It’s safe to say that Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” makes up the foundation of Poe’s reputation as the inventor of the horror genre as we know it today. Having inspired everything from a Simpsons Treehouse Of Horror episode to the name of Baltimore’s NFL franchise, “The Raven” is a cultural touchstone known to schoolchildren the world over. But visitors to Richmond’s Poe Museum over the past 70 years have seen another side to “The Raven,” which was brought to life by the terrifying illustrations of 19th century artist James Carling.
It’s safe to say that Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” makes up the foundation of Poe’s reputation as the inventor of the horror genre as we know it today. Having inspired everything from a Simpsons Treehouse Of Horror episode to the name of Baltimore’s NFL franchise, “The Raven” is a cultural touchstone known to schoolchildren the world over. But visitors to Richmond’s Poe Museum over the past 70 years have seen another side to “The Raven,” which was brought to life by the terrifying illustrations of 19th century artist James Carling. The Raven Illustrations of James Carling by Christopher P. Semtner, released on April 13 by The History Press, brings full-color reproductions of these 43 illustrations to the printed page for the first time, and is therefore a must-own for any fan of Edgar Allan Poe, supernatural horror, or great art in general.
The first half of the book is devoted to telling the story of these illustrations and how they came to be. It begins with a brief chronicle of Poe’s life, devoting a substantial amount of focus to the composition of “The Raven.” None of the details here will be new information for any Poe fan or scholar, but do provide some necessary context for what follows. The biographical details about James Carling, a British-born artist who had some success as a vaudeville sketch artist after emigrating to America, are of greater interest, as they haven’t been nearly as widely told. In fact, if you aren’t familiar with his work from prior visits to The Poe Museum’s Raven Room, you may never have heard of Carling–despite his passing over a century ago, he’s only gained true widespread recognition over the past decade or so.
Carling’s work, as displayed in the latter half of the book, gives plentiful reason for fame finding the artist, even long after his death. While in his lifetime, Carling was unsuccessful in his goal of publishing his “Raven” illustrations–he was beat out for the job of illustrating a 19th century edition by the celebrated French woodcut artist Gustave Dore–his descendants were eventually able to bring his work to the attention of The Poe Museum, which acquired the collection in the 1930s. Remarkably, despite these illustrations being on display at The Poe Museum for the better part of the last century, The Raven Illustrations Of James Carling represents the first complete publication of the illustrations in full-color book form.
Based on the quality of the art herein, it’s a publication that’s long overdue. There’s some pretty great information in the first half of this book, from the story of Carling’s boyhood notoriety on the streets of Liverpool as a chalk artist (you could make a living that way back then) to the information that the Poe Museum’s original creation ultimately grew out of a failed attempt to have a Poe statue built on Monument Avenue (imagine if that had happened). But the real reason to have The Raven Illustrations Of James Carling on your bookshelf is the illustrations themselves. Carling called them “stormier, wilder, and more weird” than the work of Dore and other contemporary illustrators of the poem, and this is definitely true; his dark, supernaturally-tinged illustrations have a psychedelic terror to them that’s unique and breathtaking in its intensity. Alternating between the narrator’s gloomy chamber, as haunted by the raven, and more visionary depictions of such dark visions as desolate starscapes and Viking battles, the images are dominated by blue and black hues but have a rich texture to them that is well preserved by the high-quality presentation they’ve been given by The History Press.
Carling’s artwork will be valued by lovers of great poetry, fine art, and supernatural horror the world over. It puts a fresh and terrifying new face on a Poe classic you probably have memorized by now, and definitely makes a great addition to any bookshelf. Order your copy today from The History Press’s website by clicking here.