Tuesday Terror! The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

Heart of darkness…

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tales of mystery and imagination

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No October would be complete without at least one story from the master of horror himself! So join me, if you dare, for this week’s journey into madness with…

 

Tuesday Terror

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

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Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe

 

True! – nervous – very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am, but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses – not destroyed – not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell…

And to prove his sanity, our narrator sets out to tell us the story of why he is now locked up in an asylum. He had lived with an old man, whom he loved. It was not insanity that caused him to do the thing he did, not hatred, nor jealousy, nor greed…

I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture – a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees – very gradually – I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

But this will be no insane, unplanned act – no, no! Our narrator acts with caution, giving never an indication of his intention…

I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him.

the tell-tale heart illustration 4

Each night at midnight, our narrator sneaks to the old man’s room and slowly, very slowly, opens the door and peers in. But each night he is disappointed – the old man is asleep and thus his eyes are closed. The act must be done when the eye is open…

…for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye.

Upon the eighth night, the narrator accidentally makes a noise as he stands at the door, and the old man starts awake. He sits up, but the darkness is so intense he cannot see who or what has disturbed him. Our narrator is still patient – for a full hour he stands at the door, but the old man doesn’t lie down – he is in the grip of mortal fear. And eventually he can no longer suppress a groan of terror…

It was not a groan of pain or of grief – oh, no! – it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe… I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart.

Silence falls again, and after waiting a long time, our narrator resolves to open his lantern, just a little. The light shines straight on the eye – the vulture eye! And now the narrator hears something…

the tell-tale heart illustration 2

…there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart…

And the beating grows louder, louder – till our narrator fears the neighbours must hear it! At last, he rouses himself to action…

The old man’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once – once only.

A madman may have left some signs of this horrible crime, but our narrator is not mad – he takes every precaution to leave no trace. So when the next day three police officers arrive, alerted by neighbours who thought they heard a shriek in the middle of the night, he has no fear of discovery.

But a guilty heart has its own ways of making even the sanest man reveal his hidden secrets…

Illustration by Harry Clarke
Illustration by Harry Clarke

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This is a great little story – no-one does the madman telling his story as effectively as Poe. He doesn’t mess about – the story is only a couple of thousand words long, but it’s all in the writing – the repetitions, yes, the repetitions, the dramatic use of dashes – of dashes! – the exclamation marks!! And (please note, modern horror writers) he sticks to the point. We know nothing about the old man or the narrator, not even their names. The house is not described except where essential for the plot. But it doesn’t matter – in fact, the delicious vagueness makes it even more creepy. Was the old man sweet or nasty? What drove our narrator mad? Why were they living together? Friends? Master and servant? Man and wife??? (There’s nothing to actually say the narrator is a man.) You could spend hours making up your own background story – Poe has left plenty of room between the lines. But don’t try to do it when the lights are out…

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If you’d like to read the full thing, here’s a link.

And here’s the wonderful Mr Vincent Price telling this and other Poe stories – perfect for October nights!

 

Fretful Porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:          😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

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It's a fretful porpentine!
It’s a fretful porpentine!

62 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

  1. Well, hello, Mr. Porpentine! Not surprised you popped out for this one. It’s a real classic of horror, told as only Poe can. I’ve always liked the buildup of suspense and the menacing tone of this story. And what’s most brilliant about it is that so much of the horror is in the narrator’s mind. Just a brilliant story and a great choice.

    • It’s fabulous what he can do in so short a space! The poor porpentine is still shivering. Yes, I much prefer when the worst bits are left to the imagination – it’s much more effective than having everything spelled out. But I also love that his stories nearly always are quite clear – you’re never left wondering what was that all about, which I fear I regularly am with modern horror stories. I guess classics are classics for a reason…

  2. This is one of my great favourites! It sort of haunted me for awhile after I had read it. Poe is an absolute master and I love the way so much is left to the mind of the reader. Well worth the fretful porpentine rating, I say.

  3. Ah, finally one I’ve loved muchly much! Poe is outstanding — his choice of words, his grasp of pacing, the eeriness of his stories, all combine to keep the reader on the edge of his seat, looking about at shadows, and startling at even the tiniest of noises! And what a cute porpentine! I’d wondered what one looked like, you know!

    • Got to get back to the classics every now and again to remind myself of the standard the modern ones have to meet! Really, he’s fantastic – every word adds to the atmosphere, and he shows that it doesn’t all need to be spelled out in great detail – often one image is enough. Poor little porpentine – he doesn’t get much rest in October! 😉

    • I had just read five modern horror stories in a row before this one and what a difference! The modern ones are so long in comparison, and go into characters’ backstories and so on, and then quite often the end is so vague it confuses rather than terrifies. I think being vague about the right things is an art in itself. And Poe was the artist!

  4. I love me some Poe! That was the first story of his that I read many moons ago, and it continues one of my favorites. If course, if one indulges in opium, one may come up with any manner of strange things.

    • I must say the more horror I read, the more I realise just how great Poe is. Especially in the very short ones, where he just takes a terrifying image or two and leaves the reader’s imagination to get to work on it. Enjoy! 🙂

  5. I actually know this story! *maybe does a victory dance* So, that makes me quite proud, too, the sudden.

    Anyways…man and wife! How interesting. Of course the narrator might be a woman. What a wild thought. So…what do you think happened?

    • You should be proud! This one scares BUS silly, you know, you know (that’s why I chose it!)

      Isn’t it a fascinating thought? I think she was married off against her will at the age of seventeen to an old, old man… who treated her, not cruelly, but coldly. Refused to take her to dances or buy her new ballgowns – that sort of thing. One day, she saw a portrait of a handsome young man – maybe like Rafa or the Professor – and realised all she had missed out on, and it drove her insane! The old man deserved all he got!! *stamps on the heart*

      • It does?! I didn’t know that! It is such a spooky one. But of course I’m not afeared of it.

        *laughs* What a vicious story! But I sorta like it. Still, couldn’t she ask for a ballgown? He might’ve given it to her. It’s a possibility, after all. I do feel bad for her. Go rescue her, FEF. And have her meet Rafa immediately.

        • *nods* Nearly as much as spiders! (I caught a massive spider last night and put it outside – aren’t you proud of me?) Of course not – a great warrior fears nothing! Except dancing…

          She did – she begged and begged. She also pleaded with him to dance the cotillion with her and he kept promising to and then backing out. And then he danced with someone else! No wonder she brutally killed and dismembered him – totally justifiable — though she should probably have done it the other way round. *gasps* She’s not getting my Rafa! No, sirree!!

          • I’m very proud of you! But then again, I thought you liked spiders? I know BUS is afeared of them, though. *laughs* It’s true! I’m actually scared of dancing. *shakes head* What a wonder.

            *laughing lots and lots* Women can be so violent, don’t you know. And vindictive. Well, she should’ve got herself a ballgown, then! Hey…maybe he wanted to go and catch moths with her, but she didn’t want to. See, these are the things we shall never know.

            • Oooh, no, can’t stand the things! I’m not quite as scared of them as BUS, but this one was HUGE!!! *laughs* Secretly, I think most people are scared of dancing. But that means the person you’re dancing with is usually at least as scared as you!

              We can, and don’t you forget it, buster! Well! If he wanted her to do such a horrid thing instead of dancing she was definitely justified! No, clearly he was in the wrong – just like all men always are! *nods head feministically*

            • You know–and this will probably freak you out a bit–I usually leave spiders go when I find them. They’re good for the house, see. We can benefit from them! You’ve got no heart if you kill a harmless spider, I say. Hmm, still I’m glad I don’t have to dance.

              I might forget it about once or twice. Or even thrice. But that isn’t a horrid thing! A feministic head nod? Agh!

            • Benefit how? The exercise we get when we run away from them?? I don’t kill them either – if they stay away from me, I ignore them, but if they come too close I catch them and put them outside. Unless they’re too quick, in which case I run about shrieking and yelling at the cats to catch them… which rarely works, in truth, but it relieves my feelings.

              You do have to! You can’t get through a whole life without dancing – you’ll need to dance at your wedding! So better to get some practice in first…

              That would be… risky! It is! Anyway it’s usually the moths that hunt me… *shudders*

            • Well they cut down on other pests! The pests that actually might bother a person, see. They’re very good for the home. You should not kill them…it’s as mean as…killing a tiger! *laughs*

              But I’m not getting married. So, that’s that, see. All’s well on the horizon.

              Moths are only attracted to light. You must shine!

            • But tigers don’t break into my house and walk across the ceiling! *checks* But anyway, I don’t kill them!!

              *shakes head sadly* Poor womankind! So unfair!

              When it’s cold, my nose shines so brightly I could guide ships safely to shore…

            • That’s ’cause you don’t have tigers in the UK…but you might have wolves someday soon. And they might break in and eat things. Like your rug, for instance.

              Well, I don’t think it’s unfair at all. Haha.

              *laughs* That’s a funny imagine. You should wear a beanie.

    • Haha! I was feeling bitter, having just read four or five modern ‘horror’ stories just before this one without a single shiver! This one is brilliant – one of his best! 🙂

  6. Oh, my goodness, we read this in class when I was about 11-12 and I nearly died of fright (although it was daylight and we were quite numerous). One of the best, indeed!

    • Ooh, luckily I didn’t read it till I was much older – I think it would have made me too scared to ever go to bed again if I’d read it at 11! Yep, Poe still stands head and shoulders above most horror…

  7. I do love this story! But I have a childhood memory of a former candidate for Miss America performing this story in the talent competition. She flailed about on the floor at one point, and I remember the adults watching the show, exclaiming that she was definitely a mad woman. I don’t recall the formal results of the competition, but I don’t think it ended well for her. 😀

    • HahaHA! I think she should have won! But I admit it might have been difficult to maintain that elegance and poise so required for beauty queens while acting out dismembering corpses… 😉

  8. Love this story. I took part in a month long Reading Group on the Guardian reading the short stories of Poe. Some people were dismissive, but when you think about how really original he was in his day it is impressive. I think that when some writers have set a standard that has then been built on so much it is easy look back and discount their innovation.

    • Yes, I think that’s very true. In fact, I quite often pull myself up when reviewing old horror stories and saying ‘the ending is a bt clichéd’ – I’m sure they only feel clichéd now because they’ve been recycled so often. I think most of Poe’s stories are great, but I think he really excels at the very short ones like this – just an image or two and then leave the reader’s imagination to get to work…

  9. This was the first Edgar Allan Poe story I’d ever read. And that was back in grade school. I remember thinking it so scary then. It’s the perfect story for October. 🙂

  10. What a perfectly creepy story for Halloween…climb inside the mind of the insane much? I love how you retold this story…I think you made it even scarier, if that is possible! Brava👏👏👏

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