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Wired on Poe

April 21, 2010

Wired has a short but to the point article about Edgar Allan Poe and his role in the invention and rise of the detective story. Poe’s place in such a history is well established, but what is interesting about this piece is the way it casually namechecks detectives from Sherlock Holmes to Mike Hammer, Jake Gittes from the film Chinatown, and even Batman, the ‘postmodern equivalent’ of Holmes (presumably referring to the recent, post-Frank Miller Batman, since the Bill Finger/Bob Kane original seems to fit a more modernistic world-view). In a piece this short such connections can’t be explored fully, but still there is a case to be made for the wider influence of Poe and it is perhaps time for a reassessment. A thought-provoking read anyway:

This self-referential circularity extended to the story’s composition, in which readers were slowly clued in to the details of the murders through their literary ciphers. It was a mechanism that evoked Poe’s extensive interest in crytopgraphy, notably outlined in “A Few Words on Secret Writing,” published in Graham’s Magazine three months after “Rue Morgue.”

Poe’s fascination and skill with ingenious detection took serious hold after his death, especially in the work of Doyle, whose Sherlock Holmes first appeared in 1887. Holmes has since come to embody Dupin’s gift for inferential logic and deduction. “Each [of Poe’s detective stories] is a root from which a whole literature has developed,” Doyle once said. “Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?”

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