The Fantasy of Edgar Allen Poe


It seems to be a recurring theme with me – that for years I was unaware of such-and-such an author or was mistaken about the nature of his or her writings. Such was the case with Edgar Allen Poe.

Last year, for the Halloween season, I did a little bit of a dive into some of his works (Here and here). I was especially impressed and surprised by “The City in the Sea.” If I had read the poem and seen no name attached to it, I’d likely have guessed it to be a product of Clark Ashton Smith‘s wonderful, macabre mind.

Similarly enthralling and romantic is the poem “Eldorado,” which tells the story of a knight seeking fortune and treasure. As you would expect from Poe, it’s not exactly a happy tale. The adventurer grows old and weary without finding the golden city. He meets a shade, who tells him to “ride boldly” to the Valley of Shadow (death) and seek Eldorado there.

GAILY bedight,
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.

But he grew old —
This knight so bold —
And o’er his heart a shadow
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.

And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow —
“Shadow,” said he,
“Where can it be —
This land of Eldorado?”

“Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,”
The shade replied, —
“If you seek for Eldorado!”

Poe has been an important inspiration to many successful and celebrated scifi, fantasy, and horror authors. “Eldorado” provides just one example. The 1966 Western film of the same name, starring John Wayne, features the poem as several parts of it are recited by one character throughout the movie. Its theme song also draws heavily from the poem.

Oh, and the film’s script was written by none other than Leigh Brackett, the Queen of Space Opera. I’m sure that’s no coincidence.

Poe is still most widely known for his contributions to the horror genre, and perhaps for that one poem about the raven that says “nevermore.” This can probably be chalked up, in part, to the fact that people tend to want to draw hard lines between genres these days. When push comes to shove, it’s easiest to throw Poe into the “horror” bin. But there was quite a bit of fantasy in many of his stories and poems, too.

What I would most like to emphasize is this – if you’ve never really been interested in Poe because his work is old and Gothic or because you’re not really a fan of horror, I recommend checking out one or two of his stories and reevaluating. I’m not a big fan of the horror genre myself, and I only just started reading and enjoying Gothic fiction in recent years after turning up my nose at it for so long. But I absolutely dig most of the Poe that I’ve read.

If you’re anything like me, there’s a lot of potential enjoyment to be had in tracing back and recognizing the influences of more recent SFF writers.

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