Recommendation Tuesday: Edgar Allen Poe's Spirits of the Dead by Richard Corben

Recommendation Tuesday: Edgar Allen Poe's Spirits of the Dead by Richard Corben

Recommendation Tuesday started as a joke and is now an official thing. Basically, this is my way of making Tuesday a little more awesome. If you've got a book to recommend on this or any Tuesday, tweet me at @FullShelves and I'll help spread the word.

View all of the past recommendations over here. 

Richard Corben captures the gothic sensibility and the fears that plagued Edgar Allan Poe in his graphic representation of the great master’s work. Poe’s soulful poem Spirits of the Dead is a fitting title for Corben’s work. 

Thy soul shall find itself alone
Mid dark thoughts of the gray tombstone ——
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.

Poe believed that nothing is lovelier than a beautiful woman and nothing more tragic than her death, a theme in much of his work. In Spirits of the Dead, Corben melds together the world as Poe knew it: death, solitude, nightmares, dreams. His themes captivate and meld together into melodic words and fearful experiences. They come together to form Corben’s graphic interpretation. Dreams and nightmares vividly come to life in Corben’s art depicting Poe’s writing, especially in The Raven. 

At age 26, Poe fell in love with and married his thirteen year old cousin Virginia Clemm, who died eleven years later from consumption. Guilt burdened him. He believed that he had not cared for her properly nor he could he afford the needed medical care. Regardless of the validity of his beliefs, beautiful writing flowed from his tortured mind creating The Raven. 

Of the fifteen stories and poems Corben gorgeously illustrated, The Raven is one of the most personal for Poe. He believed that his love for Virginia would live forever, that “even the angels envied their joy." Sweet Lenore becomes Virginia in the poem. Alone, Lenore’s husband mournfully sits thinking of his lost love. Solitary in his darkened mansion, the words “WHERE ARE YOU?” haunt the mournful widower. His sorrowful face and eyes say as much as his words. 

Powerful emotions and states of mind overflowing with grief, love and loss permeate Poe’s poetry. Corben captures these with stark color contrasting black with strong primary colors. Emotion and passion flourish in Corben’s artwork.

Edgar Allen Poe’s prose and poetry vividly depict human frailty and pain. Corben’s depictions enhance what Poe created. 

Poe rarely wrote about the political situations of his time, but a political statement is inescapable in The City in the Sea. A captain has lost his entire cargo. Afterward, he washes up on an island where ghostly creatures charge him with crimes against humanity. The captain claims nothing of importance was lost and his losses were insured. The insignificant loss was African slaves. In trial, charges ensue against the captain for crimes against humanity. Off to hell with that captain. 

Darkness prevails in the artist’s rendering of the captain’s trial that ends in solid black with a bright red glow in its center. 

In colors of red, gold, sand and black, the story of murder and lust bring out all that is despicable in one whose concept of love means domination and control.  The Conqueror Worm begins with Colonel Mann who comes to the graves of those who betrayed him.


Nasty worms abound in the graveyard. A strange little creature, a ringmaster of the worms, offers the murderer, Colonel Mann, an opportunity for entertainment, worms included. The art, until the colonel accepts the offer for a show, is bright with oranges and yellows with Mann’s grey and black figure contrasting. The next pages turn to dominant darkness as he waits for the special entertainment. The finale with sharply contrasting grey and red depicts worms crawling forth. 

Richard Corben’s artistic renditions of Poe’s work intensifies what I’ve always loved about Edgar Allan Poe - unequalled story telling.

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