Edgar Allan Poe was able to convey in a few lines what many writers are unable to do in less than a handful of pages.
Even before psychology as a science existed, Poe was able to explore the field of guilt, paranoia, delusions and obsessions.
From his skills as a writer, he laid the foundations for creating the modern concept of literary genres such as horror, mystery, fantasy, historical fiction or science fiction.
For these and other reasons Edgar Allan Poe is often considered one of the greatest American authors of all time.
Author of between 70 and 80 books of fiction – the exact number is not known – the following are the ones we could consider:
1. The Tell-Tale Heart
Despite being one of Edgar Allan Poe’s shortest stories, in its lines it is possible to find the purest essences of the author.
The Tell-Tale Heart concisely shows the main recurring elements in the writer’s work: guilt, paranoia, murder and nameless narrators who rationalize their actions.
2. The Cask of Amontillado
Montressor, the protagonist, takes an acquaintance of his -Fortunato- to what looks like a wine cellar… and is actually a crypt. There he locks him up to die.
Here we find proof of the dark sense of humor that so characterizes Allan Poe’s stories. In this case, the use of humor in the choice of names for some of his characters: Fortunato means fortunate in Italian.
3. The Fall of the House of Usher
This story brings together distinctive features of Gothic literature… both before and after Edgar Allan Poe. For starters, decadence, aristocratic and an old house full of family secrets.
Guillermo del Toro’s horror film “Crimson Peak” and Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s novel “Mexican Gothic” are excellent recent versions of Gothic fiction that share some key elements with this story.
4. The Well and the Pendulum
Reading El Pozo y el Péndulo, both narrator and reader feel that suspense and terror are very close to each other.
It all takes place in the time of the Inquisition, when an unnamed narrator is imprisoned between two forms of torture: the pit and the pendulum’s blade. It is like being caught between a rock and a hard place, both literally and metaphorically.
5. The Mask of the Red Death
During a highly contagious epidemic, the callous and creative Prince Prospero and his friends organize a lavish masked ball. They seem oblivious to danger and to their own privileges, and then the Red Death personified appears.
6. The Premature Burial
The narrator panics at the thought of being buried alive. This was something that, until the late nineteenth century, when the development of science had methods and tools to prevent it, was something that occurred with some assiduity… so having such a phobia was absolutely reasonable.
Poe occasionally used the resource of the burial of the living in other stories such as “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Cask of Amontillado”.
7. The Oval Portrait
In the pages of The Oval Portrait, Edgar Allan Poe tells of a painter who draws his wife’s life force into a portrait of her, killing her.
In this terrifying story, Edgar Allan Poe takes us back to the ancient myths of mirrors and paintings that capture souls.
In The Oval Portrait many critics have seen a clear antecedent, and influence, of Oscar Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Grey.
8. The Crimes of the Rue Morgue
It could be that Auguste Dupin, the protagonist of this novel by Edgar Allan Poe was the first detective in history’s fiction.
Although Poe did not invent the word “detective,” he clearly influenced the later development of the mystery genre.
With subsequent appearances in two other Edgar Allan Poe novels (“The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” and “The Purloined Letter”), Dupin established some of the major parameters of detective novels. Chief among them, perhaps, is that of a private investigator, independent of the police department, who uses logical reasoning to solve crimes.
9. The Man of the Crowd
An anonymous observer is fascinated by a stranger, a member of a crowd, whom he follows.
As always, in The Man of the Crowd, Edgar Allan Poe surprises with his ability both to create suspense and to display his knowledge of history, Greek and French.
10. The Black Cat
Often paired this novel with The Tell-Tale Heart, this Edgar Allan Poe novel introduces another unnamed, violent and untrustworthy narrator.
An animal abuser turned murderer, the character in this novel will be haunted by his deeds.
As is often the case in Edgar Allan Poe’s novels, here too the ambiguity makes the character even creepier – if that’s possible.
Other of Poe’s best books
Edgar Allan Poe is not only a writer of novels. He is also a writer of poetry, a genre that the author cultivated since his adolescence. His most famous collections of poems are “The Raven”, “Annabel Lee” and “Lenore”.
In “The Poetic Principle“, a posthumous work, the contents of several of his lectures on literary theory were collected.
An important part of the fiction written during the 20th and 21st centuries is impregnated with the influence of Edgar Allan Poe. The author’s traces can be detected from Modernism to the modern thriller, passing through the Black Mirror series.