Sudipto Sanyal in The Smart Set:
What is it about Poe that grips the popular imagination so, like the medieval Iron Shroud shrinking inward and threatening to crush the narrator of “The Pit and the Pendulum”? Who was he, and what strange Romantic resonances does he emit that continue to fascinate us?
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown,” wrote that other fantasist H. P. Lovecraft. In his stories — and even his poems — Poe brings forth, as if out of thin air, a grotesque world fully crystallized. It is utterly self-contained and frequently terrifying, a radical break from our mundane realities (also self-contained and terrifying, but in less unknowable ways). Reading Poe, we learn remarkably little of the New World in the middle of the 19th century — no Mexican-American War, no California Gold Rush, no westward ho!, no rumblings over slavery.