8.3: Poe and the Suspense Story 

Analyze the origins of the suspense story as a literary genre and identify Edgar Allan Poe’s contribution to the genre.

Before the movie industry ever began working in Hollywood, suspense hit literature. Horror literature was intended to unsettle at the least, or to terrify at the most, depending on the reader. Historically, the root of horror fiction was the introduction of an element that was considered sinister or at least misunderstood. This sinister or supernatural element was an intrusion on everyday life or an average human experience; this affected the story’s setting and set the mood of suspense. The evil elements were the conflict of the story and may or may not have been rectified by the end of the story.

The earliest horror fiction can be found in myths and legends, but modern horror writing finds its genealogy in gothic novels that worked their way into mainstream culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. For example, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) follow the pattern of the gothic novel: they both have a supernatural character combined with an evil and sinister appeal. These characteristics have been used and elaborated by horror fiction authors for many years. In fact, the story considered the first published American horror story is actually Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” published in 1820, which illustrates how early horror stories utilized mood and subtle descriptions to create the spookiness necessary, while avoiding actual blatant violence.

It is impossible to discuss horror fiction without mentioning Edgar Allan Poe. While Washington Irving published the first horror story in America, Poe is considered by some to be the “Father of Fear.” He utilized psychological fear to horrify his audience. Through Poe, readers realized that being scared of what “goes bump in the night” isn’t nearly as scary as what they thought might “go bump in the night.” Poe messed with the imagination of countless readers, and readers loved every terrifying moment.

At the time, Edgar Allan Poe had no idea how far-reaching his influence would be. For as visionary as he was, there was no way for him to know that his psychological thrillers would inspire authors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Rod Serling, who wrote The Twilight Zone, and even Jack Kerouac. Unfortunately, Poe’s nineteenth-century world and our modern world are dramatically different, and some people no longer rely on horror based on subtlety. Horror has taken on different characteristics. Some authors currently use vivid descriptions of violence to shock their audiences into being scared. However, the reliance on gore and violence comes at the risk of losing literary merit. That would be enough to horrify Edgar Allan Poe, actually.

Portfolio Assignment 8.2: Scary Story Analysis

You have learned the history of suspense literature. You will need to think of a suspenseful and scary story that you are familiar with. It could be a movie, a book, or a story that is told around the campfire to scare people senseless. You will need to fill in the scary story chart (click here for an electronic copy of the assignment) and submit it with portfolio 2. 

Please format and submit your assignment according to the instructions in the syllabus and format them in the following manner: 

  • In the top left-hand side of the page please include: 
  • the portfolio submission number 
  • the name of the assignment and lesson number it came from 
  • your name 
  • date 

Be sure to save your assignment as a .PDF file. Please keep copies of all assignments. Independent Study is not responsible for lost assignments.

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