The Horror Fiction: Edgar Allan Poe vs. Stephen King

Posted on April 13, 2020

At present, the horror fiction can be regarded as an important part of the literary world. Some people tend to read horror stories because of the adrenaline rush they feel being engrossed in such books. Many researchers believe that there is an adequate psychological explanation as to why some individuals like to read ghost stories. However, the majority of people reading horror fiction choose this particular literary genre in an attempt to get a sense of excitement. At present, many literary critics continue to compare Poe and King in terms of their writing style and the key themes addressed in their narratives. Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most prominent American authors who published his horror novels during the early nineteenth century. Among his major literary writings, one may find The Black Cat, The Fall of the House of Usher, and The Tell-Tale Heart. In turn, King is a modern author of horror and supernatural fiction, whose literary legacy includes a great number of novels, such as Carrie, Pet Sematary, The Shining, The Green Mile, and many others. Even though Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King lived in different centuries, still, these American authors had a lot in common: firstly, they had a similar writing style; secondly, both authors focused significant attention on the themes of death, violence, and human suffering; finally, both King and Poe managed to make a significant contribution to the development of horror fiction.

The first and foremost aspect to be discussed is the writing style of both American authors working in the horror fiction genre. Many modern literary critics regard Poe as a virtuoso of suspense and horror; they are certain that a prominent American author managed to gain significant popularity through the use of his Gothic writing style. Being influenced by the school of psychological realism, Poe attempted to explore the workings of a character’s psyche (Sun). A vivid example of this particular literary approach is a short story titled The Tell-Tale Heart. Throughout this horror novel, the author made an attempt to penetrate into the tortured mind of the central character of the story, an unknown man, who was obsessed with killing and death. To accentuate the character’s feelings, Poe used a great number of literary devices, such as metaphors, hyperboles, similes, epithets, and rhetorical questions. In one of the scenes, the narrator says: “So I opened it—you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily—until, at length a simple dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye” (Poe 538). In this case, the word-combination ‘vulture eye’ has a metaphorical meaning; it provides a proof for the narrator’s insanity as well as for his obsession with killing an old man.

According to the plot of The Tell-Tale Heart, the main character did not have any concern about the consequences of his actions; instead, he tried to prove his sanity. In an attempt to depict the nature of the narrator’s personality, Poe wrote the following lines: “True, nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am, but why will say that I am mad?! The disease had sharpened my senses, not destroyed, not dulled them” (Poe 537). In this case, readers may notice that the central character of the story exhibits obsessive thoughts, aggression, and insanity. The important thing is that the narrator has admitted that he had a serious disease. Through the use of repetition, punctuation, exclamation marks, suspense, dark tone, and mysterious mood, Poe managed to show the audience how the narrator sees the world. Besides, this particular novel cannot be characterized by the use of monotonous language since the author used the words of different lengths and syllables; he attempted to attract readers’ attention in this way.

Similarly to ‘a virtuoso of suspense and horror’, King has developed a unique writing style, which has many peculiar features as well. First of all, it is important to mention that this particular American author continues to use a conversational writing style that cannot be left unnoticed. Throughout his literary works, King portrays ordinary American people, whose lives contain horror and supernatural events. Besides, the author is known for the use of metaphors, imagery, irony, and symbolism (D’Elia 53). Some vivid examples can be found in the most famous novel titled The Shining, which tells the story of an abusive family: Jack Torrance, Wendy Torrance, and a 5-year-old Danny. In one of the scenes, the author writes: “Me, I’ve always called it shining. That’s what my grandmother called it, too. She had it. We used to sit in the kitchen when I was a boy no older than you and have long talks without even openin’ our mouths” (King 54). In this case, King uses the word ‘shining’ to describe the collusion of telepathy and clairvoyance existing between the story’s characters; hence, it is apparent that the novel’s title has a metaphorical meaning as well.

Being regarded as a master of horror, King managed to integrate suspense, compelling characters, memorable conflict, and mystified anticipation in his literary works. By putting his characters in dangerous situations, a prominent American author made the audience connect with the stories’ characters emotionally and sympathize with their situation. A vivid example can be found in the final scene of The Shining, when Jack Torrance asks his son, Danny, to remember that he will always love him. In Chapter 46, he said: “Run away. Quick. And remember how much I love you” (King 294). In this case, the author made his readers sympathize with Jack Torrance, regardless of the fact that he was an insane man being in the grip of evil. The interesting thing is that King pays significant attention to a story; setting, theme, and character development are less important for him. While working on the narrative, the author used actions and descriptions that move the story forward. Apart from his unique art of storytelling, King has always been recognized for the use of flashbacks in his literary works.

Analyzing the writing styles of Poe and King, one may notice that these prominent American authors have many similarities and differences. Regarding the key similarities, both authors portrayed three-dimensional and dynamic characters. In addition, their writing style can be characterized by the use of a dark tone and a mysterious mood. Another important similarity implies the idea that both Poe and King portrayed interesting characters who elicited great sympathy from readers. Throughout their literary works, the authors used various literary devices and figures of speech; among them, one can find metaphor, simile, hyperbole, repetition, and rhetorical question. Taking into consideration the literary devices used by these American authors, readers may notice that the majority of King’s novels contain vivid examples of dramatic irony. One of the most important differences in their writing styles is related to the point of view. Whereas the majority of Poe’s narratives are told from the viewpoint of one of the story’s characters, the point of view of King’s novels shifts between different characters. In turn, these American authors are different in terms of the characters depicted in their novels. For instance, Poe was famous for the portrayal of ‘Byronic heroes’; in turn, King depicted ordinary people living in the United States, who experienced paranormal sensations and supernatural horror.

Another important aspect that should be discussed is related to the themes addressed by the authors in their writings. For instance. Poe was a remarkable American author, whose literary works could be characterized by the portrayal of different issues, such as love, death, murder, identity, suicide, loss, and violence. The theme of murder is depicted in different short stories, which include The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, and Metzengerstein. In The Tell-Tale Heart, the author portrays an insane narrator who attempts to explain his obsession with killing an old man. The Black Cat is the following short story that deals with the themes of murder and violence. Throughout this particular novel, Poe tells the story of a nameless narrator who lived a good life: he had a beautiful wife and an abiding love for cats. In the course of the time, the protagonist became an alcoholic, and as a result, his life changed dramatically. First of all, he began to demonstrate escalating maltreatment to cats and dogs he loved before. According to the plot of the novel, the narrator killed his wife because she interfered with his plans to kill a helpless cat. The author described his emotions in the following lines: “Goaded, by the interference, into a rage more than demoniacal, I withdrew my arm from her grasp, and buried the axe in her brain” (Poe 23). In this case, it is apparent that the central character of the story transformed from a kind and pleasant man into an insane psychopath because of alcohol addiction.

Regarding the literary legacy of King, the majority of his novels address the themes of childhood suffering, death, violence. For instance, the theme of death is represented in his remarkable novel titled The Green Mile. In this novel, the author tells the story of John Coffey, who is sentenced to death; the narrator of the novel is Paul Edgecomb, the former supervisor at Cold Mountain Penitentiary. While looking through the book, readers may notice the following lines: “I’m tired, boss. Tired of bein’ on the road, lonely as a sparrow in the rain. Mostly I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. I’m tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world everyday” (King). In this particular passage, John Coffey talks to Paul Edgecomb, who is greatly concerned about the prisoner’s sentence. Analyzing this passage, readers may notice that the protagonist of the story is ready for death; moreover, he believes that death is an escape since a world is full of cruelty, loneliness, and hypocrisy. In turn, the theme of violence is portrayed in the novel titled The Shining. Even though the author focused his attention on the portrayal of a dysfunctional family, still, the novel contains vivid descriptions of angry animals, mysterious ghosts, and brutal scenes.

Analyzing the literary works of both Poe and King, it is important to mention that these American authors addressed similar themes in their writings. In this case, a list of common themes involves death, violence, suffering, and loss. Even though both authors focused on the themes of human suffering, King made his audience pay attention to the issue of childhood suffering. A vivid example is an epistolary horror novel titled Carrie, which was published in 1974. Throughout this particular narrative, an American author tells the story of Carrie White, a teenage girl, who is forced to experience bullying at school. Apart from that, both Poe and King portrayed the theme of murder in their literary works, which involve The Black Cat, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Green Mile, and The Shining. The last but not least similarity is that both Poe and King introduced supernatural elements in their literary works.

To conclude, Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King are remarkable American authors, who will always be regarded as ‘a virtuoso of suspense’ and ‘a master of horror’. Even though these particular essay writers lived in different centuries and were influenced by different authors, still, their literary works have many common features in terms of writing style and the themes raised in the stories. Regarding the key similarities of their writing styles, both Poe and King used a dark mood and a mysterious tone in an attempt to create a sense of suspense. Besides, Poe and King used similar literary devices and figures of speech in their writings. Among them, one can find metaphors, similes, hyperboles, repetitions, and rhetorical questions. The important thing is that both American authors of horror attempted to make the readers sympathize with their characters. Concerning the common themes, these particular authors addressed the issues of death, murder, violence, and loss. Regardless of their differences and similarities, both Poe and King made a significant contribution to the development of the horror genre.

Works Cited
D’Elia, Jenifer Michelle. “Standing up with the King: A Critical Look at Stephen King’s Epic”. Graduate Theses and Dissertations., 2007, Accessed 6 Jan 2020.

King, Stephen. Carrie. Anchor, 2008.

King, Stephen. The Shining. Anchor, 2012.

King, Stephen. The Green Mile. 1999.

Poe, Edgar Allan. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Hachette UK, 2012.

Poe, Edgar Allen. The Black Cat. Infomotions, Inc., 2000.

Sun, Chunyan. “Horror from The Soul—Gothic Style in Allan Poe’s Horror Fictions”. English Language Teaching, vol 8, no. 5, 2015, pp. 94-99., Accessed 6 Jan 2020.

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