Well, this is a pretty exciting post for me, considering I’m the editor of this particular anthology! Getting to see different takes on Poe was fun in itself, but getting to see half the collection come back with queer protagonists? Now, that was utterly delightful. I asked the authors of those stories to share a little bit about them, so come check it out!
Edgar Allan Poe may be a hundred and fifty years beyond this world, but the themes of his beloved works have much in common with modern young adult fiction. Whether the stories are familiar to readers or discovered for the first time, readers will revel in Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tales, and how they’ve been brought to life in 13 unique and unforgettable ways.
Contributors include Dahlia Adler (reimagining “Ligeia”), Kendare Blake ( “Metzengerstein”), Rin Chupeco (“The Murders in the Rue Morge”), Lamar Giles (“The Oval Portrait”), Tessa Gratton (“Annabel Lee”), Tiffany D. Jackson (“The Cask of Amontillado”), Stephanie Kuehn (“The Tell-Tale Heart”), Emily Lloyd-Jones (“The Purloined Letter”), Hillary Monahan (“The Masque of the Red Death”), Marieke Nijkamp (“Hop-Frog”), Caleb Roehrig (“The Pit and the Pendulum”), and Fran Wilde (“The Fall of the House of Usher”).
Tessa Gratton, “Night-Tide”, a retelling of “Annabel Lee”
“Annabel Lee” is one of the poems that used to get stuck in my head when I was a kid. Something about the rhythm, the longing, and the weird imagery—not to mention morbid aesthetic—spoke to thirteen year old Tessa. I used to recite it to myself in a sing-song way, letting the imagery wash over me. When I set out to write a short story inspired by it, I knew I needed a story with a refrain, and that it needed to be filled with longing and angst, and the anger I felt as a kid when adults pretended they knew better than me what I was feeling. It wasn’t until I was a few pages into writing that it occurred to me I never actively decided to make “Night-Tide” about girls in love with each other—because, to me, the poem always had been about emo teenaged lesbians.
“Annabel-Lee” is so unapologetically passionate, and as a poem it’s unashamed of its melodramatic nature. When I was a teen I was passionate and melodramatic, but I knew shame, because the world had already taught me what I was and was not allowed to love and desire. That makes me angry, and as an adult I see more shades of anger in “Annabel-Lee” than I noticed as a teen. It’s all woven into my story “Night-Tide,” which I hope inspires passion and drama and, yes, anger, in readers. Because love is so messy, and queer people deserve the space to embrace melodrama, anger, and to confront shame. We deserve the chance to take risks as we discover and decide who we are and want to be.
Caleb Roehrig, “The Glittering Death,” a retelling of “The Pit and the Pendulum”
With a cast of one, “The Pit and the Pendulum” is one of Poe’s simplest narratives: an anonymous man, alone in a dungeon, tries to evade a series of inventive death traps set by the Spanish Inquisition. The sexuality of the prisoner is irrelevant to the story—and, in my opinion, that was the perfect reason to queer the character in my adaptation of it. Laura Bonelli, the central figure of “The Glittering Death,” is questioning. (Possibly bi, though she’s not sure yet.) This fact has nothing to do with how she ends up in the clutches of a villain who calls himself the Judge; it has nothing to do with the dangers she faces, or how the story eventually concludes; but it has something to do with who she is. It’s her identity, and would still be if the story was about a driving lesson, a graduation party, or a first kiss.
I balk at saying a protagonist “just happens to be queer,” because nothing about identity can be reduced to pure happenstance; but there’s power in bringing casual visibility to identity—especially when the character in question is the one to whom it matters most.
Rin Chupeco, “The Murders at the Rue Apartelle, Boracay,” a retelling of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”
“The Murders at the Rue Apartelle, Boracay” is the story of Ogie Dupin, a Filipino-French amateur detective investigating a strange murder set in a supernatural island getaway. In keeping with the original Poe story, it’s told by an unnamed narrator, this time a young trans girl. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is not an easy story to retell – I had to write a locked room mystery believable enough for Ogie’s deductions to make sense, and yet complex enough to keep people guessing at the solution till the end. But more than that, I also wanted to write my trans narrator in a way that would give her just as much agency as Ogie, in stark contrast to how these detective stories are often written. It’s difficult to find the right balance, showing off her own intelligence without taking away from Ogie’s skills and the murder mystery, but I think I was able to pull it off!
“Hop-Frog” is, in its essence, a story about monsters. About who gets to be human and who is considered a monstrosity. About how we can be monstrous in our humanity–or our inhumanity. It’s a story about disability, too. Historically those two–disability and monster narratives–intersect quite often. (After all, every changeling story is a disability story at heart.) So when I brainstormed reimagining Hop-Frog I knew I wanted to include both those elements. I wanted to center it on disabled characters, my two queer, broken girls who are both looking for revenge—or perhaps belonging. I wanted to throw in an element of historicity (which Poe alludes but never quite commits to). And I wanted to play with monsters. I’ll just leave it up to you to decide who the monsters are: the fae, the unseelie folk, or the humans?
Emily Lloyd-Jones, “A Drop of Stolen Ink,” a retelling of “The Purloined Letter”
“A Drop of Stolen Ink” came about the way so many of my stories do: with a weird sequence of events. I was at work, thinking about Poe because the always-lovely Dahlia had mentioned how awesome it would be to rewrite those tales for a modern audience. (I believe I responded with, “OH PLEASE PLEASE LET ME DO THE PURLOINED LETTER.”) I’ve always adored mysteries – and Poe created the detective archetype with his character of C. Auguste Dupin.
And then I reached beneath a cash register scanner. Which would have been fine and normal – up until the scanner beeped and brought up a number on the computer. I made a joke about someone equipping my arm with a barcode and then my brain immediately jumped on the possibilities.
I adored working on this short story because it’s about how much of ourselves we share with the world. There are some characters’ names who are never revealed and others who put all of themselves out there. It’s about identities, both stolen and reclaimed. And I also just wanted to write an adorable budding f/f romance set in a cyberpunk near-future world, I’ll admit it. I’m really excited to share this story with both new and old readers of Poe.
Dahlia Adler, “Lygia,” a retelling of “Ligeia”
People ask me how I chose to retell “Ligeia” in particular, and the truth is that it basically chose me. I don’t share the horror/thriller strengths of my co-authors here, and I knew that whatever I did was going to have a sort of romantic contemporary sensibility, just a lot more Gothic and tragic than my usual.
“Ligeia” is a story about a man who loses his first wife to illness and remarries, but never quite finds that same love for his second wife before losing her to illness as well. The second wife, however, is the one who returns from the dead…but she returns as his first wife, Ligeia.
Knowing I didn’t want to go paranormal, I knew this was going to be a story about turning a new girlfriend into an old one, trying to revive something that couldn’t be revived and going to mad, toxic lengths to do it. It’s a story that requires praying on insecurities in a way teenage girls have truly mastered, a story I knew would thrive on a specifically female main character. Add that to the perennial queer problem of never quite being sure when your next possibility can or will come along in an area where so few people are out, making the narrator’s loss all the more dramatic and her new venture feel all the more necessary, and you have so many of the components that created “Lygia.”
Having long-wondered what lives beyond the ice shelf, nineteen-year-old mermaid Ersel learns of the life she wants when she rescues and befriends Ragna, a shield-maiden stranded on the mermen’s glacier. But when Ersel’s childhood friend and suitor catches them together, he gives Ersel a choice: say goodbye to Ragna or face justice at the hands of the glacier’s brutal king.Determined to forge a different fate, Ersel seeks help from Loki. But such deals are never as one expects, and the outcome sees her exiled from the only home and protection she’s known. To save herself from perishing in the barren, underwater wasteland and be reunited with the human she’s come to love, Ersel must try to outsmart the God of Lies.
I’d never been particularly pious, but praying to Loki before the ceremony had seemed to help. Or at least, it had eased my anxiety even if the god of lies had had nothing to do with the ceremony’s outcome. I didn’t like the idea of adopting the trickster as my patron god, but if ever I needed a trick or two, it was now. The words of a remembered prayer tumbled from my lips. Everything inside me felt too frozen to make up my own plea.
Blue light shimmered against the back wall of my cave. It was pale and strangely electric and reminded me of watching lightning strike the sea from fifteen arm-lengths below. I swam to my crevice’s mouth. Peering out into the gray water, I squinted at the source of the strange glow. The light became so intense I had to look away. It radiated from a little ball I could hardly see. All of a sudden, it blinked and dimmed. A green and yellow sea turtle glided toward me. The electric blue light glowed from his eye sockets, and he stared right at me. A shiver ran up my back, and my blood cooled.
Above me, the patter of hail echoed through the ocean, followed by the crack of thunder. I wondered if I should scream for help. Was stress making me imagine things? Sea turtles couldn’t survive here, could they? With their cold blood, they needed the summer currents to survive. I shook my head to clear the image, blinked, but the turtle still swam toward me. If I screamed and there was no turtle, the king would think I was losing my mind, and I’d have less chance of defending myself against the things Havamal could say. Plus, I didn’t want to wake Mama. I took a deep breath. My heart felt raw and exposed, blistered and stinging, like a wound cleansed with ocean salt. I wasn’t ready to talk to her.
The turtle drifted peacefully toward me, like a moving lullaby propelled by the tide. The creature’s bright eyes dimmed further, and it cocked its head, winking at me as it coasted through a school of silver fish. Then it began to paddle rapidly; its thick flippers pumped faster and faster until its whole body became a green blur. Overhead, the hail and thunder intensified—almost as if Thor himself surfed across the waves. A bolt of lightning struck the sea and a fiery purple and yellow aurora of fiery diffused over the waves.
When I looked up toward the lights, the turtle slammed into me, knocking me back into the cave. Before I could scream, a hand covered my mouth: a hand that was pink, warm, and strangely dry.
The creature spun me around to face them. Their turtle shell had transformed into a billowing cloak of sparkling greens and golds. Caribou antlers covered with strips of fur stuck out on either side of a silver helmet; each antler was tall enough to scrape the ceiling of my little cave. Blue, electric light emanated from their very skin. A sea snake the color of dying coral wound about their waist. Their form was slim and elegant, androgynous. High cheekbones and pursed midnight-blue lips set off hooded, bright eyes, deep-set in their chiseled face.
I wanted desperately to swim away from them, to hide behind my kelp curtain, but they gripped my shoulders so hard I could feel bruises forming under my scales.
“Do you know who I am?” they demanded, raising a turquoise eyebrow.
The blue light shining from them made my scales glow as if I lay under the sun. A bubble of dry air formed in the ice cave and expanded until it filled the space. A warm feeling crept up from the tip of my tail, even while my stomach sank in fear. The horns reminded me of images from our legends that had been carved into the ice sculptures decorating our central hall. The statues in the hall had frozen their stories into our collective memories.
I swallowed. I was seeing the same face I’d seen every day since I was a child, engraved above me in the dining hall.
“You’re Loki,” I whispered. Why would the trickster god choose to help me? This was only the second time in my life I’d prayed to them. From everything I’d heard about Loki, my situation should have amused them. Maybe they were here to taunt me, to mock me for praying to them concerning a ceremony I didn’t care about and wasting whatever favor my birth season entitled me to.
They nodded, but their eyes never left my face.
“Are you here to mock me?” I asked, my voice trembling. It wasn’t a polite thing to ask a god, but after what I’d been through today, I didn’t have energy left for courtesy.
Laughing, Loki shook their great horned head. Their cackle was high and cruel, but then their eyes softened into something that seemed like affection. That look of care on their pale face was even more terrifying. They rested their warm hand on my back. I imagined their nails filled with poisonous venom and pulled away to avoid getting their toxin on my scales.
But Loki only smiled. “I’ve been watching you for a while, Ersel. It’s not normal for your kind to interact so closely with the human world. You’re curious and intelligent and you don’t follow orders like a sheep. I value all those things.”
I didn’t know what a sheep was, but I nodded at the compliment nonetheless. Their fingers played with the edges of their blue eyebrow. “I want to make a deal with you.”
My scales stood up on my back. Whenever the storytellers talked about Loki, they cautioned against making deals with the god. I cursed myself for carelessness, for letting Havamal follow me. If I hadn’t been such an idiot, maybe I wouldn’t have to decide between angering the god standing in front of me or doing what all our legends warned against: making a deal with the being who invented the lie.