Friday, February 27, 2009
This week's selection is "Never Bet the Devil your Head: A Tale with a Moral". I have to say I think it's the weirdest of all the weird Poe stories I've read so far.
Our friendly first-person narrator expresses chagrin that he has been accused of never writing a story with a moral. So, he says, he will give us one, and even better, we won't have to guess what the moral is - he's already given it to us in the title. Yep, that's right, his moral is "Never Bet the Devil your Head."
He then tells the tale of Toby Dammitt, a bad young man, made worse in his youth by his mother's flogging him with her left hand. (Apparently, flogging with the right hand drives the evil out, but flogging with the left hand pushes it deeper in.) Toby has lots of vices, and his favorite curse is "I bet the devil my head..." One day he bets that he can jump over a covered bridge. Unfortunately, this is the day the devil has come to collect on the bet. You can imagine the rest.
This is pretty clearly a satirical tale, making fun of the notion that every story needs a moral. Apparently, it is also an attack on Transcendentalism. I'm really fascinated by the way in which Poe, and probably other writers of his time, used their work to send very clear, pointed messages against the ideas and people they disliked. It would be like Stephen King writing a short story dissing Stephenie Meyer. Today, people just say they don't like you - back then, they would channel the irritation into something weird and creative, and readers could spend their time figuring out who was being attacked. Interesting the way society has changed.
As for this particular story, it was just weird. Not one of my favorites, but it certainly got its point across!
Next week we will be reading another short story, The Angel of the Odd. Poe Fridays is hosted by Kristen at We Be Reading.