‘The Fall Of The House Of Usher’ by Edgar Allan Poe

Poe, Edgar Allan 1839

The Fall Of The House Of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe, 1839

The magic trick:

Using the reading of a story within the story as a counterpoint to the main action

This is a trick you see a lot in film. One narrative happens as a counterpoint to another, with the action cutting back and forth between the two. Or maybe there is a voiceover narration telling some other story while another narrative plays out on screen. In this case, Poe unfolds a very dramatic ending by having his narrator read a knight-and-dragon tale called “Mad Trist” to the sickly Roderick Usher. In between plot points of the story he is reading come the final, fateful plot points in the House Of Usher. The counterpoint feels very modern and the effect is utterly chilling. And that’s quite a trick on Poe’s part.

The selection:

“… And Ethelred uplifted his mace, and struck upon the head of the dragon, which fell before him, and gave up his pesty breath, with a shriek so horrid and harsh, and withal so piercing, that Ethelred had fain to close his ears with his hands against the dreadful noise of it, the like whereof was never before heard.”

Here again I paused abruptly, and now with a feeling of wild amazement—for there could be no doubt whatever that, in this instance, I did actually hear (although from what direction it proceeded I found it impossible to say) a low and apparently distant, but harsh, protracted, and most unusual screaming or grating sound—the exact counterpart of what my fancy had already conjured up for the dragon’s unnatural shriek as described by the romancer.

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