Young Adult Inerpretations of the Gothic Classics
Famous Authors like Edgar Allan Poe have maintained their renowned title because few have come after who can capture the truly gothic and gloomy nature of their works. Fast forward roughly 150 years, and new age authors have begun to re-envision these famous works into novels that attract young adults in a way that changes a story’s perspective, content, and impact on the audience yet maintains the overall theme of the original. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” and Bethany Griffin’s The Fall differ in multiple aspects that fall under three categories. The perspective, content, and goal of each piece vary in such a way that Griffin’s novel is not so much an adaptation as a revival of Poe’s famous short story. Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” told from a different point of view, now becomes The Fall by Bethany Griffin. Though both of the works’ perspectives are set in first person they differ greatly in the effect that they have on the reader. The audience has a changed connection with the works because of the variance in narrators, and the unity in that they each take on a first person point of view does not make the two pieces similar. If anything, it makes them even more different.
The Fall’s first-person narrative gives a young adult reader more interest and re-ignites the interest in Poe’s original work. Griffin’s novel sparks the interest with a more detailed and imaginative background given to the audience through flashbacks and memories. Having a young female narrator, Madeline Usher, opens the door for a wider audience base of young adults and original Poe fans all while retelling Poe’s original work in an altered state. The revival of “The Fall of the House of Usher” seems to be a more emotional piece because the audience watches the narrator grow from within. They see more emotion than just fear and a case of mental derangement, while the female narrator matures through the years. The reader sees Madeline go through various stages of life even though she does not ever leave the house. She experiences the emotions that correlate with friendship and predilection, love in various forms, along with the fear and dread associated with all of Poe’s work. The male opposing narration in “The Fall of the House of Usher” creates a more ominous ambience throughout the short story. The narrator, who remains nameless all through the short story, creates a chilling mood for the reader to become immersed in.
The opening sentence of Poe’s original short story reads thus: “During the whole of dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.” This sentence alone sets the tone with which the speaker continues to hold as he recounts his time at the house. Between Roderick’s childhood friend’s descriptions of the environment he was in and the internal dialogue during Madeline’s “resurrection,” Poe created a story that produces chills in the spines of those that read it along with opening the door to inquiries as to what is real and what is imagined in the story. I. M. Walker calls to question whether “…Poe intended Madeline’s reappearance to have any reality outside the deranged minds of the two protagonists in the tale” in his essay “The ‘Legitimate Sources’ of Terror in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’” (588). By changing the narration of the stories, Griffin delivers a very original re-working of Poe’s short story due to the relations and the background she forms for the Usher family.
The original “The Fall of the House of Usher” gives very little groundwork to the Usher twins, largely due to the narration taking place from the stance of Roderick Usher’s childhood friend who came to visit. By using one of the twins as a narrator, Griffin was able to give the reader a better background into the House of Usher and the history of the twins themselves. Poe’s work is able to keep such a sinister story line because of the unknowing. Without the any awareness of the Usher’s history -aside from the incestuous family line, the audience is not sure of the details of the relationships between the narrator, Roderick, and Madeline. They are told that Roderick and the narrator were childhood friends and Roderick and Madeline are twins. Unfortunately this lack of detail leaves the reader with questions regarding the details and history of these relationships. Griffin takes The Fall to a different place when she puts the story line in Madeline’s point of view. The amount of history and foundational information that Griffin creates for the audience throughout the novel helps to answer the questions that Poe left the readers with. Griffin tells the story of a brother, Roderick, who leaves home because his mother and father wanted to save him from the House of Usher’s curse; he has a close friend, Noah (the unnamed narrator in Poe’s original), and a sister Madeline, who is left at home to shoulder the curse alone until her brother comes home for good. These details create a novel that answers the numerous questions that so many young adults ask in relation to Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” By creating Madeline’s short-lived infatuation with a doctor who reciprocates feelings of fascination with her deterioration and demise, Griffin also incorporates a twisted love into Poe’s work. She does this in order to feed into the young adult reader’s desire for love and romance. While there was a lot of success in changing the perspective and the narration of the work in terms of emotional connection, a more detailed background, and love interest, there are also some problems in the ability to replicate some of the aspects from Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” This change in narration does come with a downfall, as can be expected in every re-imagining of classics.
Leaving the narration up to a visiting friend not only keeps the short story scarier, as mentioned before, but also gives the reader the impression of a connection between Roderick and the house. Poe, through the narrator, creates an environment in which Leo Spitzer, author of “A Reinterpretation of ‘The Fall of The House of Usher,” observes that “In Roderick Usher’s world the differences between the human, vegetable, and the mineral kingdoms are abolished.” (357). He also notes that the narrator has come to believe that Roderick thinks that human and plant/mineral qualities are reversed. In the mind that Poe gave Roderick, the house and Roderick are linked. Poe creates a house that is connected to both of the twins but because one is buried only Roderick is affected by it. The Fall keeps some of the association between twins and the house but also produces an idea that the house has a conscious of its own. Instead of a link between Roderick and the House, Griffin creates the attachment between Madeline, the narrator, and the house to give the reader an understanding of the connections. Madeline makes multiple references to the house’s feelings saying “The house is unsettled” (Griffin, 78) “… I try to gauge the mood of the house,” (Griffin 93) and “The house knows that I was prepared to confide my fears, my discoveries, to Roderick” (Griffin 34). These mentions throughout the novel give the reader the impression that the house does have a consciousness and more of a relationship with Madeline than Roderick as Poe’s work emphasizes.
Some critics believe that “The Fall of the House of Usher” is devoted solely to Roderick and the unnamed narrator as protagonists because of the relationship dynamic that the narrator portrays between the house and Roderick along with Madeline’s lack of appearance throughout the original. Leo Spitzer disagrees with these critics in his article titled “A Reinterpretation of ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’” stating that “The fact that she is on stage only for a short time and has no lines to speak should not lead us to underrate her importance, given her impact in the story and the interest which is aroused by her mysterious appearances” (352). The difference of narrative between the two works helps to give an explanation for the difference in content. As with two people seeing the same incident, stories written from a different perspective seem to have details and history that vary. Stories like “The Fall of the House of Usher” told by Roderick’s childhood friend and The Fall told by Madeline Usher, fall within this example of differing perspectives and changing content. The content of Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” focuses on descriptions and actions that surround the here and now while the content of Bethany Griffin’s The Fall emphasizes the reasoning and thought processes behind those actions with the narrator and main characters. The concentration in Poe’s work is on the in-depth portrayal the narrator uses to describe the environment and the actions taking place throughout the story. The pursuit with which Poe explored mental derangement and fright-filled imageries throughout his short story exemplify the differences in audiences as compared to Griffin’s work. I. M. Walker supposes that Poe was so interested in the popular opinion of science and medicine during his lifetime that Poe reflected this passion of mental instability and macabre in his literature in his “The ‘Legitimate Sources’ of Terror in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher.’” Poe’s keen interest in the psychological and medical information available in his time gave him the information Poe needed to fill “The Fall of the House of Usher” with psychologically thrilling descriptions and actions. The audience witnesses Roderick’s mental derangement and the narrator’s deterioration as the short story continues.
Though from the beginning, Roderick seems to be a little unbalanced, I. M. Walker brings to light that the narrator’s “seemingly detached and rational earlier attitudes for the most part disappear, and his mind begins to submit to the power of Roderick’s mad fantasies…” (590). From the ghoulish descriptions of the house and the actions that take place there to the focus on the psychosis that takes over the protagonists, Poe created a short story that could not be replicated. Though Griffin takes “The Fall of the House of Usher” and re-imagines it, she takes a different approach to reviving it. Griffin chooses to focus on the reasoning and the questions buried within the original short story, rather than the descriptions that Poe put his attention towards. The Fall sets up a back story for the Usher twins set in what could be considered a flashback of Madeline’s life as she is buried in the coffin. Why the house has such a connection to the Ushers, why the family is cursed, how the narrator of “The Fall of the House of Usher” knows and cares so much for Roderick, and why the doctors seem to be so creepy are all answered within Griffin’s novel. The Fall morphed a terror-filled, Gothic short story into a novel that sent message to its young adult readers. Its content maintained the lessons and themes that many young adult novels today hold. Young Adult readers can see the narrator of The Fall take control of her own life and change the situation she was in. Griffin took the horror and suspense of “The Fall of the House of Usher” and morphed it into a life lesson that appeals to those that enjoy the suspense.
The content of each work illustrates the goals of the authors and the way their work impacted its audience. Poe’s descriptive powers and attention to the detailed actions taking place causes the reader to feel more fear and better understand the terror that the narrator is facing though some argue that there was an ulterior motive. The dread that “The Fall of the House of Usher” worked so hard to instill in the reader kept young readers from reading it until schools began using the short story as a lesson in American Literature courses. When The Fall was published in 2014, “The Fall of the House of Usher” had lost some of its appeal as many classics eventually do. Bethany Griffin revived the Gothic horror stories and the interest in Edgar Allan Poe as an author with her re-imagined version. The life lesson buried throughout the novel that encourages the reader to take control of their destiny as the narrator did is vastly different than Poe’s most popular impact on the audience. Poe is known for his ability to scare the audience with graphic descriptions and mental instability though there are conspiracies and research that Poe had a different purpose for impacting his audience. One such conspiracy is that “The Fall of the House of Usher” is written as a metaphor to the after effects of the Panic of 1837 (known as the Revulsion of 1837). Gavin Jones refers to “The Fall of the House of Usher” as “the story of the decline of an aristocratic family into dilapidation and extinction, [it] seems an allegory of an era when rapid social and economic collapse was becoming the norm.” (4). Although no one truly knows Edgar Allan Poe wanted his audience to experience when reading “The Fall of the House of Usher,” one can assume that it was vastly different than the impact that Bethany Griffin envisioned.
“The Fall of the House of Usher” and its re-imagining The Fall showcase the methods, changes, and revisions that original classics and their adaptations, retellings, or spin-offs use to attract younger audiences. The change in perspective, content, and the impact these changes can have on its audience represent the correlation between the new and the old. The correlation between them exemplifies the reasoning that both of these works of literature are able to tell a greater story than the one either tells alone. The change in narration gives the reader a better understanding of the relationship between the twins, the house, and the unnamed childhood friend. The content that each author focuses on gives a suspenseful and thrilling short story while also answering the questions a reader has about the history of the Usher family. Thus, Poe and Griffin are able to impact the reader differently with their works while still maintaining the relation and interest between the two.
Jos. E. Gillet. Modern Language Notes 33.3 (1918): 175–177. Web. 21 Mar. 2016. Gavin Jones. “Poor Poe: On the Literature of Revulsion.” American Literary History 23.1 (2011): 1-18.Project MUSE. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.