GUEST POST – Surly Joe
“As for myself, I am simply Hop-Frog, the jester and this is my last jest.” – Edgar Allan Poe, Tales of Mystery and Imagination
FROM GOODREADS – Hop-Frog and his friend Trippetta have been captured by one of the king’s generals and brought back to the King as servants. Hop-Frog serves as jester to the king and Trippetta helps to plan and decorate for social events. She is also forced to dance for the king and his court. Both Hop-Frog and Trippetta are dwarves. The King and his ministers enjoy laughing at and abusing Hop-Frog. Even his name is the result of their making fun of the way he walks. When the abuse becomes unbearable, Hop-Frog devises and carries out an ingenious but horrific plan of revenge upon the King and his ministers.
Edgar Allan Poe was a failure as a businessman, a failure as a husband, an outcast, an impoverished alcoholic. He died mysteriously, found delirious near a poll-booth in Baltimore. His life, by all accounts, was miserable. But in the 1830s and 40s, his literary genius shone and he created some of America’s greatest, most disturbing and most horrific poetry and prose.
His masterpieces are famous, the stories and poems that have been studied, reviewed, dissected for almost two centuries. The opening lines instill an immediate feeling of dread. “I am sick – sick unto death” begins The Pit and the Pendulum. “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary” pulls the reader into The Raven. And perhaps his most famous, The Tell-Tale Heart introduces its murderous psychosis in capital letters with “TRUE! – NERVOUS – VERY, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?”. These are his elite creations.
But lurking in the background are the obscure tales, mostly unknown except to ardent Poe fans. They deal with similar themes of madness, revenge, violence and victimization. They are disturbing and dark and wonderful. They are well-represented by Hop-Frog.
In an unspecified location at an unspecified time, a king and his seven ministers, all “large, corpulent, oily men” were lovers of practical jokes. For their amusement, they retained a crippled dwarf nicknamed Hop-Frog. He was “a jester to laugh with, and a dwarf to laugh at”. Hop-Frog and his female companion Tripetta had been stolen from their home by the king’s generals and given to the king as gifts. They were treated poorly unless they were amusing him.
When the king and his ministers decide to host a grand masquerade, they demand that Hop-Frog and Tripetta come up with ideas for their costumes. To encourage Hop-Frog’s creativity, they embarrass him and force him to drink wine, even though it “excited the poor cripple almost to madness”. It was the final humiliation.
The night of the masquerade, having convinced the king and his entourage that it would be a hilarious prank to show up dressed as wild orangutans, chained together and acting wildly, Hop-Frog exacts his revenge. Grating his “fang-like teeth” and foaming at the mouth, he captures the “beasts” and burns them alive until they are nothing but a “blackened hideous and indistinguishable mass”. Hop-Frog and Tripetta vanish in the chaos and are never seen again.
In only a few short pages, Hop-Frog touches on themes that still resonate today – abuse of power, victimization, and the difficulties of the less-fortunate. Undoubtedly, Edgar Allan Poe shared these frustrations as his life struggled onward with no hope in sight. Unable to act out in real life, his characters, like Hop-Frog, became his outlet. After almost two centuries, his depictions of rage, violence and madness are as terrifying and disturbing as ever.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The name Poe brings to mind images of murderers and madmen, premature burials, and mysterious women who return from the dead. His works have been in print since 1827 and include such literary classics as “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Raven,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” This versatile writer’s oeuvre includes short stories, poetry, a novel, a textbook, a book of scientific theory, and hundreds of essays and book reviews. He is widely acknowledged as the inventor of the modern detective story and an innovator in the science fiction genre, but he made his living as America’s first great literary critic and theoretician. Poe’s reputation today rests primarily on his tales of terror as well as on his haunting lyric poetry.
Just as the bizarre characters in Poe’s stories have captured the public imagination so too has Poe himself. He is seen as a morbid, mysterious figure lurking in the shadows of moonlit cemeteries or crumbling castles. This is the Poe of legend. But much of what we know about Poe is wrong, the product of a biography written by one of his enemies in an attempt to defame the author’s name.
The real Poe was born to traveling actors in Boston on January 19, 1809. Edgar was the second of three children. His other brother William Henry Leonard Poe would also become a poet before his early death, and Poe’s sister Rosalie Poe would grow up to teach penmanship at a Richmond girls’ school. Within three years of Poe’s birth both of his parents had died, and he was taken in by the wealthy tobacco merchant John Allan and his wife Frances Valentine Allan in Richmond, Virginia while Poe’s siblings went to live with other families. Mr. Allan would rear Poe to be a businessman and a Virginia gentleman, but Poe had dreams of being a writer in emulation of his childhood hero the British poet Lord Byron. Early poetic verses found written in a young Poe’s handwriting on the backs of Allan’s ledger sheets reveal how little interest Poe had in the tobacco business.
In his own words – Surly Joe is a moderately nondescript Toronto-based white guy who spends too much time contemplating the nature of boredom. His aspirations waver between wanting to be either a professional gambler or a Zen monk, with a touch of writing on the side. After completing university with a degree in a subject that does not readily lead to any sort of viable employment, he wandered through Europe and Northern Africa for a while collecting stories and useless trivia, circumstance led to a career back in Toronto. He now spends his money on food, friends, wine and annual trips to Las Vegas.