Tales of Mystery & Madness

Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Madness

Illustrated by Gris Grimly

Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon&Schuster), 2004

Hardcover, 135 pages. Juvenile Fiction (ages 11 & up)

A sweet little cat drives a man to insanity and murder…

The grim death known as the plague roams a masquerade ball dressed in red…

A dwarf seeks his final revenge on his captors…

A sister calls to her beloved twin from beyond the grave…

Prepare yourself. You are about to enter a world where you will be shocked, terrified, and, though you’ll be too scared to admit it at first, secretly thrilled. Here are four tales — “The Black Cat,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” “Hop-Frog,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher” — by the master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe. The original tales have been ever so slightly dismembered — but, of course, Poe understood dismemberment very well. And he would shriek in ghoulish delight at Gris Grimly’s gruesomely delectable illustrations that adorn every page. So prepare yourself. And keep the lights on. ~Publisher’s Comments

I read the final story (The Fall of the House of Usher) in this illustrated collection of 4 Edgar Allan Poe stories just before falling asleep last night. Yeah, my dreams were even more demented than usual. I also woke to the dismembering of several trees, where the snowfall was too much for the still leafy behemoths. Tree carnage everywhere. Needless to say, Gris Grimly’s Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Madness is a perfect seasonal read.

The claim that “The original tales have been ever so slightly dismembered” is true. Gris Grimly handles these stories masterfully. Poe’s work is as delicious dark as ever, atmospheric, gruesome, and wickedly worded.

The daughter picked up a collection of Poe’s work from the school library not long ago. And the delight in her reading Poe was his overall effect, and his incredible vocabulary. Lists were made by page where she would stop and look them all up. Then at the end re-read the story in a definite state of awe. In Gris Grimly’s lovely book, the words remain as flavorful and difficult as ever. The oft long and unwieldy sentences that sing so perfectly are still enacted, sinking the chills so deeply inward as they wind about and descend.

Poe has a way of externalizing the internal machinations using everything at his disposal, and I think Gris Grimly via his figure sketches and his composed frames/pages would echo a similar effect. The accompaniment of illustration is really well done in a contemporary styling of Edward Gorey, with some water color, and with an edge of mania. Admittedly, at first I shrugged at their darkling charm, but the images really grew on me. They’ve an energy; and they infuse the sinister in the same subtle ways Poe does with words. Given time and a better vocabulary I could disassemble the effects, like one might do with Poe (sentence structure, diction, etc) but in the end there is sure to be an organic quality that unsettles appropriately.

from The Fall of the House of Usher. this image is pre-text. I liked Gris Grimly’s use of water color.

The presentation of the stories are of interest. There is a lot of framing, with actual—er—frames, but it is more picture book than comic*; although the debate there is sure to continue. The images move as the story warrants, and they clarify the mood of each piece. Mind the compositions, as well as the delicacy in which Gris Grimly handles the more gory aspects to a story. I adored the font for the dialog and how it paired so nicely with the regular text in Locarno. The details really come together. But for the color, it is old cinema at points, a bit of Hitchcock; perhaps with the color, Tim Burton, both with film and with pen. I can liken, but Gris Grimly, even as he glowingly cites influences, concocts an imagery all his own.

You read enough Edgar Allan Poe and you note repetitive images and themes and his brilliant observations of mental illnesses. In the 4 stories Gris Grimly chose to collect and illustrate find commonality, and not just Mystery and Madness. For those adults who worry over characters drinking or smoking, Poe and Grimly provide good morality tales as to how alcohol and opium (among other things) poorly affect the spirit and drive a body into horrible states. In the first story, Black Cat, the protagonist, driven by alcoholism and its subsequent inhibition of rage, gouges his beloved cat’s eyeball out. And then later tries to take an axe to it, but well, I won’t spoil it for you. Suffice it to say, many a story here is an advertisement for how the drink and anger harms; and how horrifying the unrepentant truly are.

And yet, of course, Poe can be complicated. With Black Cat: Was it the Alcohol? Was it an adult onset of some other illness complicated by drink? Was he really just a bad man (and since he was writing the letter misled us at the beginning)? We really want to work out some of Poe’s mysteries, review his words, his establishment of the story, because his villains (who are oft our narrator) are scary and it feels safer to explain them away—which is a mistake, because Poe’s villains become all too familiar a figure.

For instance, The Mask of the Red Death feels timely, does it not? Prince Prospero hiding away behind impressive and impassable walls in opulence with the select courtiers while the 99% writhe in anguish beneath the onslaught of the Red Death (assign the red state where you will). –okay, sorry, I usually avoid anything political, but you get the example. Poe (and Grimly) use both the upper and the lower classmen as figures of terror. Notably however is the gleefulness you feel at the ending of the villainous Prince (The Mask) and King (Hop-Frog). Then, with both The Mask of the Red Death and Hop-Frog the endings are a conflict of terror and jubilance; not unlike the masquerade balls in which the concluding events occur. As for The Fall of the House of Usher just felt inevitable. I felt an enormous relief of having escaped that story. Unfortunately Black Cat is a scenario that isn’t always so inevitable. Poe’s stories and Grimly’s artwork are inspired.

Poe’s stories (and Gris Grimly’s illustrations) can be enjoyed at a most basic level: you can get a fairly simple chill of horror and enjoy its lingering effects for hours after. Or you can linger and worry over how you yourself have been thus revealed by the reading and manipulative response of Poe’s tales. You can marvel over a sentence, a scene, or creatively subtle devisement. In Gris Grimly’s book, you can enjoy the illustrations several passes more. Edgar Allan Poes’ Tales of Mystery and Madness is a treat that keeps on giving, “ever so slightly dismembered” into bite-sized stories for enjoyable autumnal afternoon sittings. And I would echo the recommended daylight hours, for Poe in the hands of Gris Grimly is delightfully disturbing.


*Since this book is for 11 & up you will likely find this in a Teen Graphic Novel/Comics section. And I really would take the age 11 & up seriously here.

to view more of Gris Grimly’s work click here.

A Reader’s Imbibing Peril (RIP) read if I ever met one.

Published by L

I read, and I write. and until recently, I sold books.

6 thoughts on “Tales of Mystery & Madness

  1. I’m a big fan of both Poe’s work and Gris Grimly’s. This book was on my ‘to buy’ list but fortunately for me I received it as a gift. There are a handful of these Goreyesque illustrators that I really enjoy, and Grimly is one. I would probably describe him as much Tim Burtonesque, as Goreyesque. Have you seen Burton’s illustration work? I love it.

    Anyway, I do love books featuring Poe’s work or building off of it. He was a true master of the short story medium and nothing gives me a little fright like Poe does.

    Can I just say that your daughter is too cool? She reminds me a lot of Debi’s daughter Annie (not sure if you two know each other through the book blogging community). I’m extremely proud of kids who are passionate about reading.

    Loved seeing Sean’s pix of the snow. Needless to say I am jealous.

  2. I’ve seen a bit of Gris Grimly about, but I think I will have to take a more serious pursuit now. and I do agree. I was trying to place Grimly and many said Gorey which I do not disagree, but Burton-esque is more apropos. Yes, love Burton’s illustrative works.

    I was happy to see Gris Grimly keep so much of Poe intact for this book. And I don’t remember ever reading Hop-Frog so I was very pleased by that treat.

    So we have a collection of Poe’s work at home, so I ask her why she checked it out from the Library. She wanted to, and she needed a ‘lexile score’ read, was the reply. and the aside was, The Librarians were very excited I was checking this book out. She can really read his stuff, I have some Hawthorne I want to run by her. It is fun to have her to geek out with. Not sure I know Debi…will have to look into this.

    and it is still snowing. it is rather pretty. and it isn’t really too cold. just wish the trees had had more time to slough their leaves first. regardless, we are talking sledding 🙂

    1. Debi doesn’t blog as much as she used to. She is of the group that I got to know during one of my early challenges which included Kailana, Chris, Nymeth, Desily, among others. Her daughter was 11, I believe, and she was a very active participant in the first or second R.I.P. Challenge. Read a ton of books, thrilled everyone with her intelligence and passion for reading. Fun kid. And yours is as well.

      Neil Gaiman wrote a children’s picture book called The Dangerous Alphabet that Grimly illustrated that is a must for your collection if you don’t already have it.

  3. I read Grimly’s (and Poe’s) Tales of Death and Dementia last January and really liked it. I’ve been meaning to track down this book too. His illustrations are rad. I want to more seriously pursue his work just for the visual eye candy.

  4. What a great find. I love this book but hadn’t seen a “kid friendly” illustrated version before. I may have to seek this out. 🙂

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