Since my visit to the Poe Museum in Richmond, I’ve been pondering the ‘monsters’ of Poe’s stories. His most famous monsters are human — humans consumed by guilt, obsessed by delusions, drowning in alcohol or living in an opium haze do terrible things in Poe’s stories.
I’ve also been reading about real life human monsters. On the Amtrak train I read ‘Fighting the Devil’ a true crime, ‘ripped from the headlines’ first person account of murder by Jeannie Walker. Late last night/early this morning, I finished reading Erik Larson’s ‘In the Garden of Beasts, Love, Terror and An American Family in Hitler’s Berlin’ (an excellent book). And then there’s the story of the high school shooting rampage — what’s that all about?
Theories and explanations for the 17-year-old gunman’s inexplicable actions are in the air. Was he bullied? Was he crying out for help? Was he following in the footsteps of his imprisoned older brother? Was he simply a bad kid? Was he jealous because his girlfriend found a new love? Was he possessed by the devil?
From crimes against humanity to shooting kids you know from the school bus… there doesn’t seem to be any connection, but is there? Does it all boil down to the lessons of Greek Myths and to the monstrous choices fueled by greed, lust for power, jealousy and envy that are at the heart of these horrific actions? Perhaps. I don’t have the answers anymore than the commentators on the news do. At least the Greeks saw their stories as guides to choices and consequences with a lifespan longer than two cable news cycles.
There are lessons here — in the gigantic monster stories of history and in the tales of fleeting monsters of tabloid headlines — Poe understood that. He went inside the tortured souls and made sure that, at least in fiction, they were thoroughly haunted with the just rewards of their monstrous decisions.