Harry Clarke, a stained glass artist and book illustrator from Ireland, wields black ink like no other. I don’t think you’ll find a more mesmerizing illustrator of Edgar Allan Poe. Regrettably, when I find copies of his work in Tales of Mystery and Imagination in the average bookstore, they are inferior. It angers me when publishers churn out cheap reproductions of beautifully illustrated books. Shrunk to fit the page, the images become darkened, blurred, and robbed of their power. (Of course, you might say the same for their appearance on this website. Go ahead and click to get a better look.)
Years ago, I encountered an old edition featuring Clarke’s work and felt a renewed chill of Poe-inspired horror, a delicious feeling interwoven with nostalgia for my adolescence, when my sensitivity to such images and stories seemed greater than it is now. (We all encounter Poe in our adolescence, don’t we?)
Why is that? What makes Poe so fascinating to juveniles? Well, my guess is that at some point, adults stop feeling true horror; they just worry about bills and bullshit. Generalized anxiety replaces fascination with the unknown, the mysterious, the macabre, the supernatural. Adults aren’t frightened by the prospect of being buried alive — because most of them already are buried alive: under debt, depression and stress. The heightened feelings Poe inspires are a luxury for moody teens.
Perhaps it’s not too late to bring back those feelings.
Visit the House of Usher. Take Clarke with you.