“It was both a challenge and a pleasure to illustrate the vivid, macabre imagery of Poe’s stories and poems, and to translate his florid descriptive prose into the medium of comics,” says Gareth Hinds, whose Poe: Stories and Poems was just published by Candlewick. This graphic novel-styled book includes Hinds’s deft retellings of Poe’s stories “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” as well as his best-known poems, such as “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee.”
These are canonical works of American literature, but the stories, in their original forms, make for pretty rich reading – too rich, probably, for your average middle school kid. Hinds wisely shortens the stories, and imposes a budget on Poe’s ten-dollar words. He leaves some in, to give a sense of Poe’s style, but he cuts out quite a few, too. Among those remaining are “oscillations” – essential for describing the movement of that terrifying approaching blade in “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and “tintinnabulation,” an onomatopoeic word sometimes thought to have been coined by Poe himself. (Hinds’s helpful end notes debunk that myth.) From time to time, Hinds adds an asterisk at the bottom of the page to define obscure terms, but in general, having limited them, he lets readers figure out the meanings from their contexts.
His richly colored, atmospheric and dramatic illustrations establish context beautifully. Hinds and Poe make a good pair. Poe used lots of visual descriptions in his writing, and Hinds banks on that, painting, for instance, each of the differently-colored rooms in “The Masque of the Red Death” (the seventh is an ominous blood red). When the repeated cries of “Nevermore!” uttered by the raven in the poem of that name become oppressive to the neurotic, bereaved narrator, Hinds covers almost all of a two-page spread with a picture of the bird— looming on the page as dominantly as in the speaker’s inflamed imagination.
Poe’s short life was marked by tragedy, poverty, and likely mental illness. He was born in Boston in 1809 and died, disoriented and wearing someone else’s clothes, in Baltimore in 1849. He was an unsteady character who was traumatized by the death of his mother when he was only 3 years old, and the loss of his young wife (and cousin) Virginia, to tuberculosis. His gothic tales are splendidly gory studies of fate and psychology. Though they’re perfect for reading aloud at Halloween, it would be a pity to relegate them to that season. The accessible, appealing format and rich illustrations in Poe: Stories and Poems, should entice young readers into the pleasures of reading them to themselves. Kids who want more can turn next to Hinds’s versions of The Odyssey, Beowulf, and Romeo and Juliet, which do so much to restore a sense of wonder and excitement to literature which is often only read in school.
Illustrations: Copyright © 2017 by Gareth Hinds. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
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