Insatiable seeker of knowledge. Lover of things strange and obscure. Writer. Metalsmith. Mother. English major at Arizona State University. Purveyor of irony and laughter at inappropriate moments. Firm believer that there is magic to be discovered whispering from the library shelves, in the flickering flame of a candle, and in the dancing in the visions of dreams. Brandi lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with her daughter and a black cat. Books keep piling up in her house, and she is constantly wondering if there is space for yet another bookshelf. Her ultimate goal is a Ph.D. in Literature, and to live a life of words and discovery.
So, we are in our homes. There’s no getting around that. While going outside in the sunshine is great, and I definitely enjoy a long, leisurely afternoon walk, a new free-time inspired exercise regime is unlikely to happen in my world. I much prefer to curl up in a cozy sweater on a soft bank of pillows with a cup of tea and a good book. I don’t often get a chance to do this, as many of us don’t. Our lives are busy, and reading for pleasure can become a luxury which falls by the wayside.
Right now, many of us are being given a moment of pause from the to and fro of our normal lives. While this can be scary and intimidating, it can also be a time for us to reconnect. We have a moment to rediscover those things about which we are passionate. For us bibliophiles and lovers of literature, that is books and anything to do with the books. With many bookstores and libraries closed, the normal venues where we get our fix seem out of reach. To remedy this situation, authors, publishers, and book lovers the world over are uniting to establish a strong online literary community.
Many bookstores are providing curbside and online shopping via web stores or social media. Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe and Phoenix will assemble a custom book care package tailored just for you or someone you love. This is just one of the many offerings being made by local bookstores—so be sure to check your local listings and see what’s available near you. Although live, in-person events have been canceled or postponed, book tours and public literary lectures are being moved to web-based platforms for home viewing. Libraries and online magazines are offering their archives for free. A simple web search will bring you hundreds of resources, at your fingertips, for your reading pleasure. Use this time of interlude and rekindle your fire for the written word! Here are a few links to get you started:
https://www.quarantinebookclub.com/ – The Quarantine Book Club is a Zoom-based platform which hosts weekly author events. Their tag-line, “You’re stuck at home. Chat with an author,” pretty much sums up how it works. In the meetings, authors discuss their work and answer audience questions.
http://www.gutenberg.org/ – Project Gutenberg is an online library with over 60,000 books in a wide-range of subjects. These books are free for download or online viewing.
https://electricliterature.com/ – Electric Literature is a nonprofit digital publisher whose website contains essays, criticism, and literary news. Along with this content, Electric Lit’s digital magazines, Recommended Reading and The Commuter offer short stories, novel excerpts, poetry, flash fiction, and graphic narrative.
For the Kids
https://www.storylineonline.net/ – Storyline Online is a streaming platform which hosts celebrity actors reading children’s books aloud alongside colorful illustrations. Readers such as Chris Pine, Lily Tomlin, James Earl Jones, and Betty White bring children’s stories to life. The site also offers supplemental educational curriculum developed by educators with each book.
https://www.weareteachers.com/virtual-author-activities/ – We Are Teachers virtual community has gathered its “Big List of Children’s Authors Doing Online Read-Alouds & Activities” here. Many of these events are available via social media, and accessible using your smartphone or other mobile device.
The moon cut the night sky, a razor-sharp glint casting only enough light to throw all into shadow. Pools of light cut feebly into the night, outlining the figures that moved swiftly through them, in and out of darkness. The figures hastened towards a brightly lit building in the distance as if pulled there by some unseen force. There was a metallic taste to the air, and the girl breathed in deeply, sucking the hint of electrical current deep into her lungs.
Tonight was the night of the gathering. Her pulse quickened as she took her first step through the maze of shadows. Perhaps she would be met by only whispers and furtive glances, huddled figures gathered closely in dim corners. The fabrics of their elegant clothes swishing softly, the deep folds capable of hiding any number of perilous items. Instruments edged with the same precision as the neatly honed words of the authors of mystery and suspense who collected inside. Fear mingled with excitement, and her curiosity drove her onward towards the distant glow which broke the darkness.
My Night at Croak & Dagger
Though this may be a highly romanticized version of the night I visited with the New Mexico chapter of the Sisters in Crime organization, neatly titled Croak & Dagger, my excitement was no less palpable. I was elated at the idea of a network of women writers who share my love of characters that cannot be trusted, moonless nights whispering the promise of death and betrayal, and the thrill of the hunt. I knew upon learning of this society that here I would find kindred spirits, here I would find women laced together in ink and blood.
The Sisters in Crime is a world-wide network of writers and bibliophiles boasting more than 60 chapters with over 4000 members. Self-described on their website as “authors, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers and librarians bound by our affection for the genre and our support of women crime writers.” With more than 50 chapters existing in the United States, the syndicate’s wide-spread reach is indicative of the enthusiasm which permeates its meetings.
I arrived with notebook hand, armed with the name Charlene Dietz, president of the local chapter with whom I had corresponded. The room itself was in stark contrast with my gloomy musings, brightly lit and inviting, packed with chairs in neat rows. There was a colorful array of scarves, jewelry and cozy sweaters to stave off the chill of the late winter air outside. A buzz filled the room, people happily chatting, leaning close in to each other in their excitement. I was greeted at once by a warm smile by a woman who introduced herself as Ann, and gently pulled me into the fold. We were greeted, in turn, by a tall woman with perfectly bobbed, silvery hair and an equally gentle look. As she introduced herself, this was Madame President, she welcomed me with a hug and I felt immediately at ease.
I took my place in the front row as the meeting commenced with a jovial feeling. There was light banter back and forth between the speakers and crowd. A change in future meeting venue was being discussed, and as one speaker stated, “I cannot stress to you how hard it is to find a parking spot,” she was answered with a mischievous “How hard is it?”, the company bubbling with laughter. This was the business portion of the evening, and topics ranged from upcoming meetings to community events were discussed. The line-up of speakers for the next few months included a court reporter, a fellow author, and a neurologist. Each of these presenters selected for the knowledge they could impart which was relevant to the crime genre. The members discussed an upcoming “speed dating” event which would consist of a conversation between one writer and one reader for three minute increments in several rounds.
The members enthusiastically planned for events such as a library tour in Albuquerque and the surrounding area, as well as celebrating each other’s publishing and writing successes. One author was scheduled as a panelist for a literary conference in California, another had just gotten his 600th Amazon review. Yes, there were also a few men sprinkled throughout the meeting, illustrating the inclusivity which I had already felt. Perhaps the greatest excitement in the room came when the premiere event of 2020 was reviewed. Having a submitted a request to the national syndicate, Croak & Dagger was proud to announce that it had been given permission to have an event with best-selling mystery author Rhys Bowen. With discussion of sister chapters and the appearance of a nationally known writer, it was apparent that while this chapter was local, the interest and the network itself was ubiquitous. I got the feeling that no matter where a person might visit the Sisters in Crime, they would be greeted with as much warmth and literary fervor as I had been.
The latter half of the meeting consisted of a panel discussion, consisting of the voices of readers, the subject of which was “What Do Readers Want Authors to Know?”. Introductions of the panelists were made by Charlene, prefaced with the statement “this may or may not be true.” Some of the biographical information she shared was fictional, and everyone present was delighted by the creative energy. After being asked what they looked for in covers when choosing a book, ideas such as “interesting details” and “what other authors have blurbed about the book” on the back cover were mentioned. One panelist looked for an interesting font on the spine of a book when choosing. The members of the crowd paid close attention, each visibly storing away the information for future perusal. Some plot dos and don’ts were also brought up, such as not killing off an important character, or not allowing for a character to betray the reader by acting against their nature.
The final question of the night was, “What happens when you close a book?” A panelist replied simply, “If you’ve created a world that I can inhabit, I will remember.” This heady idea was agreed on by all the panelists and the discussion closed with all present reminded of the reason that we all love the written word. The panelists were each given an engraved silver-toned letter opener, marked S in C (Sisters in Crime) Croak & Dagger to mark the occasion.
As the meeting ended, the chatter crested throughout the room once again, this time filled excitement for the future and abuzz with fresh ideas. Members dwindled out, heading to the nearby coffee shop to continue the lively exchange. I hung back taking it all in. Several members spoke to me and expressed their pleasure at my presence and encouragement to me as a writer. Ann even shared with me some of her own story, telling me about her days writing as a both a student and teacher. I left with a feeling of deep satisfaction. I had not only found a meeting of like minds, I had found a sisterhood (ahem, and brotherhood) of kind and creative souls.
With all things love floating in the air around Valentine’s day, it is easy to become inundated with the sappy baby-Cupid and chalky-candy-heart energy of the whole affair. Nothing is so quick to activate my cynicism than heart shaped boxes filled with mediocre chocolates and plastic roses garishly displayed in every store. For anyone who has truly experienced the gamut of emotions which accompany love, its vicissitudes more closely resemble a fiery inferno than the saccharine-sweet sentiments the Valentine’s cards would have us believe. There is as much pain in love as there is pleasure.
Still, we are all rushing towards this elusive state of being in earnest. There is no way to deny the magnetism of love. So, rather than turn a blind eye to love at this time of year, it might behoove us to look at things from a different angle. Perhaps a fresh perspective will remind us of just why we are all so obsessed, constantly searching for this thing called love.
By way of this notion, I offer some literary couples who break the mold, their bonds more closely resembling love in its true state. As Lysander tells Hermia in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “The course of true love never did run smooth,” and these couples prove that. Though their undying devotion to one another remains intact, each of the couples follow an interesting and often twisted path towards love.
In Chuck Palahniuk’s first novel, the unnamed narrator (an insomniac with existential tendencies) meets and becomes obsessed with a woman named Marla Singer. It is at a meeting of a testicular cancer support group that the narrator first meets Marla. He is enraged that she would have the audacity to attend the support group, although he does not have testicular cancer himself. The narrator frequents different types of support groups in order to counteract his growing sense of ennui. Once he realizes that Marla has similar tendencies as himself, he cannot escape his growing interest, although he does not recognize it as affection.
When Marla starts sleeping with his roommate Tyler Durden, the narrator’s obsession and irritation collide. Only through a surprising plot twist does the true shape of their love story become clear. As Marla states, “You love me. You hate me. You show me a sensitive side, then you turn into a total asshole.” He is both repelled by and drawn to Marla with equal fervor. Yet, it is with thoughts of Marla that he ends his narrative, promising a continuation of their anything-but-typical love story.
Lisbeth Salander & Mikael Blomkvist, Millennium(series)
A love story that spans across several novels, the complicated relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael unfolds with as much passion and pain as any true romance often does. In the first book, the two are drawn together through the power of shared experience as well as a mutual tendency towards acting as social pariahs. When Lisbeth finally decides to accept and express her love for Mikael at the end of the book, it is only to see him with another woman. This causes Lisbeth to push away her feelings, and for the larger part of the second novel, the two communicate only in a distant and business-like manner.
Through the impetus of another harrowing experience, Mikael must rescue Lisbeth from near-death, again forcing the two together through tragedy. This situational closeness continues in the third installment of the series, as Mikael and Lisbeth must face danger, the possible imprisonment of Salander, and major life changes together. Although they have continuously experienced separation, the third book closes with Mikael at Lisbeth’s door. Though they are both unsure, Lisbeth again welcomes him in, both to her home and to her heart.
Set in a fantastic and fairytale-like atmosphere, the love affair between Celia and Marco is equal in its intensity only by their inability to act upon it. The two are the pawns of powerful rival magicians, each tied to the magical Le Cirque des Reves and forced to use all of their abilities in an attempt to overcome one another. Although they cannot be together in any typical sense, the two are drawn to one another with a consuming passion. Each expresses their love through magical acts conjured to speak to the soul of the other, thus growing their bond from a forced distance.
Perhaps it is this very distance and the continual effort which it demands, that makes their love so perennial. Through the course of the novel it becomes clear that there can only be one winner in this dangerous competition, with the death of the loser as the inevitable outcome. Faced with Marco’s death, Celia risks herself to save him. The two are taken out of the physical world to become spirits, still tied to the circus, yet finally free from their bonds. As the book closes, the ghosts of Celia and Marco restore the devastated circus to its former splendor, ensuring that they will forever have a place where their love can endure.
Peter S. Beagle’s fantasy novel focuses on a lonesome unicorn who sets out on a quest to find her sisters, despite the danger of a formidable enemy, the Red Bull. According to the tale, the Red Bull has driven all of her sisters into the sea, and keeps them prisoner there, at the whim of the cruel King Haggard.
Along the way, the unicorn meets the failed magician Schmendrick and a nomad cook named Molly Grue who vow to help her with her quest. As the three get near Haggard’s castle, they come face to face with the Red Bull, and Schmendrick is forced to act quickly in order to save the unicorn’s life by turning her into a young woman, Lady Amalthea.
At the castle, Lady Amalthea encounters Haggard’s adopted son, Prince Lir, who becomes hypnotized by the beauty and mystery of the Lady Amalthea, and pursues her although she shows him only indifference at first. Later in the quest, Lir sacrifices himself in an act of love to save the unicorn from the Red Bull. She, in turn, revives him from death with the touch of her horn. As the book closes, the two lovers are forced to separate, each returning to their own destiny. While they cannot ultimately be together, their souls have grown with the experience, and both are forever changed.
Publisher: Doubleday Genre: Fantasy Fiction Format: Hardback Pages: 498 Buy Local My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
As with all good things, this story begins with a book. Zachary Ezra Rawlins, a mildly enthusiastic college student, is wandering through the shelves of his university library. He is searching, although he does not know what for, when he happens upon a book which is more than it seems. The book is old, unmarked and deliciously mysterious. Once Zachary begins to read, he cannot stop, because in its pages Zachary finds stories of pirates, and gatekeepers, and finally, himself.
The book describes the young man as he was in his childhood. It is a chronicle of a moment of magic when Zachary was offered passage into another world—a moment which he chose not to seize. The promise of the book is that this moment has not been lost, only postponed. It is this promise that propels Zachary through a painted doorway into a world full of wonder, a world in which a Starless Sea exists beneath the earth, on whose shores exist all the stories that ever were and that will ever be.
The Starless Sea is long-form love letter to books. It is collection of stories within stories, all neatly woven together with the thread of the main narrative, which the reader learns is yet another story in another book. There is some not so subtle subtext here concerning the nature of “Story,” and what that means to those who are passionate about it. In one of my favorite tangents, those who wish to protect and keep the treasures of the Starless Sea must pass a test in which they relate a story to a single person. Based on their performance they are deemed either worthy or not. This is an enticing prospect, and a call-to-arms of those (such as myself) that fancy themselves storytellers. Morgenstern blatantly states, if you do not love books, this one is not for you.
The powerful imagery immerses the reader in a magical reality outside of the mundane world. From the masquerade party where the attendees must dress as literary characters, to the underground quarters where any food you wish appears by means of an enchanted dumbwaiter, each scenario is finely crafted to enchant the lover of the unusual and fantastic. While there is little explanation as to the why of events, the richness that they offer renders this unnecessary. Why explain the realm of magic? The prose is lovely, full of metaphor, and unabashedly romantic.
For me, this books speaks with the voice of a kindred spirit. If the Reveurs of The Night Circus (Morgenstern’s first book) were my tribe, then this book is our destination. Were we all to go on a voyage, I am sure that we would set sail together on the Starless Sea. Of course, we would be traveling together on a boat crafted from heartwood of the Ancient Forest, with sails of silk woven from the hair of naiads and perfumed with the dew of night-blooming flowers. If this sounds like exactly the type of adventure that you would like to go on—one full of lovers, villains, and unlikely heroes—then this is the book for you. I would highly recommend it devotees of fantasy and bibliophiles alike. Curl up with a nice cup of tea and The Starless Sea and be prepare to be transported into a dream!
Are you hungry for the avant-garde of the literary world? Do you find yourself seeking out the newest, previously undiscovered works of up-and-coming authors? Are you the first one of your friends to ask “have you read this yet?” If so, then be sure not to miss out on The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing annual student showcase.
Creative writing students from all walks of life will be presenting their original works in an evening of story, poetry, and literary celebration. Included will be works of of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays, food writing, science fiction, historical fiction, and more. The evening will also feature writing from several published and award-winning authors.
This marvelous event is sure to be filled with the creative outpourings of burgeoning artists, plenty of twists and turns, perhaps some surprising reveals, and most certainly some ground-breaking and thought-provoking word play!
The Piper Writers Studio is “committed to supporting writers in every stage of their development” with “challenging and diverse educational opportunities.” Anyone, not just ASU students, can attend the not-for-credit classes held in this division of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. The studio welcomes writers of all levels of experience and seeks to help them grow from the point they are at, be that novice or seasoned professional. Class sizes are small, and are taught by local and visiting faculty. Please visit piper.asu.edu/classes/about for more information about classes, instructors, etc.
It’s November again, and that means that there’s some serious writing energy in the air. November is the month that writers from all over the world sit down to touch pen to paper, or fingertips to keys (be they of the analog or digital variety), and participate in what is known as NaNoWriMo. The elongated title of this exciting event is National Novel Writing Month, a challenge during which authors strive to write 50,000 words of a novel in November. NaNoWriMo is also the name of a non-profit organization (www.nanowrimo.org) which provides support, opportunity and encouragement to writers during this, and every one of their writing adventures.
Encouragement is of the utmost importance when beginning any new creative project. The process realizing our visions is immense. Even more overwhelming, is allowing ourselves the vulnerability to share our unique perspective. In times like these a few words of wisdom, by someone who has walked the same path, can be invaluable. Read on for some excellent tomes of sage advice for authors by authors. These books are filled with just the glimmer of hope that tender creatives need, often sprinkled with the wry humor and earth-shattering honesty that the best of authors are known for.
“Make Good Art” – Neil Gaiman. The printed and bound version of Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement speech to Philadelphia’s University of the Arts is not technically a book. However, its place as number one on this list is well-deserved. “Make Good Art” is a fantastic call-to-arms for any artist, not just writers. Gaiman delivers advice on having the courage to go out into the world and create. He urges artists who are just starting out, as well as seasoned artists, to ignore the boundaries created by the world and those that we create ourselves. He insists that no matter what you are facing, what you are going through, if you are an artist, you must create. This speech is an essential read for anyone who needs a little motivation given with a lot of heart. Put it on the shelf over your desk. Put it by the bathroom mirror so you see it when you brush your teeth in the morning. Put it anywhere that its powerful message can reach you again and again.
Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott. If you have seen Lamott’s Bird by Bird come up on many lists similar to this one, it’s for a very good reason. The advice given to writers by Anne Lamott is like that of your most honest older sister, the one that you are secretly intimidated by because she is so cool. With wit and cutting humor, each essay in this volume explores a different aspect of the craft of writing or the act of being a writer. If for no other reason, this collection is invaluable for the essay, “Shitty First Drafts,” which urges writers to put pen to paper, regardless of perfection. This is a hard won lesson, but it is absolutely essential to the writers’ craft. If you want to learn how literature’s cool sister does this writing thing, then Lamott’s advice is definitely for you.
On Writing – Stephen King. The catalog and success of Stephen King is daunting to say the least. One of the most prolific writers of our time, this man has been doing it, and doing it well for very long time. He has built an empire based purely on his evocative imagination and his drive to produce more and more work. In his book, On Writing, King talks about his own experience as a writer, as well as delivering both philosophical and practical advice to the aspiring writer. In this edition, King also describes his life-threatening vehicular accident, and how he had to struggle back to his life’s work. With sections titled “What Writing Is,” and “Toolbox,” King’s memoir is full of the tried and true methods which this powerhouse of an author has himself used. Even if you are not a devoted fan, this book is real-world advice from a man who has made writing into a way of life.
The Faith of a Writer – Joyce Carol Oates. In The Faith of a Writer, the well-respected and award-winning author Joyce Carol Oates weighs in on what it means to be a writer. She discusses how important reading is for the aspiring writer, how the journey towards self-knowledge is essential to the work, and how great ideas are not enough if they are not paired with the craft of good writing. Perhaps one of the most poignant pieces of advice that Oates offers in this slim, but forceful piece is simply the words “Write your heart out.” Offering both insight into what inspires a writer of Oates’ caliber to what is essential to narrative craft, this piece will inspire with its elegant guidance.
Advice to Writers – Jon Winokur. Last, but certainly not least is Advice to Writers, compiled and edited by Jon Winokur. The gathered advice of more than four hundred authors delivered in small quotes, snippets, anecdotes and even short lists. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek and willfully contradictory, this often hilarious and sweepingly insightful collection touches on all aspects of living the writers’ life. While there isn’t much for concrete wisdom on the logistics of writing to be found here, what Winokur has compiled is a joyful reminder that at the end of the day, writing is about the pure pleasure of telling a story, and doing it with style.
Listen, if you’ve read my previous post, you’re probably thinking to yourself…is Poe the only thing she ever writes about? The answer is, no. Come on though, it’s October! Who better to usher us (“The Fall of the House of Usher” anyone?) through this season than literature’s resident psychopomp, Edgar Allan Poe?
In all seriousness, Poe’s work has captured the imaginations of generations of readers, which made me want to consider why these stories keep us coming back. What is it about Poe’s writing that continues to intrigue and even terrify us?
My answer: meticulously crafted work; that is how. Poe is a master of his art. His words are carefully chosen to render their chosen effect, guiding the reader down whatever dark hallway, or shadowed path he has carved out for them. So, I invite you to examine with me one of Poe’s most famous works, his poem “The Raven,” and appraise exactly how this wordsmith operates.
In Poe’s “The Raven,” the unnamed speaker slowly follows his own obsessive preoccupation with death into madness, taking the audience along with him. The speaker is addressing a bird (who may be a figment of his imagination) with philosophical questions regarding the afterlife. The repetition of an automated response from this bird causes the speaker to become emotionally unstable, his own morbid and melancholy brooding leading him to infer meanings from this response which further his distress.
One of the main devices which Poe uses to achieve this effect is repetition. During the course of the poem, certain words, sounds, and emotions are reiterated in different variations so as to mimic the mania building inside of the speaker.
The tone of irrational fixation becomes clear in the second stanza of the poem:
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December, And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor, Eagerly I wished the morrow; –vainly I had tried to borrow From my books surcease of sorrow–sorrow for the lost Lenore– For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore– Nameless here for evermore. (7-12)
Poe makes a point to state that it is “bleak December” (7). This information, in addition to the fact that the events are taking place at midnight, alludes to the end of something, a kind of death of the day or year. The emphasis is again placed on death when the speaker notes that, “each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor” (8). This vivid, and none too subtle, metaphor drives home the melancholy tenor of the speaker’s thoughts.
It is then stated that this somber mood is because of the loss of a loved one, a beautiful woman named Lenore (11). Within this brief stanza the idea of death is hinted at, or directly addressed, over and over again, leaving no doubt as to the singularity of thought in the speaker.
This stanza is also an excellent example of the pointed word choices that Poe employs. The author states in his essay “The Philosophy of Composition,” that he is building atmosphere by “unusual, and some altogether novel effects, arising from an extension of the application of the principles of rhyme and alliteration” (Poe, 743). The stanza is comprised of a quatrain and a couplet; the final two lines (couplet) rhyme with one another, as well as rhyming with the final line in the quatrain. This produces a musical quality that is emphasized further by the use of internal rhyme within the stanza.
In the first and second lines the words “remember,” “December,” and “ember” all appear in close proximity (7-8). This is mirrored in the third and fourth lines by the words “morrow,” “borrow,” and “sorrow” (9-10). This sing-song hypnotic quality pulls the reader in, as the speaker himself is being pulled into his obsession.
By employing the device of repetition in both the tone of the poem, as well as in creative technique, Poe is able to establish an impression of compulsive insanity. The speaker circles around and around the same thought, with each pass becoming more frenzied and unstable. A replication of the anxiety which fills Poe’s speaker is created in the audience by proxy. The reader is subjected to the same unceasing thoughts that the speaker himself experiences. At the end of Poe’s poem, the desired effect is produced, and both the speaker and the reader are exhausted; each being oddly satisfied with an abundance of sorrow and lunacy.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Philosophy of Composition.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Robert S. Levine. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Raven.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym, Robert S. Levine. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.
“The Purloined Letter” by Edgar Allan Poe from Edgar Allan Poe: Collected Works, introduction by A.J. Odasso
Publisher: Canterbury Classics Genre: Horror Fiction Classics Publication Date: November 2011 Pages: 724 Format: Leather-Bound Hardcover Buy Local My Rating: 5/5 stars
The third in Poe’s series of detective stories, “The Purloined Letter” follows the work of amateur detective C. Auguste Dupin. The detective is presented with a case that has otherwise stumped the Parisian police, the theft of an incendiary letter. After hearing the story of the theft, and the methods applied to find it, Dupin makes short work of recovering the letter himself.
The actual recovery takes up only a little of the story. What is important is the extraordinary means by which Dupin was able to solve the mystery: the key being the use of a singular kind of logic. Dupin’s success was achieved in immersing himself in the psychosis of the criminal in order to better understand him. By these means he is able to predict his opponent’s actions. So successful is this line of reasoning, that a deep empathy is unveiled between criminal and detective, an empathy which reveals not only the location of a letter, but also exposes the foundations of that which makes up C. Auguste Dupin.
As we move into spooky season, with the cold hands of fall brushing the backs of our necks, our thoughts turn inwards. The time for reflection and consideration has come. We will explore the landscapes of our own inner selves, shedding and releasing those things which no longer serve us in order to make space for new growth. I can think of no better representative of this somewhat macabre period of personal death and rebirth, than master of morbid himself, Edgar Allan Poe. I would like to focus on what I consider to be the perfect opener to the season of self-reflection, Poe’s “The Purloined Letter.”
“The Purloined Letter” presents a compelling case for the duality of the human soul. Empathy of the variety used by Dupin comes from an understanding born of personal experience. The experience, in this case, does not mean that the detective has engaged in illicit activity. Instead, it implies that his psychological make-up is such that he has subversive impulses. By allowing himself to experience the emotional current of another, recognizing and understanding this person completely, Dupin is also recognizing these qualities within himself. Any allegiance to lawful life is therefore a choice, born out of social and moral awareness, rather than inherent feeling. Dupin could as easily be a notorious criminal as he is a celebrated sleuth.
In this story, Poe’s detective is representative of the duality inherent in all people. A polarity which those of great imagination can access and utilize to transform their own perceptions. This theme feels very relevant to fall’s pensive mood. It speaks to the ideas which we might be examining within ourselves. Who have we been in the past, and who will be in the future?
So, curl up under a warm blanket with a mug of your favorite steamy beverage and submerge yourself into the world of Edgar Allan Poe. A world where nothing is as it seems. Stare into the glass of the double-sided mirror of C. Auguste Dupin. Walk hand in hand with Poe down the shadowed and winding road of an existence somewhere between the light and the dark.