- Adapting Poe: Re-Imaginings in Popular Culture ed. by Dennis R. Perry and Carl H. Sederholm
Few canonized writers—essentially none if we consider only nineteenth-century American authors—make as many appearances in contemporary popular culture as Edgar Allan Poe. Film, pop music, graphic narrative, and genre fiction all bear his indelible mark, with artists in virtually all media revisiting his signature themes and tropes, retelling his stories, or featuring the author himself in fictionalized cameos. It’s only fitting, then, that the kindred fields of reception, translation, and adaptation studies have proven so productive for Poe scholarship. As part of this recent critical focus on Poe’s reception, Adapting Poe: Re-Imaginings in Popular Culture (2012), edited by Dennis R. Perry and Carl H. Sederholm, adds to our understanding of Poe’s far-reaching impact, while demonstrating the value of approaching his work from the intertextual perspective of adaptation studies.
One of the collection’s more ambitious goals, as explained in Perry and Sederholm’s introductory essay, is to situate Poe as a “matrix-figure,” a concept borrowed from John Orr (who applies it to Alfred Hitchcock). “Such a figure,” they write, is one whose influence is so pervasive “that it becomes impossible to imagine the world without him or her.” As a collection of twenty essays by contributors with a range of perspectives and objects of study, Adapting Poe’s format is well suited to this purpose, and perhaps achieves it better than any book-length study by a single scholar could have. Roughly half the essays deal with adaptations of Poe’s gothic tales and poems, which makes sense given that the Poe of current popular imagination remains the doomed, outsider artist Griswold, Baudelaire, and others did so much to establish after his death. The remaining essays examine adaptations of his detective stories; the satirical “Never Bet the Devil Your Head” [End Page 73] (adapted by Federico Fellini); “The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Pfaall” and other proto-science-fiction tales (adapted, according to authors Peterson and Bishop, by NASA); and the seemingly adaptation-resistant “The Man of the Crowd,” which in recent years has seen numerous online and amateur adaptations, as Rebecca Johinke explains. In addition to numerous film adaptions, the Poe adaptations considered here include graphic narratives, heavy metal music, industrial music videos, film promotional campaigns, and The Simpsons; the last two chapters even approach particular theoretical readings of Poe’s work as a species of adaptation, including the famous poststructuralist debate surrounding “The Purloined Letter.” Most of the adaptations examined date from the latter half of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first, the exceptions being the films Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) and Las Chute de la Maison Usher (1928), as well as Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010). With a few notable departures (the works of Fellini and Iron Maiden among them), most of the adaptations analyzed are American.
The twenty-one contributors not only deal with a variety of source texts and adaptations, but also conceive and apply the notion of adaptation itself in a rich variety of ways, making for an illuminating collection of essays that collectively make the case for Poe’s deep enmeshment in the fabric of contemporary pop culture. One adaptation considered in Adapting Poe—and the only literary adaptation discussed in the book—actually portrays Poe as a character: in Robert Bloch’s “The Man Who Collected Poe,” the author, after being resurrected by a Poe fanatic and collector, is doomed to continue writing after death. According to Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock in “Edgar Allan Poe and the Undeath of the Author,” Bloch’s story illustrates how Poe remains with us as a “retroactive construction of his creations”—a text himself to be repeatedly adapted in stories like Bloch’s, or films such as Danza Macabra (1964), which Weinstock also examines. Weinstock thus broadens the idea of “adaptation” to consider “Poe” apart from the man himself, as a discursive construction, born from his...