The Black Throne

This one was read last October. I always try to make time for some Poe in October. I’m not quite that far behind my reviews, but this one got overlooked, so it’s a bit of a backtrack.

Review: The Black Throne, Roger Zelazny and Fred Saberhagen, 1990.

Cover by David B. Mattingly

This novel is a farrago of the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe and involves multiple worlds.

We open with Annie on the shore of a fog shrouded sea. She meets two identical looking boys:  Edgar Perry (Poe’s name when he was a sergeant in the US Army) and Edgar Allan (that would have been Poe’s name if he had been formerly adopted by his step family). They go out into the sea to look at a body. Edgar Allan is near it when he loses contact with this dream world but not before he hears the call of “E-tekeli-li” (from Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym). Next, we see Edgar Perry near Fort Moultrie (where Poe served and site of his story “The Gold Bug”). Perry sees Annie riding by in a coach. He has long seen Annie in his dreams. Annie, from the coach, seems to telepathically ask for him to rescue her, that she is being taken away to be done harm, and she is possibly drugged. Annie is, of course, the woman from Poe’s “Annabel Lee”.

And so, in the first chapter, we set the tone for what will be a story that works in many of the elements of Poe’s life and his works – some obscure, some obvious. (I’ll admit I recognized most of them, but, for a few, I had to resort to Dawn B. Sova’s Edgar Allan Poe A to Z to refresh my memory.)

The various Poes will get involved in a plot to use Annie in a great alchemical work. The story will careen from dream-worlds to America to Europe to the sea and to the air and back to America again. It seems mostly an excuse for the authors to see how much of Poe’s life and works can be fitted in. There are three, maybe four versions of Poe in this story with the Poe we know mostly a doomed figure off stage. Our villains are Charles Goodfellow (from “Thou Art the Man”), Doctor Templeton (from “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains”), and Rufus Griswold, Poe’s notoriously malicious literary executor.

The novel was a pleasant diversion as I curiously anticipated what the authors would next shoehorn into this literary homage. I particularly enjoyed their version of “The Casque of Amontillado” and “The Pit and the Pendulum”. One M. Valdemar – as in “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” – shows up. As in the story, he exists on the boundary of death and life. And he complains about it constantly to his nurse Ligeia in some light-hearted interludes.

I could describe more of the plot. I could list all the allusions. But that would take about 2,600 words which is how long my notes were on this novel.

The novel has a couple of problems.

First, it’s not entirely clear how many Poes we’re dealing with: three or at least four? I opt for the latter. Also, time runs at a different speed in the various universes these Poes inhabit which makes for a confusing narrative.

Second, this comes novel comes close to invoking that demeaning cliché about Poe: that his stories and poems sprang not from his imagination but drugs or, in this case, access to other realms.

I did appreciation the explanation the novel gave for “our” Poe’s problems with liquor: he comes from a world where it is not drank in such large portions.

I’m not sure I can really recommend this novel to anyone but a hardcore Poe fan who wants to test their familiarity with Poe. It’s obviously a peculiar work of love and literary gamesmanship on the part of the authors.

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