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he steampunk genre didn't exist when Edgar Allan Poe was penning his masterful mysteries and nightmarish horror stories, so you might be wondering how, exactly, the two have come together in this book. The greatest writers, though, produce works that transcend their own times, allowing each new generation of readers to discover them anew. And Edgar Allan Poe is nothing if not one of the greatest American writers in history.
But to understand exactly how well Edgar and steampunk go together, it might be helpful to know a little about Edgar himselfâand what inspired him to write the way he did.
Edgar Poe was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston, Massachusetts. His early life was cloaked in much of the mystery and heartbreak that is woven through the canon of his works. Not long after Edgar was born, his father disappeared, abandoning the family; Edgar's mother died shortly thereafter. Young Edgar was then taken in by John and Frances Allan, a wealthy family from Richmond, Virginia; though they never formally adopted him, their surname became his middle, creating a name that would earn a place in the annals of great American writers.
Edgar had a tumultuous relationship with his foster father, but that did not interfere with John's plans for Edgar's education, including a boarding school in England and enrollment in the newly-formed University of Virginia. Edgar, however, was soon expelled for debauchery that included drinking and gambling, leading to an even greater rift with John. Frances died in 1829, leaving Edgar motherless again. To honor her deathbed wish, Edgar and John tried to mend their relationship, but the reconciliation was short-lived. Despite the bad feelings between the two, Edgar never dropped the “Allan” from his nameâeven after John eventually disowned him.
Determined to seek his fortune as a writer from an early age, Edgar returned to his hometown of Boston, where his first collection of poems,
, was published when he was just 18 years old. Though these poems were anonymously credited to “A Bostonian,” Edgar was surely disappointed when his first foray into publication was met with virtually no attention. A stint in the Army, followed by enrollment at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, offered a similar outcome to his time at the University of Virginia.
Edgar, however, was undaunted in pursuit of publication. In 1835, at the age of 26, he married his 13-year-old cousin, Virginia Clem, and moved to Fordham, New York. There Edgar made a name for himself not as a writer of original works, but as a keen literary critic, which earned him many enemies among his contemporaries. Still, with dogged determination, Edgar continued to write dozens of short stories and poems that explored his fascination with mysteries, puzzles, death, and the macabre. Especially after the death of Virginia in 1847, Edgar's poems were fraught with a recurring theme of the untimely death of a beautiful young womanâechoing, perhaps, Edgar's own personal tragedies: the death of his mother, his foster mother, and his beloved wife. He was well-regarded among his friends and many luminaries of the literary world, despite how frequently Edgar required financial rescuing from various debts and debacles.
Poe's own untimely death, at age 40, is shrouded in a mystery that perhaps only his great detective character, C. Auguste Dupin, could solve. On October 3, 1849, Edgar was found covered in filth, ill, virtually incoherentâand, strangely enough, wearing clothes that did not belong to him. Though Edgar was immediately hospitalized, he never recovered, and indeed was unable to explain the bizarre circumstances that had brought him to such a sorry state of affairs. After Edgar's death, several theories circulated as to the cause of his demise, including cholera, tuberculosis, alcoholism, and even rabies. It is now known that one of his most bitter literary enemies, Rufus Wilmot Griswold, worked tirelessly after Edgar's death to discredit him by spreading false rumors that Edgar died of drug addiction, as well as penning a hateful obituary and a biography studded with brazen lies.
So many years after he left this earth, what remains most important is Edgar's literary legacy: poems and stories that still chill and thrill with their horrifying descriptions and shocking twists, all wrapped up in evocative word choices that delight generation after generation of readers. He originated the detective story (beginning with
The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Mystery of Marie RogÃªt
The Purloined Letter
), and entire genres like science fiction benefited from Edgar's unparalleled talent. The steampunk genre, which currently enjoys immense popularity, was decades away from invention when Edgar was writing; yet it's clear how many of his stories and poems provide an essential framework for it. From Edgar's interest in technological advancements like hot-air balloons in
The Balloon Hoax
to his elaborate descriptions of ornate architecture and lavish fashion in
The Fall of the House of Usher, The Spectacles
The Masque of the Red Death
, the many charms of steampunk also serve as hallmarks of his writing. And, certainly, Edgar's assorted cast of murderers and madmen offer an opportunity to explore some of the steampunk movement's darker, more disturbing components. Whatever silent secrets about his life and death lie buried with him in a grave at Westminster Hall and Burying Grounds in Maryland, Edgar Allan Poe's body of work continues to speak for itself.