Burriss: "Nevermore!"

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You would think someone who invented detective fiction, anticipated the big bang theory by some 80 years, contributed to the early development of science fiction, and influenced the development of cryptography would almost be a household name. But when you think of Edgar Allan Poe all that probably comes to mind are the poems "The Bells" and "The Raven," and the short stories "Fall of the House of Usher" and "The Gold Bug."

Poe was born Jan. 19, 1809, and was the first popular American author to try to make a living through writing. Unfortunately copyright laws back then were only loosely enforced, and American publishers often stole British works rather than pay American writers for original material. But Poe still left a legacy, though not one often remembered.

In just three stories, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "the Mystery of Marie Roget," and "The Purloined Letter," Poe single-handedly created the detective mystery genre that spawned, among others, Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Inspector Clouseau. So influential was Poe that the annual Mystery Writers of America award is popularly known as the Edgar.

In "the God Bug," a mystery is solved through a cypher, and "The Man in the Crowd," may be the first story to use what we know of as surveillance.

Poe's science fiction includes "A Descent into the Maelstrom," and "The Balloon Hoax." In "Eureka: An Essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe," he discusses the origins of the solar system, the age of stars, and links the cosmos with human consciousness, in a kind of amalgam of scientific cosmology and new age spiritualism. Both Jules Verne and H.G. Wells commented favorably on Poe's influence.

Perhaps it says more about the audiences than the writer that Poe is mostly remembered for his gothic stories involving death, decomposition, and premature burial. Indeed, just a quick look at current movies and television show his continual influence and motifs. Perhaps, one could say, even from the grave.

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Larry Burriss
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