Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Great Short Stories: #1-10

In my school days I was exposed to short stories in English classes as part of my course material, but I didn't really develop an interest in the format until I became obsessed with old-time radio. Many of the radio dramas I enjoyed - notably those used on Escape - utilized short stories to great effect as they were well suited to the half-hour format of most programs. As the programs exposed me to certain stories and authors I began searching out the print versions of those works, then finding more stories by my favorite of those authors and then seeking out additional authors who were said to be similar to them. I love that the format gets through the plots quickly and often with a deft sense of economy.

I've read an especially large amount of short stories since delving into the University's collections, grabbing thick anthologies here and there. I've read so much that I felt the need to share my recommendations for great short stories. Beginning today and over the next nine days, I'll list my 100 favorite short stories, including information on where to buy or read online where able. This list will be in chronological order and won't have much beyond the 1950s.

1. "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" (1837) by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This is the prototype of "fountain of youth" stories, demonstrating the yearning to be young again outwardly, but that inward youth is not so easily obtained. Like so many stories of its sort, the miracle which grants youth is lost by the story's end, but it leads to a final paragraph that is quite funny.

"Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" can be found in Twice-Told Tales. You can read the text online here.

2. "A Predicament" (1838) by Edgar Allan Poe. This story is best enjoyed when read alongside "How to Write a Blackwood's Article," but I think the absurdism stands well on its own. This is one of Poe's best humourous stories and pokes fun at some of the conventions he later adopted himself!

"A Predicament" can be found in Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems. You can read the text online here.

3. "The Fall of the House of Usher" (1839) by Edgar Allan Poe. This is one of the great Poe stories and is likely familiar to many; the story of a woman buried alive by her brother and highlighted by an unforgettable climax where the protagonist reads from The Mad Trist as unusual sounds in the house seem to mirror every passage of the text.

"The Fall of the House of Usher" can be found in Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems. You can read the text online here.

4. "The Man That Was Used Up" (1839) by Edgar Allan Poe. This is another of Poe's humourous tales, featuring a general who is well regarded by everyone the protagonist meets, and yet they seem simultaneously evasive on the subject. When the protagonist finally meets the general he learns the great man's secret: most of his body has been replaced with prosthetics. He has, in brief, been "used up."

"The Man That Was Used Up" can be found in Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems. You can read the text online here.

5. "Never Bet the Devil Your Head" (1841) by Edgar Allan Poe. This is easily Poe's funniest story, the tale of a gambling man whose ultimate wager is to bet the Devil his head. When the Devil accepts his terms, he has to put his money where his mouth is...that is, if he still had a mouth...

"Never Bet the Devil Your Head" can be found in Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems. You can read the text online here.

6. "The Pit and the Pendulum" (1842) by Edgar Allan Poe. Another of Poe's best-known tales, this is the story of the man imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition and left in a darkened prison to face two dilemmas: first, an immense pit which he's expected to blindly stumble into and second, an immense bladed pendulum which descends from the ceiling, drawing ever closer to his body.

"The Pit and the Pendulum" can be found in Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems. You can read the text online here.

7. "The Black Cat" (1843) by Edgar Allan Poe. For my money, this was Poe's most disturbing story. The narrator is a drunk who kills his cat in a fit; later, he obtains a new cat but begins to fear it's the old cat reincarnated. When he kills his wife in another fit he tries desperately to conceal his crime, but the cat isn't through with him yet and his own pride brings about his fall.

"The Black Cat" can be found in Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems. You can read the text online here.

8. "The Gold Bug" (1843) by Edgar Allan Poe. This is Poe's great treasure hunt story, featuring a cipher and the fortune of Captain Kidd hidden beneath a skull. What maintains interest is that the treasure hunter seems to be a madman, but is actually following the seemingly-insane directions to the treasure.

"The Gold Bug" can be found in Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems. You can read the text online here.

9. "The Telltale Heart" (1843) by Edgar Allan Poe. If "the Black Cat" was Poe's most disturbing, I think this was Poe's single best work. This is the classic story of a murderer whose guilty conscience manifests as the sound of a heartbeat emanating from the place where he buried his victim. Adaptations to other media try too hard to delve into the narrator's motivation, making it about the killer's need for money or want of love; the actual story is stripped bare - it's a killer's confession and everything from the murder scene to the tormented imaginations of the killer are suspenseful and thrilling.

"The Telltale Heart" can be found in Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems. You can read the text online here.

10. "The Cask of Amontillado" (1846) by Edgar Allan Poe. And this is the last tale by Poe to make it on my list; this is another of his great stories and I encourage anyone who thinks they know the story to sit down and read it for themselves. The flashes of grim humour are really engaging and the climax - Fortunato being sealed up inside a wall by Montressor - is some of Poe's best work.

"The Cask of Amontillado" can be found in Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems. You can read the text online here.

1 comment:

mjjhoskin said...

9 out 10 short stories agree: Edgar A Poe wrote good stuff.