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Comparison of Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King


Stephen King's propensity for steadily building suspense, exploring the darker side of human nature and showing how bad decisions can lead to horrible results is reminiscent of the work of Edgar Allen Poe. King might even be considered an heir to Poe's tradition of horror.

Similarities in Style

Both Poe and King wrote almost exclusively in the horror genre. King has written novellas, short stories, novels and works of nonfiction, much like Poe. However, Poe's literary reach was slightly broader because he wrote both long and short works of poetry -- a type of writing for which King is not known. Both writers build their stories relatively slowly, focusing on steadily increasing a sense of dread rather than immediately assaulting the reader with a horrible image or occurrence.

Emphasis on Death

Stephen King and Edgar Allen Poe have both explored death -- including the role of murder in human life -- in most of their works. For example, in Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," a murderer aims to convince the reader that he is both innocent and sane, but as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the narrator is both guilty and insane. Similarly, in King's "The Shining," an apparently normal father is steadily driven insane and repeatedly attempts to murder his own family.

More Than Horror

Neither Poe nor King's sole goal is to shock or horrify their readers. They also explore themes of family, love and loyalty. Poe's "The Raven," for example, explores the haunting loss of a romantic partner. King's "The Shawshank Redemption" branches into political themes of innocence and guilt, and shows how a friendship enables two men to escape from an unjust and abusive prison environment.

Cultural Reach

Both Poe and King were popular writers in their own time. Poe was a prolific writer and published numerous "penny dreadfuls" designed for popular consumption. King's works similarly appeal to a broad audience, and several of his novels -- notably "The Shining" and "The Shawshank Redemption" -- were turned into movies. King has taken an active role in connecting to his audience, and his book "On Writing" aims to teach readers the basics of his craft.

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About the Author

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.

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