Sunday, January 11, 2009

Edgar Allan Freaking POE!

January 19 is Edgar Allan Poe's 200th birthday. Happy Birthday, Eddie! In honor of which the Free Library of Philadelphis is hosting several events, including tomorrow's debate as to whether his grave should be robbed and his remains defiled in order to have his bones raped away from Baltimore, where they're quietly buried, and interred here in Philadelphia, where he briefly lived. A tough call, obviously.

Last week, I went with Kyle Cassidy and Trillian Stars to the Poe special exhibit in the FLoP (unfortunate acronym!) rare books collection. Gregory Frost, who's written Poe-related fiction was unfortunately unable to join us.

But what a great display -- provided only that you're moved by books, pamphlets, and letters. There was a copy of the chapbook Tamerlane and Other Poems by "A Bostonian," not only Poe's first published work but one of the rarest and most collectable pieces of American printing. There was one of only two surviving copies of the April 13, 1844 New York Sun, with Poe's fraudulent account of Monck Mason's astonishing crossing of the Atlantic in an unbelievable 75 hours on the steerable airship Victoria, a hoax which may well be considered ancestral to science fiction. And of course -- as anybody who knows anything about the FLoP's rare book department knows -- there was the stuffed body of Charles Dickens's raven Grip, which directly inspired Poe to write "The Raven."

Kyle blogged about the event (scroll down and you'll find it). And afterwards we three met Tom Purdom for lunch and as pleasant a conversation as one might wish for. It's one of Tom's conceits that civilization exists so that people might live in cities and have intellectual conversations, and doggone if the man isn't (as usual) right.

Above: Me with the statue of Johannes Fust in the rare book department. There's a companion statue there of Gutenberg, who is famed for inventing moveable type. But -- true trivia here -- he never published the Gutenberg Bible. He got the pages printed before going broke, and it was Fust who bound and sold them.

Why did I want this picture badly enough to ask Kyle Cassidy to snap it? Because in Jack Faust the title character implies that Fust was his father. It was only after the book was published that I learned that the historical Fust was confused with the mountebank Faust when the stew of stories and lies arose that eventually became the legend of Faustus.



Richard Mason said...

OCD: Edgar Allan Poe.

Michael Swanwick said...

My bad. I never cared enough to spell things correctly until I became a writer, and sometimes even now I revert.