Tales of Mystery & Imagination  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Tales of Mystery & Imagination (often rendered as Tales of Mystery and Imagination) is a popular title for works of the American author, essayist and poet Edgar Allan Poe and was the first complete collection of his works specifically restricting itself to his suspenseful and related tales. Poe's works received their widest audience posthumously. The title and compilation of Tales of Mystery and Imagination became a vehicle for delivering Poe's works to a wide readership.



In 1839, during Poe's lifetime, a collection of his strange tales was published, but it did not include some highly regarded tales which were written later, including "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "A Descent into the Maelstrom". The first posthumous collection of Poe's works was compiled in 1850 and included a memoir from Rufus Wilmot Griswold, but this did not confine itself to his tales of suspense and related tales. Several collections of Poe's prose and poetry followed. The precursor to Tales of Mystery and Imagination was a collection of Poe's works entitled Tales of Mystery, Imagination and Humor. This collection was modified by Padraic Colum in 1908 in view of the growing reputation of Poe's taste for suspense, especially in the context of what his French critic M. Brunetiere called events "on the margin" of life. This prompted Colum, the editor of the 1908 London edition, to modify the title of this collection to Tales of Mystery and Imagination. The original collection, in keeping with its title, deliberately excluded Poe's poems, comedies and essays. In his introduction to the 1908 edition Colum also cites as an additional reason for his selection: his opinion that 'tales' as opposed to 'short stories' were so short that they tended to lack descriptions of socially important experiences. Colum hence deliberately left out two works as too lengthy, these being The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket and "The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall".

Colum's 1908 collection of Poe's tales was published as a book specifically aimed at the general reading public by the influential publishing house of Geoffrey Newnes Ltd. using its Home Library Book Company, as part of "John O'London's" Home Library.

Further development

The 1908 version of Tales of Mystery and Imagination has been reproduced many times since under this same title by several publishers across the world for over 100 years, and Colum's selection of tales forms the backbone of subsequent versions under this same name. Everyman's Library produced their own copies of the 1908 version for several decades. The title of the 1908 book together with its formula of compiling Poe's most bewildering tales into a single volume continues to be used by innumerable publishers.

In 1919 London's George Harrap & Co. published a handsome edition illustrated by Harry Clarke, albeit in black and white. In 1923 an expanded edition was released with many more illustrations, including eight color plates. In 1935 the celebrated artist Arthur Rackham produced another illustrated version of Tales of Mystery and Imagination. The nature of the illustrations associated the tales with the supernatural, even though some tales were not obviously about the supernatural, for example The Gold-Bug or The Elk. Some, as Colum's original title suggests, might purely be works penned from Poe's vivid imagination, depending on how some of the tales are symbolically interpreted. However the latter category do all still contain the element of suspense that Colum desired, or their narrative is related to the latter tales.

According to Hesperides Press the original version of Tales of Mystery and Imagination from the 1900s, and its precursor Tales of Mystery, Imagination and Humour from the 19th century, are both now extremely scarce and increasingly expensive, but the collection has been republished using the original format as a template.

The selection of Poe's works in Tales of Mystery and Imagination include those which have spawned a variety of horror films and black comedies, with the oldest of these produced just one year after the book was first published in 1908, though this may be coincidental. This was a very early French version of the Pit and the Pendulum called 'Le Puits et le pendule' produced in 1909 by Henri Desfontaines. In fact Poe became more popular in France in the nineteenth century than in his native America. Several Hollywood productions have followed, especially from 1960 up to very recently, such as The Raven, The Fall of the House of Usher, The House of Usher, and The Pit and the Pendulum amongst others. The tales have more generally also spawned the names of characters and the narrative themes in like films.

A musical album entitled Tales of Mystery and Imagination by The Alan Parsons Project was based on this collection of Poe's works and borrowed its title. It contains individual scores based on some of these tales, including narration by Orson Welles. Parsons also used the title "The Gold Bug" for a track on his The Turn of a Friendly Card album.


See Also

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