Influence of Edgar Allan Poe on American Culture

As one of the most enduring authors in American literature, Edgar Allan Poe is most often associated with Gothic tales such as "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Masque of the Red Death." While Poe's contributions to Gothic literature cannot be denied, his impact on American culture is just as profound; more than 160 years after his death, Poe’s poems and stories continue to influence American writers, filmmakers and pop culture enthusiasts.

A Dark and Stormy Story

Edgar Allan Poe, no doubt, was a master of Gothic fiction. Prior to Poe, writers including Horace Walpole (“The Castle of Otranto”) and Charles Brockden Brown (“Edgar Huntley”) had found success in publishing spooky stories about haunted houses and dark and mysterious forests. However, it was Poe who elevated the horror genre to the next level by focusing on the psychology of terror, rather than just the dark-and-spooky setting of it. In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” for instance, readers witness the decay of Roderick Usher, who, already suffering from an “acuteness of the senses,” spirals into madness after burying his sister alive. His terror-fueled tales can be credited with influencing everyone from H.P. Lovecraft to Stephen King, not to mention the host of horror movies that sprung from the genre.

Putting the Poe in Poetry … and Music

Even though Poe is most often remembered for his short stories, he considered himself first and foremost a poet, and many of his poems have directly influenced American culture. In his 1846 “Philosophy of Composition” essay, Poe details the painstaking process of crafting a good poem. He claims that “The Raven,” his most enduring and well-known poem, is as complex as a math problem and analyzes how a poem’s meter, length, rhyme and subject matter all contribute to its effect. Poe’s poetical style had a profound effect on a slew of 19th century French poets, including Stéphane Mallarmé, who dedicated several poems to him. The work of those French poets, in turn, directly influenced American writers such as T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Moreover, “Annabel Lee,” the last poem Poe wrote, has been translated into songs performed by both Joan Baez and Stevie Nicks, and lines from his poems -- especially "The Raven" -- have been used in by performers ranging from Blues Traveler (“Once upon a midnight dreary” appears in the song “Run-Around”) to Britney Spears, who named her 2011 concert tour “Dream within a Dream” after Poe’s poem of the same name.

Whodunit? Poe Done It

Today, the detective story or mystery is one of world’s most recognizable literary genres, with best-selling authors Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, Dan Brown and James Brown at the forefront of the genre. However, prior to Poe, the mystery genre didn’t exist. As America’s very first detective story, Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” published in 1841, established a prototype that would be used again and again by countless authors: the occurrence of a seemingly unsolvable crime, which, of course, is solved by a wily, gifted detective of above-average intelligence. With his French detective Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin, Poe paved the way for detectives from Sherlock Holmes to James Bond to permeate American culture through novels and, later, through their accompanying blockbuster movies.

Pop Culture Poe-Nomenon

Poe’s impact on American popular culture can certainly not be denied. His writings have influenced everything from comic books and cartoons to feature films and television shows. In 1990, for example, cartoon show "The Simpsons" aired “The Treehouse of Horror,” in which big sister Lisa reads the full text of “The Raven” to a frightened Bart. The cartoon “South Park” used Poe as a central character in the episode “Goth Kids 3: Dawn of the Posers.” Several of Poe’s short stories, including “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Pit and the Pendulum,” were translated into short films starring actor Vincent Price. In 2012, “The Raven,” a full-length feature film starting John Cusack, was released, and 2013 saw “The Following,” a TV series starring Kevin Bacon as a detective on the trail of a Poe-inspired cult leader.

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