Summer Books: Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination & Poe-Inspired “Ghost Story Starters”
It’s Ghost Story time at Summer of Funner!
On Friday, as part of our outdoor campout [post to follow], I read the kids two stories from Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination. First, I took a flying leap and read them the rather gruesome story of “The Black Cat.” [Warning, parents – this story is not for the faint at heart – you might just want to skip down below to our discussion of “The Purloined Letter” for a more do-able kiddie option!] Ages eight and ten seemed a very young audience as I read aloud the tale of a man whose alchoholism leads him to abuse and murder his cat and, later, to murder his wife and to attempt to hide her body. Of course, the cat’s doppleganger arrives to call attention to the man’s crimes — a figure of poetic justice, indeed! Gruesome as it may have been, I still think it was a good choice or reading and that, as a family, we handled the subject matter well. The kids had begun listening to the story by sketching in their Yesterday Books, but as the story progressed, they cuddled their stuffed animals and each other in the tent. After I read the tale in its entirety, however, we immediately focused on some generic aspects of the tale to gain perspective. I talked to them about how interesting it was that the story was in the first person, a confession by the “bad man” himself. Then, we talked about the old saying that cats have “nine lives,” and how the second cat in the story is a kind of double or “doppleganger” for the first one who suffered so severely. Returning to the distressing aspects of the story, we talked a great deal about human rights, animal cruelty, and how very distressed we all were to hear such violence so explicitly detailed. I asked them to talk about if there was a “moral” to the story and if so, what it was. As it turned out, the kids had many “morals” to draw from the story. We talked for a long time about how difficult it must be to rally from alcoholism or, as L.M. Montgomery would put it, from “the depths of despair,” once you have begun to depend upon alcohol or to despair. And we talked about ways one might seek help. We also discussed poetic justice and, as Tobes called it, “Car-mom” [Karma]. Then, I asked them to tell me other ways that the story might have been narrated, and what differences they would anticipate in the tale if the story were told by the cat? the wife? or one of the policemen who arrested the speaker of the story? This helped the kids calm down a bit.
If you’re looking for a more Little-Kid-Friendly introduction to Poe that the early-readers can even tackle on their own, try the Stepping Stones Tales of Terror adaptation of Poe.
Second, we moved on to a story which found much more overall praise and affection among the group, “The Purloined Letter.” As you may recall, the kids love love love their Sherlock Holmes [see our Last Minute New Years Eve Party, and our 2012 MARCH breACK! “Study in Emerald” activities] and so I prefaced the story by talking about how Doyle credited Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin [the protagonist of this story as well as “Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “Mystery of Marie Roget”] as a model for his own Sherlock. Likewise, the unnamed narrator of the story, Dupin’s companion, is a fore-runner of Watson! For the kids, “The Purloined Letter” was just as entertaining a detective story as their beloved Sherlock. As the sun went down, and as Papa joined us in our tent, we heard all about the police inspector’s failed attempts to find a letter hidden in the home of the man who stole it from a woman prominent in society and politics. I left out a few of the lengthy paragraphs on human nature as I read, easily skipping ahead to the “facts of the case” [these are easy to spot as you read along- and the kids really had no idea I’d left anything out]. They loved Dupin’s critiques of the Police Inspector’s simplicity of mind. And they cheered Dupin as he explained to his companion how exactly it was that he found and made away with the letter-in-question after a mere two visits to the suspect’s home, earning quite a great deal of money in the process.
What followed were a few invented stories in the dark!
- Tell us where, how, and why you hid some sort of treasure from your family and friends before you disappeared.
- Tell a story about a person who encounters a “double” or “doppleganger” of a long lost person or pet.
- You’re the sidekick of a famous private detective, tell us about your latest case and how it was solved.
- In the voice of a ghost, tell how and why you became a ghost.
- You’ve been invited to a strange house, and, at night, you overhear a private conversation. Who’s speaking? What do they say? And, what do you do about it?
- It’s dark. You’re inside. And, there’s a person or animal making noise somewhere outside. Tell us about your surroundings, what you see and hear outside, how you feel, and what you do about it!!
- “Read” us the letter of a ghost written to his or her former love interest before he or she “passed on.”
- You’re visiting a crime scene as a special guest of the police. Tell us how and what you get a criminal to confess to the police.
- Tell a story of revenge involving a circus performer.
- Make a long list of all of the “scariest things” in the world and chant it like a “spell.”
- Talk about a person who gets hypnotized, what they do while they are hypnotized, and all about the character of the person who hypnotizes them in the first place.
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