Friday, August 31, 2012

Scaring Your Kids (or Edgar Allan Poe for Children)...

When I was growing up, I was fascinated by my mother's prized set of Poe. I remember these books, purchased as a set at an auction, as being completely off limits to me as a child. Wrapped in gray covers that belied their very nature, they were housed behind the glass doors of the bookshelves that butted up against the fireplace in our living room. I could look, but I couldn't touch.

On one of my birthdays, my seventh I think, my mom selected one of these books, had us corral our sleeping bags, lit a candle, and read to us from "The Tell-Tale Heart." My earliest memories are of my mother's voice, changing shape and texture as it wove stories for me, her voice so intertwined with the pictures that even now, as I read to my own children, I can hear her talking, the distinct sound of herI had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out --"Who's there?"

"The Tell-Tale Heart," a terrifying tale if there ever was one, left blue trails on my thoughts. My child's mind became entranced by the old man's blue eye, filmed over by the years, and the young man's murderous hatred (and his inability to keep his mouth shut). "The Tell-Tale Heart" is not a ghost story, but a tale of human cruelty, which makes it all the more frightening - and good. When a story is complete and utter fantasy, we can turn off our imagination, say "It's just a dream." With a tale like "The Tell-Tale Heart," fantastical as it is, there are roots in our reality that make it a little close for comfort. As a kid, I thought a lot more about Poe's story than any other book that had settled into my mother's lap. It stuck with me.

So this Fall, when the day-glo pumpkins and witch's brooms take over the land, give yourself a dose of Poe. Read a little about "The Raven" or "The Black Cat." As for me, I will select that same volume my mother had so many years before, light a candle, pull up a chair by the fire, and give myself a little scare.

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