legacy, both in the United States and beyond; his life was full of “firsts” in ways that continually surprise me. He was the first American writer to earn a (wretched) living purely through writing. He is generally credited for inventing the detective genre and reinventing , and was quite possibly the O.G.: Original Goth. In a delightful crossover between literature and sports, his hometown of Baltimore’s football team is named for one of his poems.

It also feels strange to remember that Poe and many of the U.S. Founding Fathers were alive at the same time; a 15-year-old Poe served in the Richmond, VA, youth honor guard for a visit by the Marquis de Lafayette, and both Thomas Jefferson and John Addams died when Poe was 17. He also died before the Civil War began, which means that he regularly would have encountered enslaved people as part of daily life. Much of Poe’s work is a direct counter to the ideals of The Enlightenment and Transcendentalism; his writings focus on the horrors of death, decay — both literal and hypothetical, and satires. His work has fascinated readers for nearly two full centuries, spawning innumerable satires, retellings, and genres all on their own.

Edgar Allan Poe Retellings

Cover for His Hideous Heart by Dahlia Adler

His Hideous Heart by Dahlia Adler

How many of Poe’s short stories are in this collection? Thirteen, of course. Each author in this inclusive list takes on a classic Poe story, retelling it in their own style.

Cover of Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

This is a retelling of — you guessed it! — “The Masque of the Red Death” by Poe, set in a steampunk dystopia. This is the first book in a duology with a novella. Griffin has also published a retelling of “The Fall of the House of Usher” called The Fall.

Cover of Nevermore by Kelly Creagh

Nevermore (Nevermore #1) by Kelly Creagh

Isobel Lanley, cheerleader, is disgusted when she is paired with Varen Nethers, goth and weirdo, for an English project. When she finds some strange writing in his journal, she has to reassess in order to save him from his own dreamscape.

Cover of The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis

The Initial Insult (The Initial Insult #1) by Mindy McGinnis

Tress Montor and Felicity Turnado used to be best friends, but then Tress’s parents disappeared. Seven years later, Tress and Felicity are accidentally at the same Halloween party and Tress has a plan to get the truth or revenge — or both.

Edgar Allan Poe Readalikes

At this point in the list, I’m shifting into less direct retellings. These are tales of gothic horror, of which Poe was an uncontested master. While they may not refer directly to Poe’s published works, his particular brand of creepiness is evident; his stamp is undeniable.

Cover of Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno Garcia

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno Garcia

I got through about 1/3 of this before I had to nope right out because I am a weenie. But everyone who DID get through it says it’s wonderful, and what I did read was good and creepy. Set in the mountains of 1950s Mexico, Mexican Gothic is the story of Noemí Taboada, a socialite who arrives at the remote High Place to rescue her cousin from a mysterious doom. Horror ensues.

Cover of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone was published in 1868 and is often called the first detective novel. But as we know, it was published some 19 years after Poe – creator of the detective genre – died. Poe’s work, however, was not novelized, so in a twist (hah!) both things are true.

This is one of my favorite novels, full stop. I have an entire group of friends who were brought together through our love of this ridiculous, hilarious detective novel. I can’t wait for you to meet Miss Clack and Gabriel Betteredge. IYKYK.

Cover of Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved by Toni Morrison

In recent years, Beloved has been widely claimed by horror enthusiasts. Set in post-Civil War Ohio, Beloved is Sethe’s story. Witness to unspeakable horror, she has — in general — not gone mad, though she has been haunted by the ghost of her nameless child, called Beloved. But her sanity comes into question when her past comes back to greet her in startling ways.

If you haven’t read this — or haven’t read it since high school — it’s definitely time.

Cover of White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

The Silver family home has been inhabited by four generations of Silver women. When Miranda’s mother dies, Miranda begins suffering strange ailments, and when she brings a friend home, the hostility of the closed-off town of Dover toward outsiders begins to manifest in the very walls of Silver House.

Cover of Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor

The Witch is dead. She performed the shamanistic rites of the community, which descends into chaos as the village seeks to understand her death and what it means for her people. Inspired by a true story, Melchor beautifully illustrates both the brutality and the humanity of a seemingly damned rural Mexican village.

Translations can be very tricky, and by all accounts, Sophie Hughes did an excellent job with this terrifying book that I have not yet read because I am, as discussed previously, a weenie. But that cover may inspire me to give it a try. Phew!

Cover of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Love him or hate him, Sherlock Holmes has made an indelible mark on Western literature. He is also, by Doyle’s admission, based in part on Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin. Without Poe, there would be no Holmes. And without Holmes, well. Who knows?

It is absolutely wild to me that one relatively young man’s writing career, spanning roughly 15 years, could result in an entire genre of books nearly 200 years later. What could have been accomplished had Poe not died mysteriously, wearing clothes that didn’t belong to him, on October 7th, 1849? As they say, it will be a mystery evermore.

(I’m not sorry.)

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