Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Edgar Allan Poe on the Weird Circle

I recently had the pleasure of taking down my copy of the Complete Tales & Poems of Edgar Allan Poe and reading (mostly re-reading) all of his stories. I was most interested to read his lesser-known works and it gave me a new appreciation for the versatility of his craft. It's particularly fun to check out his humourous works; if you haven't read How to Write a Blackwood Article and A Predicament (in that order), do so.

But perhaps the most interesting part of the collection is Poe's only novel, the Narrative of A. Gordon Pym. It tells of a young man who goes to sea one night with his (unfortunately) drunken friend. Surviving this, he decides to go to sea again, this time smuggled in the ship his friend serves on with the intent of emerging later on. Unfortunately, the crew fall into mutiny, Pym helps retake the ship and the remaining crew succumb to starvation, sharks and cannibalism before another ship takes the last two men aboard. Pym travels with this ship toward the South Pole and they encounter a race of hostile natives with black skin (and black teeth). The story ends abruptly.

As a fan of the Old-Time Radio program the Weird Circle, my previous exposure to the Narrative of A. Gordon Pym was their dramatization. The Weird Circle was not the greatest OTR program in terms of acting or production, but the entire series was adapted from classic fiction, often from obscure authors and I enjoyed discovering these long-forgotten tales.

But their adaptation of the Narrative of A. Gordon Pym has little to do with the story I outlined above. Both have a protagonist with the same name, but in the radio version Pym is shanghaied aboard a ship; the crew mutiny against their captain but the ship is lost at sea, Pym survives and encounters the captain when he returns to land. I have to wonder, was this actually another story entirely whose title was replaced (by accident?).

So, I started to wonder how the rest of the Poe adaptations on the Weird Circle stack up. Here are my findings:

THE TELL-TALE HEART

Poe: A young man murders an elderly man because he cannot bear his milky eye; he buries him beneath the floorboards but hallucinates that he can hear his heart beating and confesses everything.

Weird Circle: A young man murders his uncle because he's constantly nagging him, he has a milky eye and he hears voices in his head compelling him to murder. He buries him beneath the floorboards but is still haunted by the (annoying) phantom voices, hallucinates that he can hear his heart beating and confesses everything.

THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER

Poe: A man goes to visit his old friend whose sister has passed away. The brother is visibly unnerved about something and on an eerie evening as terrible noises are heard in the house confesses that he buried his sister alive; his sister bursts in and they die in a struggle; the house of Usher collapses.

Weird Circle: The respective lovers of the two Usher siblings come to visit them as the lady Usher passes away, accompanied by red rain. The sinister, scheming brother insists his sister was a witch. She finally rises from the dead to reclaim her soul from her brother; the two lovers escape, the house of Usher collapses.

WILLIAM WILSON

Poe: William Wilson meets another man named William Wilson who follows him in everything he does. He finally attacks and kills the other Wilson only to find that there is only one William Wilson - he has killed himself.

Weird Circle: William Wilson meets another man named William Wilson who follows him in everything he does. He finally attacks and kills the other Wilson only to find that there is only one William Wilson - he has killed himself.

THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE

Poe: Detective Auguste Dupin investigates the murder of a woman and her daughter inside a sealed room. He ultimately proves that an orangutang who accidentally learned to wield a razor is responsible.

Weird Circle: Detective Auguste Dupin investigates the murder of a woman and her daughter inside a sealed room. He ultimately proves that an orangutang who accidentally learned to wield a razor is responsible.

THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO

Poe: Montressor leads his hated rival Fortunato down into his catacombs for some amontillado; in actuality, there is no wine and it is a trap. He seals Fortunato up behind a wall; the murder is never discovered.

Weird Circle: Fortunato sells Montressor into slavery so that he can claim the woman Montressor loves. Montressor eventually regains his family fortune and leads Fortunato down into his catacombs for some amontillado; in actuality, there is no wine and it is a trap. He closes Fortunato behind a door; the murder is never discovered, but Montressor is haunted by his actions for the rest of his life.

METZENGERSTEIN

Poe: Two families have feuded for ages. When one of the family's home burns down a horse (possibly the same one from a tapestry) appears. Metzengerstein takes it as his steed, believing it to be the reincarnation of his family's rival, but the horse ultimately leads him to his death.

Weird Circle (as "The Tapestry Horse"): Two families have feuded for ages. When one of the family's home burns down a horse (possibly the same one from a tapestry) appears. Luren takes it as his steed, believing it to be the reincarnation of his family's rival, conquers the horse and weds a daughter of the rival family, ending the feud.

LIGEIA

Poe: A man loses his wife Ligeia. He marries another woman, but she dies of a fever too, then transforms into Ligeia, returned to life.

Weird Circle (as "The Returned"): The woman Ligeia is dead and immediately begins haunting her husband's home. When he marries another woman and brings her home the hauntings increase. The second wife seems to succumb to a fever Ligeia's spirit caused. Ligeia's spirit inhabits the second wife's body, the husband kills himself, Ligeia mourns him and returns to death.

THE OBLONG BOX

Poe: An artist carries an unusual oblong box with him aboard a ship. He has also brought his wife who does not seem to be the beauty everyone heard she was. When the ship goes down, the artist goes with it as he chases after the oblong box. It turns out that his wife is dead and was being impersonated by his maid; he kept his wife's body in the box because he could not transport a corpse otherwise.

Weird Circle: An artist carries an unusual oblong box with him aboard a ship. He has also brought his wife who does not seem to be the beauty everyone heard she was. When the ship goes down, the artist goes with it as he chases after the oblong box. It turns out that he murdered his wife aboard the ship and kept her in the oblong box, then had his maid impersonate his wife.

THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF M. VALDEMAR

Poe: A mesmerist places a dying man into a trance at the moment of death and he continues to exist in a state of unlife for seven months until the mesmerist breaks the trance; the subject crumbles into gore.

Weird Circle: A sinister mesmerist places a dying woman into a trance at the moment of death and she continues to exist in a state of unlife for seven months until the woman's husband demands she be released; the subject simply dies and the mesmerist is hung for her death; the mesmerist places himself in a trance at the moment of his own death.

A parting thought on the differences: although Poe had a reputation for horror, the Weird Circle generally seemed determined to increase the amount of bloodshed in his stories.

4 comments:

Sven said...

They also have added a couple of love stories (not necessary "romances") into the plots.

Raptor Lewis said...

Poe always gave me the creeps.

Michael Hoskin said...

True, Sven. The Weird Circle's version of the Fall of the House of Usher is the most egregious in that area (William Wilson also did this). I wouldn't be surprised to learn that many of the other Weird Circle stories I've heard with romantic elements are less than faithful to their original sources.

Rob Velella said...

This is a fascinating analysis. It's interesting how perfect Poe's stories are, yet they are always heavily adapted for other media. The new version of "The Cask of Amontillado" in particular surprised me, as did changing the important ending of "Metzengerstein."

I appreciate your recommendation of Poe's humor works - I reiterate the recommendation, more specifically with my favorites: "X-ing a Paragrab" and "Never Bet the Devil Your Head."