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Author Topic: PC177: The Fall of the House of Usher  (Read 6643 times)
Talia
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« on: October 04, 2011, 08:54:10 AM »

PodCastle 177: The Fall of the House of Usher

by Edgar Allan Poe

Read by Eric Luke (of the Extruding America podcast)

DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country ; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was - but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable ; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me - upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain - upon the bleak walls - upon the vacant eye-like windows - upon a few rank sedges - and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees - with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium - the bitter lapse into everyday life - the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart - an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it - I paused to think - what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher ? It was a mystery all insoluble ; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth. It was possible, I reflected, that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression ; and, acting upon this idea, I reined my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down - but with a shudder even more thrilling than before - upon the remodelled and inverted images of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant and eye-like windows.

Rated PG.
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« Reply #1 on: October 04, 2011, 09:08:00 AM »

Poe!

I haven't listened yet, but now I'm very excited!
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danooli
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« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2011, 12:31:19 PM »

oh, i am so excited!
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raetsel
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« Reply #3 on: October 05, 2011, 08:41:40 AM »

I too was tremendously excited at seeing this story up on Podcastle. The Masque of the Red Death was my all time favourite story since starting listening to Podcastle 18 months ago.

I'd heard of The Fall of the House of Usher but knew nothing of the story. I have to say I was a bit disappointed after about a third to a half of the way through it seemed to be dragging things out a bit but maybe that says more about me being a child of the fast-forward button than it does to Mr Poe's skills as a writer.

However the slow steady ratcheting up of tension began to work its magic and by the end I was totally enraptured. This was in no small part due to the exquisite narration by Eric Luke. His reading was brilliant, he tackled the complex sentences with their sub-clauses and asides with ease and the final crazed speech of Roderick Usher was truly inspired.

The language Poe used was beautiful and having looked up its meaning I shall tresaure the word supposititious

Please can we have Eric reading The Raven ? Pretty Please?
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Father Beast
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« Reply #4 on: October 05, 2011, 08:32:06 PM »

I have no idea why this author is said to be good. His descriptions can be colorful, but that's about it.

I was 15 minutes into the story before anything happened. before that it was all trying (and failing) to set a disturbing mood by telling me what mood I'm supposed to be in. Kind of an emotion infodump.

Finally, mr. Usher speaks (apparently all previous meetings with other persons were silent), and the story begins. Usher has not aged well, is a little batty and nervous, and his sister is dying from some condition or other. A while later (a few days? weeks?) he announces at a meal that she has died.

After a while, I wonder why I should care about Usher or his almost absent sister. The viewpoint character says they were boyhood friends, but never mentions anything they did together to merit such an identification.

Come to think of it, I'm not sure why I should care about the man visiting the house of Usher, since he never does anything but observe. As a character, he hardly exists.

The most telling point came when our hero (?) is reading to Usher from some dreadful adventure novel, and I realized I was more interested in the story he was reading than in this story.

This story fails on almost every level.
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Sgarre1
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« Reply #5 on: October 05, 2011, 08:37:59 PM »

The creative-writing classes "checklist of how to write a story" mindset triumphant!  (unless it's meant to be a satire of that mindset, in which case you forgot to include the actual funny).

"While Poe could entertain visions of transcendence, he was finally too much the victim of our own crisis of death to exorcise its dread. Yet he faced the 'terrifying dilemma' with remarkable tenacity and acuity, producing a literature that seems, in our age of "invisible death," more than ever disturbing and menacing. Little wonder that for many, Poe cannot be taken seriously: to do so is to confront the fearful yet vitalizing truth that our century has done its best to deny.”
 J. Gerald Kennedy, “Phantasms of Death in Poe's Fiction”, THE HAUNTED DUSK
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Schreiber
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« Reply #6 on: October 05, 2011, 08:42:48 PM »

I've never heard this read aloud story read before, I never saw the Vincent Price film and it's been years since I've read it.

What I notice now is...it's kind of funny! In a ghoulish sort of way. Eric Luke's Adam West-y stylings towards the end probably helped with that. As for the Lancelot McGuffin, well, I couldn't help thinking of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkGR65CXaNA
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Father Beast
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« Reply #7 on: October 06, 2011, 07:10:34 PM »

The creative-writing classes "checklist of how to write a story" mindset triumphant!  (unless it's meant to be a satire of that mindset, in which case you forgot to include the actual funny).


never took any such class. My only criterion is whether I enjoy a story.

Perhaps this was more meant for pseudopod? Where the idea is for people to feel uneasy and seek that sort of thing? Here at podcastle I would like something fantastic. here something fantastic occurs, but everyone goes insane at its appearance and I don't get to enjoy it, and I certainly didn't enjoy the rest of the story.
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Talia
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« Reply #8 on: October 06, 2011, 07:18:42 PM »

The creative-writing classes "checklist of how to write a story" mindset triumphant!  (unless it's meant to be a satire of that mindset, in which case you forgot to include the actual funny).


never took any such class. My only criterion is whether I enjoy a story.

Perhaps this was more meant for pseudopod? Where the idea is for people to feel uneasy and seek that sort of thing? Here at podcastle I would like something fantastic. here something fantastic occurs, but everyone goes insane at its appearance and I don't get to enjoy it, and I certainly didn't enjoy the rest of the story.

Not everyone is going to like every story that runs on any of the 'casts, unfortunately. Some stories just aren't to people's tastes, which is obviously the case in this instance.

This story certainly has elements of the fantastic. Fantasy and horror overlap a good deal. There's actually a whole thread up somewhere where people have listed Pseudopod stories that fantasy fans might like and vice versa. Point being.

Yeah it's a dark story, and it's horror, but it's fantasy too. Hopefully next week's episode works better for you though. Smiley
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Sgarre1
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« Reply #9 on: October 13, 2011, 12:43:17 PM »

Having finally got the chance to listen - I want to commend Eric Luke for his excellent reading of difficult material.  Poe's somewhat stilted style with tangential references and complicated sentences can be quite a burden for a reader and Eric pulled it off admirably.  It's always a mark of a good reading of a familiar piece if the reading makes you consider other aspects and here I found myself intrigued by the "vegetal intelligence" bit, something I'd given no attention before.

Good job all around!
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l33tminion
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« Reply #10 on: October 13, 2011, 09:09:57 PM »

I kept recognizing sentences from high school English examples of descriptive prose.

Not to say that was a bad thing.  It was a good story to hear out loud, thought it's unusual to rely so exclusively on description (as opposed to action) in building suspense.
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kibitzer
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« Reply #11 on: October 13, 2011, 09:15:21 PM »

I'm having a hard time with this one and I'm trying to figure out why.

I think it's the writing style. (It's certainly not Eric's great reading!) There's not much dialogue, it's mainly descriptive text, and it's structured such that the sentences are long and almost purple prose. I think it's having a soporific effect on me -- it's very hard (for me) to grasp and parse and one particular piece of the story. I keep being lulled by the sound of the words falling over each other.

It's odd because there's a lot of Poe stories I like, e.g. the Dupin stories.

I'll continue to the end, though. Might take a while ;-)
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Talia
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« Reply #12 on: October 13, 2011, 09:22:16 PM »

I'm having a hard time with this one and I'm trying to figure out why.

I think it's the writing style. (It's certainly not Eric's great reading!) There's not much dialogue, it's mainly descriptive text, and it's structured such that the sentences are long and almost purple prose. I think it's having a soporific effect on me -- it's very hard (for me) to grasp and parse and one particular piece of the story. I keep being lulled by the sound of the words falling over each other.

It's odd because there's a lot of Poe stories I like, e.g. the Dupin stories.

I'll continue to the end, though. Might take a while ;-)

I had the exact same reaction personally. I gave up on it myself - not that it's in anyway a bad story, it's clearly not, but it's not to my taste (so it goes).
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Anarquistador
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« Reply #13 on: October 14, 2011, 08:25:56 PM »

There's no middle ground with Edgar Allen Poe. You either like him or you don't. I like him. And I love how Podcastle does a story by him every Halloween.

I also love the reading. I may be just imagining things, but I think the voice actors here really enjoy the change to ham it up reading Poe. I'm still entertained by Cheyenne Wright's channeling of Vincent Price during The Cask of Amontillado. It works really well.
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« Reply #14 on: October 15, 2011, 08:02:06 PM »

I'm never a huge Poe fan, but I do love the tradition of having one of his stories every October. Smiley This was a pretty good one, coupled with a great reading so color me suitably creeped out in the best sort of way. Smiley
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birdless
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« Reply #15 on: October 17, 2011, 11:10:41 AM »

I'm having a hard time with this one and I'm trying to figure out why.

I think it's the writing style. (It's certainly not Eric's great reading!) There's not much dialogue, it's mainly descriptive text, and it's structured such that the sentences are long and almost purple prose. I think it's having a soporific effect on me -- it's very hard (for me) to grasp and parse and one particular piece of the story. I keep being lulled by the sound of the words falling over each other.

It's odd because there's a lot of Poe stories I like, e.g. the Dupin stories.

I'll continue to the end, though. Might take a while ;-)
I'm totally in the Kibitzer camp on this one (which I am grateful for—I expected to be alone in my lack of enjoyment on this one). The narration was beautifully done, but I just found that this story didn't work for me as spoken word. I think I would have enjoyed this much more if I had just read it. I was actually surprised that, while I had of course heard of this story, I've apparently never read it, because none of it was familiar. Again, though, mad props to Eric Luke.
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #16 on: October 21, 2011, 03:12:31 PM »

It's always nice to hear Poe in his proper holiday season, and Erik Luke's reading was spot on - certainly not flat at all, but not over the top with emotion, crisp, clear, and only letting in the emotion (in a big way) at the very end with The Creepy happens.

What really fascinated me, though, was the list of books the narrator mentions. Having just finished "Strange Case of Spring-Heeled Jack" and before that "Shades of Milk and Honey", both mentioning literature of the period (the latter more than the former), I found Poe's reading material very interesting.
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Sgarre1
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« Reply #17 on: October 21, 2011, 05:58:35 PM »

I've been trying to identify that Tieck book for a few years.  I'm sure I could just find an expert annotated edition.

Also, listening to this and paying attention to more details, I started wondering if this is the first instance in which someone is reading a story and events in real life begin to coincide with events in the book they're reading.  Again, I;m sure a properly annotated version of Poe could tell me, but mine's been packed away for about 25 years now...
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stePH
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« Reply #18 on: November 02, 2011, 09:14:03 AM »

I've read and enjoyed Poe before, but on this story I'm pretty much in agreement with FatherBeast.
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« Reply #19 on: November 25, 2011, 05:08:31 PM »

It's always a mark of a good reading of a familiar piece if the reading makes you consider other aspects and here I found myself intrigued by the "vegetal intelligence" bit, something I'd given no attention before.

I noticed those as well, and sent my mind off wandering so I lost some sections of the tale and had to rewind a bit. The description of the places with the fungus are amazingly well crafted. I think it's sections like these that got Lovecraft inspired.

Quote
Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream, I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building. Its principal feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages had been great. Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves. Yet all this was apart from any extraordinary dilapidation. No portion of the masonry had fallen; and there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of the individual stones. In this there was much that reminded me of the specious totality of old wood-work which has rotted for long years in some neglected vault, with no disturbance from the breath of the external air. Beyond this indication of extensive decay, however, the fabric gave little token of instability. Perhaps the eye of a scrutinising observer might have discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof of the building in front, made its way down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn.

***

I well remember that suggestions arising from this ballad led us into a train of thought wherein there became manifest an opinion of Usher's which I mention not so much on account of its novelty, (for other men have thought thus,) as on account of the pertinacity with which he maintained it. This opinion, in its general form, was that of the sentience of all vegetable things. But, in his disordered fancy, the idea had assumed a more daring character, and trespassed, under certain conditions, upon the kingdom of inorganization. I lack words to express the full extent, or the earnest abandon of his persuasion. The belief, however, was connected (as I have previously hinted) with the gray stones of the home of his forefathers. The conditions of the sentience had been here, he imagined, fulfilled in the method of collocation of these stones --in the order of their arrangement, as well as in that of the many fungi which overspread them, and of the decayed trees which stood around --above all, in the long undisturbed endurance of this arrangement, and in its reduplication in the still waters of the tarn. Its evidence --the evidence of the sentience --was to be seen, he said, (and I here started as he spoke,) in the gradual yet certain condensation of an atmosphere of their own about the waters and the walls. The result was discoverable, he added, in that silent, yet importunate and terrible influence which for centuries had moulded the destinies of his family, and which made him what I now saw him --what he was. Such opinions need no comment, and I will make none.

That said, I didn't really love this one. It was mostly a lugubrious mood piece. I don't mind purple prose, but much longer than flash and my mind tends to wander off.
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