Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"The Angel of the Odd" by Edgar Allan Poe

Deal Me In Lite, Week 10: "The Angel of the Odd" by Edgar Allan Poe

This week my half-deck of cards dealt up the Ace of Hearts, and a selection from The Classic Humor Megapack -- a story by that famous knee-slapping funnyman, Edgar Allan Poe:

Um, wait, what?

That was exactly what my response was when I ran across this short story by Poe in a humor anthology, of all things.  Now, I have already mentioned that some of the "humorous" stories in this anthology are not really all that humorous, so I was kind of expecting this one to be much the same.  A mistake, perhaps, on the part of the anthology editor.

Nope.  "The Angel of the Odd" is a genuinely humorous story from the pen of the man better known for still-terrifying stories such as "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Cask of Amontillado," and "The Masque of the Red Death" (just to mention three of my favorites!!).  Perhaps some of you have run across this story.  It's widely available, as are all of Poe's works, on the Internet (here's a link if you would like to read it).

The story opens with the narrator settling into a comfortable chair in front of the fire after a sumptuous dinner and some alcoholic refreshments.  He decides to while away the time by perusing the newspaper, and comes across a frankly fantastic news article:

“The avenues to death are numerous and strange. A London paper mentions the decease of a person from a singular cause. He was playing at ‘puff the dart,’ which is played with a long needle inserted in some worsted, and blown at a target through a tin tube. He placed the needle at the wrong end of the tube, and drawing his breath strongly to puff the dart forward with force, drew the needle into his throat. It entered the lungs, and in a few days killed him.”

The narrator becomes enraged at this odd story, and declares that these types of odd incidents are becoming more and more numerous, and are probably falsehoods at that.  From henceforth he determines to believe no story that has any element of oddity or unusual occurrence to it.

He is immediately visited by a most unusual entity:

His body was a wine-pipe or a rum puncheon, or something of that character, and had a truly Falstaffian air. In its nether extremity were inserted two kegs, which seemed to answer all the purposes of legs. For arms there dangled from the upper portion of the carcass two tolerably long bottles with the necks outward for hands. All the head that I saw the monster possessed of was one of those Hessian canteens which resemble a large snuff-box with a hole in the middle of the lid. This canteen (with a funnel on its top like a cavalier cap slouched over the eyes) was set on edge upon the puncheon, with the hole toward myself; and through this hole, which seemed puckered up like the mouth of a very precise old maid, the creature was emitting certain rumbling and grumbling noises which he evidently intended for intelligible talk.

“I zay,” said he, “you mos pe dronk as de pig, vor zit dare and not zee me zit ere; and I zay, doo, you mos pe pigger vool as de goose, vor to dispelief vat iz print in de print. ’Tiz de troof—dat it iz—ebery vord ob it.”

This is the Angel of the Odd, and he proceeds to take the narrator through a series of events all designed to demonstrate to him that odd things can happen to anyone at any time.  These events include: being late to an important meeting because the mantel clock had stopped due to a carelessly-thrown raisin stem "accidentally" stopping the clock's minute hand; falling off a ladder while escaping from his burning house due to a pig who suddenly decides to scratch his back on the ladder, dislodging the narrator from it; and other improbably odd circumstances, most of which turn out to be pretty funny because they are so ridiculous.  And it's here that Poe's normal style, which plays such an important role in his horror stories, actually adds to the ridiculousness of the account.

I really enjoyed this story, but I did have one little problem with it, evidenced by the Angel's speech I included in the excerpt above.  The Angel is clearly supposed to have some sort of German dialect, and while Poe does an admirable job of capturing such a dialect in writing, it is pretty hard going for the reader, as most dialect is.  Still, I got used to it, especially as I began to try to hear it in my head, and this is a very small quibble for what is an interesting little story.


  1. I probably have an affinity for humor more than horror, but to find out a classic horror author can write humorously is great! I realized I have this story in my Poe collection. I'm going to have to read this soon.

    1. I think you will enjoy it. If you see any other humorous stories in your Poe collection, let me know. I'm wondering if he wrote more than just this one.

  2. I'll have to look this one up in my "Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe" as well. I've read a few Poe stories where there was a vein of humor, but not one where it's been the motherlode. I've read several "lesser known" stories of his too, but never this one. Very interesting.

    1. Yes, now that you mention it, I do recall that occasionally Poe gives a little hint of humor in some of his more "traditional" stories -- maybe I should go on a humor-hunting expedition in Poe! Could be interesting.