Not So Ravenous for “The Raven”

I would have gotten more pleasure out of the quaint and curious new film The Raven if the writers had not promised something much more serious and informed than they delivered.  The movie opens by reminding us of the mysterious circumstances surrounding Poe’s delirium and death in Baltimore during October of 1849 and promising us a sequence of possibilities that might explain Edgar Allan Poe’s last days, which many attribute to heavy alcohol consumption while “cooped,” or wagoned-up and hauled from poll to poll to vote often and fraudulently in local elections.  The whirligig which the film offers up instead I won’t expose, but the filmmakers keep throwing the implausible at their audience, refusing any credible paths.  One most puzzling miscalculation (which I suppose is meant to be an inside joke) is that a murder victim

early in the story is identified as Rufus W. Griswold, a critic who had a running ink feud with Poe.  If there’s any other mystery in Poe’s life story equal to that concerning the cause of his death, it’s why he named Griswold (who outlived Poe by a decade) his literary executor.  Griswold set out to savage Poe’s reputation, and it was a long time before the name of Poe shed the taint of Griswold’s hand.  So, if we’re to take the movie with even a grain of salt, how can we reconcile this counterfactual tidbit (one of many, but the easiest to identify and expose) with anything like a viable theory of Poe’s death?  In truth, the writers and producers have honeydipped from Poe’s biography, omitting most information that would interfere with his role here as a sympathetic protagonist (for instance, his sad but sick penchant for tubercular women, or his marriage to his thirteen-year-old cousin).  It would not be impossible to present an admirable Poe with deep flaws and strange appetites, primarily imaginative, but that would have been a movie with less of the Keystone Kops and bodice-ripping romance and more of a character exploration.  Not the kind of spring/summer fare that makes the box office cash register ring.  I only hope this zany-and-gruesome-but-occasionally-serious (and sometimes quite clever) outing from those eager to cash in on the current splatter craze will not prevent a more serious biopic, which would provide distraction and stimulation for those who are curious about tell-tale hearts and mysteries of the soul (not to mention hoaxes, speculative stories, cryptography, philosophy, feline interment, sibling interment, premature interment, spousal interment and various stripes of disinterment) but which would still not be deficient in shock and awe.  Perhaps we have the new and goofy Sherlock Holmes extravaganzas to blame for this effort, but to raise the interactive level, I offer this little trinket: when the detective asks Poe if he has ever written a story with a sailor in it, before Poe can say he hasn’t, cry out, “The owner of the dangerous ‘Ourang-Outang’ in ‘The Murders of the Rue Morgue’ is a sailor.”  [By the way, John Evangelist Walsh’s attempt to put the Poe demise mystery at rest in Midnight Dreary: The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe isn’t much more persuasive, and you have to pop the corn yourself.]


About R.T. Smith

recent-meR. T. Smith has edited Shenandoah since 1995 and serves as Writer-in-Residence at Washington & Lee. His forthcoming books are Doves in Flight: 13 Fictions and Summoning Shades: New Poems, both due in 2017.


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One Response to Not So Ravenous for “The Raven”

  1. Jim Groom says:

    I haven;t seen Poe yet, but I was afraid your sentiments are what kept me away to begin with. There is a certain dread that fills me whenever I think about Hollywood and the contemporary US film market more generally—the whole idea is like a bad zombie movie.

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