Peril of the Short Story
“William Wilson” by Edgar Allan Poe
From comparatively trivial wickedness I passed, with the stride of a giant, into more than the enormities of an Elah-Gabalus.
This is my first reading of this story. I haven’t come across too many doppelganger tales. Poe does this one up pretty well although without the uncanny terror I expected. Instead, we have the tale of William Wilson—not his real name—and the double that seems to haunt him through life.
Wilson first encounters his double in boarding school. They are not friends; the original Wilson plays pranks on the second while the second offers advice (presumably on better living). The two boys share the same name and after some time, the second Wilson seems to take on the look and mannerisms of the first. Unnerved, Wilson leaves school. The second Wilson continues to dog the first, ruining the first Wilson’s plans over and over again. Finally, in Rome, first Wilson accosts second Wilson, stabbing him fatally. But is the second Wilson the only one “murdered”?
Obviously, this tale can be taken as allegory. The second Wilson can be seen as the first’s conscience, stolidly foiling plans to do immoral and illegal things. But it’s also a Poe story full of Gothic architecture, creeping around sleeping people, and Roman fetes. Even before the doppelganger shows up, Wilson seems to suffer from a great deal of self-loathing, which makes it really hard to be confronted with one’s double. I also found Poe’s mentions of race and environment interesting in relation to Wilson’s behaviors—both are important. Other crunchy bit: details on cheating at cards.
A reread for me. It was included in The Unknown Poe which I read last year.
Mostly an essay, but also a short story, Poe describes his concept of the imp of the perverse. The imp that destructive urge that takes hold sometimes, whether it be to cave to temptation or that not-so-fleeting thought of what it might be like to jump when standing at the edge of the somewhere high. In Poe’s opinion, you can’t get around these urges by thinking; its the very thoughts of the perverse thing that take hold and multiply. On a fluffy scale: The more I think about not blowing my diet on donuts, the more I *want* donuts. Having problems with addiction as Poe did, this concept isn’t surprising.
In the short story portion, our narrator tells us how he cleverly knocked off a relative and inherited the relative’s estate. He would have totally gotten away with it too, if he hadn’t have started thinking about the only way he’d be caught: by making a confession.
Peril on the Screen
There is a lot of social commentary to unpack in this movie (as happens in many good horror movies), but aside from that, Get Out is a nicely made psychological thriller. I was really impressed with the look of this movie and the acting. I’m not sure the story would work as well if the actors hadn’t bought in to their characters.
Peril of the Playlist
So I’ve been working on a Halloween build in Minecraft and I got it into my head to have music playing when you walk into one of the rooms. I’m no note block guru, so I decided on an eight note motif: the beginning of the Dies irae from Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique (at the 3:16 mark of the video). This entire movement, known as the Dream of the Night of the Sabbath, as well as the whole symphony, is pretty appropriately perilous.
Other places to visit. ‘Tis the season!
- Paula Cappa’s blog is a hub of classic horror as well as her own writing.
- Brian Coldrick’s Behind You animated web comic.
- The October Reading Club on Facebook. Short stories every-other day through October