By Siham Elmali
There are many authors that have crossed the boundary of the written word to influence popular culture via other mediums in America and other countries. These writers have become culturally integrated into people’s lives. Their legacy can be seen everywhere; from TV, films, and commercials, to commercial products, like a figure on a mug or a t-shirt. Standing out among these authors is Edgar Allan Poe, who is perhaps one of the few authors to have fully permeated the American pop-culture. If one only considered only nineteenth-century American authors, no author had made as many appearances in contemporary popular culture as Edgar Allan Poe1.
Poe’s tales have inspired filmmakers, artists and composers. These have been adapted into various forms of multimedia, where artists recreating his works in all media bearing his mark, or even featuring the author himself as a character in many fictionalized vignettes. For a man who has been dead for 168 years, his ongoing popularity is more related to the fact that there is something in his writings for any reader. It’s reasonable to say that the attraction of Poe’s work has spread beyond the realms of art and literature; the former Baltimore resident has become more of an icon and his legacy can be seen everywhere.
Examples of Poe’s reach can be witnessed in numerous places. For instance, during my last visit to the Poe House, the tour guide explained that the drama The Wire frequently mentioned Edgar Allan Poe by bringing up the Poe Homes – state homes that are famously known as housing projects – in which all sorts of violent crimes take place. In music, Edgar Allan Poe was mentioned in the Beatles “I am The Walrus” song, and several of his works were mentioned in Voltaire’s song “Graveyard Picnic”. In film, over eighty feature length movies in thirteen countries have been based on Poe’s life and tales; and thousands of illustrated editions of his writings published in over thirty countries2-3.
Poe’s ongoing popularity could eventually apply to many contemporary authors. For instance, Stephen King is widely considered as a major figure in world of literature, particularly in horror and supernatural fiction, which is not at all dissimilar to much of Poe’s work. King’s writing style – and more specifically his tendency for steadily building suspense – is reminiscent of Poe’s technique. Many of King’s works have been adapted into various other genres, including feature films, miniseries, TV shows, and comic books. King’s works appeal to a broader audience, as he has taken an active role in connecting to his audience. King’s most popular novels/novellas, “The Shining”, “The Dreamcatcher”, and “The Shawshank Redemption” were each adapted into successful movies. In many ways, one can look at King as an heir to Poe, though not quite as many of King’s works have been adapted yet. The following image is the cover page of the three movies from a DVD I currently have.
It’s only fair to concede that living in Baltimore might be a source of bias, and it can give the impression that Poe’s apparent popularity (due to his association with the city) is universal. However, looking at things from a more objective global perspective, there are various worldwide-known authors whose works have been adapted into films, television and other mediums even more than Poe. The following chart shows the most adapted writers of all times according to the IMDB database4.
There are certainly a few writers who can be considered more popular by count of their works being adapted into other mediums. While this is a single metric, I personally have not found many of these authors’ works (and their adaptations) as compelling as those of Poe, especially across such a wide variety of media formats. Most people who read Poe or are otherwise familiar with his writings will probably agree that Poe allows the reader to become more of a participant in the story rather than merely being an observer. Each story and poem is a puzzle and carry hidden meanings embedded between the lines1.
The proliferation of both modern and classical literature fascinates me. In some cases, authors are becoming more appreciated during their lifetime, in contrast to many others like Poe or Shakespeare, who didn’t have the privilege of enjoying their popularity. In either case, adaptations provide a strong mechanism to carry and preserve an author’s legacy well beyond their time. Through modernized transformations, even long-dead authors never cease to be relevant and admired by modern society.
- “Edgar Allan Poe’s Enduring Fame.” Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore – General Topics – Edgar Allan Poe’s Enduring Fame. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 May 2017.
- Inge, M. Thomas. “Poe and the Comics Connection.” The Edgar Allan Poe Review, vol. 2, no. 1, 2001.
- Pollin, Burton. Images of Poe ‘s Works: A Comprehensive Descriptive Catalogue of Illustrations. Westport: Greenwood, 1989 and Smith, Don G. The Poe Cinema: A Critical Filmography of Theatrical Releases Based on the Works of Edgar Allan Poe. Jefferson: McFarland, 199.
- Wickman, Forrest. “The Most Adapted Authors: Revised and Expanded Edition (INFOGRAPHIC).” Slate Magazine. N.p., 23 Mar. 2011. Web. 11 May 2017.