Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hop-Frog's last jest

On March 17, 1849 - just over six months before his death - Edgar A. Poe published the last of his horror tales in the Boston-based periodical Flag of Our Union. "Hop-Frog: Or, the Eight Chained Orangoutangs" features a short-statured jester who works for a practical joke-loving king. Hop-Frog was taken from his home and became a slave of the king's and, on his birthday, the king reminds him of the friends he will never see again. Hop-Frog finally has had enough of the king and decides to perform one last jest...

Poe's horror works stretch as far back as January 1832 when he published "Metzengerstein." So, from "Metzengerstein" to "Hop-Frog," Poe had only 17 years of horror-writing before his death. Some of his horror works aren't quite as scary as they once were and many are forgotten or overshadowed by better-known works. What's important about "Hop-Frog" is that Poe was inspired by a true event.

In the 1840s, Poe's popularity was skyrocketing. First, his reputation was built as a critic and, after 1845, he was one of the most well-known poets of his generation with the publication of "The Raven." Amidst all of this, however, he was making enemies in the literary world (some were his fault, but not always). When people published overly-critical commentary on his character or repuation, Poe retaliated - through lawsuits, of course.

Attacks on his character were particularly troubling to Poe at the end of the decade because he was actively pursuing romantic relationships; at least one relationship was cut off likely because of an assault on his character. Lawsuits, however, can only do so much. So, Poe cleverly hid his revenge in prose, including "The Cask of Amontillado" and, of course, in "Hop-Frog."

Hop-Frog the jester pulls his final, deadly prank on the king and his eight ministers, who are humiliated and burned to death in front of a shocked audience. If Hop-Frog represents Poe, his victims were really people like Thomas Dunn English (more on him another time), Anne Lynch Botta, Hiram Fuller and Margaret Fuller (no relation), among others. The king, of course, was none other than Elizabeth F. Ellet, who was infamous as a trouble-maker (another of her victims, who suffered far more than Poe, was Rufus Wilmot Griswold).

My guess is that Poe had some form of catharsis by venting his anger by creating fiction - and he likely had further enjoyment of the "hoax" by keeping his vengeance a secret.


Anonymous said...

"Good Lord! *choke!*"

(Sorry, couldn't resist that one . . . )

Amateur Reader said...

One of my favorites - still effective.

Hawthorne has a sentence or two on the same historical event in his American journals (I'd have to look up exactly where). Apparently he considered writing a story on the subject.

Gail Lackey said...

Stumbled on your blog via Joyce Stahl, so glad to have found it!

Thats so interesting, I love that story Hop frog! I love Poe!
Happy Hauntings, Gail