Thursday, May 20, 2010

Comments on The Black Cat Scary Story by Edgar Allan Poe

Years before the black raven was ingrained into the minds of Americans as a reminder of lost love, another sable animal gained Edgar Allan Poe fame. The Black Cat ranks as one of Poe’s best horror short stories and one of the best from 1800-1849. I have picked it as the 18th best scary short story. Poe actually owned a black cat in 1840 when he published a short article entitled “Instinct vs. Reason.” Here is a snippet: The writer of this article is the owner of one of the most remarkable black cats in the world – and this is saying much; for it will be remembered that black cats are all of them witches. The one in question has not a white hair about her, and is of a demure and sanctified demeanor. He followed this line of thinking in the tale when speaking of the fictional cat:

This latter was a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and sagacious to an astonishing degree. In speaking of his intelligence, my wife, who at heart was not a little tinctured with superstition, made frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion, which regarded all black cats as witches in disguise. Not that she was ever serious upon this point—and I mention the matter at all for no better reason than that it happens, just now, to be remembered.

Poe was a lover of cats to be sure. Besides his black cat, he owned a tabby cat with his wife, Virginia, named Catterina. Like many of his tales, there are other autobiographical elements here. As a child Poe killed a pet bird owned by his foster mother, Frances Allan, and later felt guilt and remorse. Poe gives a similar account of the cat:
When I first beheld this apparition—for I could scarcely regard it as less—my wonder and my terror were extreme. But at length reflection came to my aid. The cat, I remembered, had been hung in a garden adjacent to the house. Upon the alarm of fire, this garden had been immediately filled by the crowd—by some one of whom the animal must have been cut from the tree and thrown, through an open window, into my chamber. This had probably been done with the view of arousing me from sleep. The falling of other walls had compressed the victim of my cruelty into the substance of the freshly-spread plaster; the lime of which, with the flames, and the ammonia from the carcass, had then accomplished the portraiture as I saw it.

"The Black Cat" was first published in the August 19, 1843 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. It employs the most effective use of an animal for any of the Top 40 scary short stories of this period. The fine writing and building terror plant it firmly as the 18th best scary short story on the countdown.

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