Mary Shelley gets a lot of credit these days. It’s been increasingly said that her seminal work Frankenstein birthed the science fiction genre. I personally find the arguments unconvincing, as do some of my esteemed colleagues. Make no mistake – Frankenstein was a great tale, and I certainly enjoyed my read-through of it last year. But to say she invented science fiction is a stretch. It’s almost like saying we wouldn’t have the horror genre without Mary Shelley.
Such a claim ignores the influence of Shakespeare, the Graveyard Poets, the Gothic authors preceding Shelley, and some of her illustrious contemporaries. I’ve been able to find no evidence, for example, that Edgar Allan Poe ever read or was inspired by Frankenstein. And would even Eli Roth argue that Poe was not a major contributor to the horror genre?
We’ve already discussed the madness and terror of “The Cask of Amontillado,” and the gloom of “The Raven” is legendary. Let’s have a brief look at another of his great works, then – “The Fall of the House of Usher.”
Although perhaps not as well known these days as some of his other tales, this is considered to be one of his seminal tales, and for good reason. It’s not quite as short and sweet as Amontillado, but every element fits together and there is also much to be gleaned from what the narrator leaves unsaid. From the strange, creepy relationship between Roderick Usher and his sister, to their eerie illnesses, to the seemingly self-fulfilling prophesy that brings about their doom, the story is dark and haunting throughout. And then there’s the house.
The house seems to be alive and in some way connected to the Usher family. The idea of a living domicile struck me as quite innovative and effective as a idea, and though the story contains a lot to unpack, this is the element that I know will stay with me.
It’s a little bit of a read, but if you’re not familiar with the story and consider yourself a horror fan, it’s worth your time.