Rewriting Poe

Did I rewrite Poe? Yes, I rewrote Poe.

I claimed my right to channel the tortured Madeline Usher and break her silence based on my long history with Poe.  I first read his stories at age eleven. If you’re familiar with Poe and the literature of his time, you’ll appreciate and cringe at his use of big ten gallon words as Tom Swifties in place of “he said.” Most infamous is “he ejaculated” from “Dr. Tarr and Professor Feather.” At age eleven I was reading the story in the back of my mom’s car and almost caused a wreck when I asked her what “ejaculated” meant. She was quite religious and small-minded. To her credit, when she saw I was reading literature and not outright smut, she showed relief and tolerance. I don’t think she ever answered my question, though.

Revisiting Usher as an adult blew me away; I’d forgotten that Madeline never speaks in the story, and my counselor eyes saw no end of twisted perversions in the family dynamics. I pounded out a first draft in one sitting just for fun, and later did research on critical expositions and opinions on the story. Personally, I side with the idea that Poe was more interested in the house as a character than anything else. He espouses this curious philosophy in the story, and it’s the point of the poem within the story, the song that Roderick sings.

Can we just stop here and appreciate how gloriously pretentious it is to put a poem in the middle of a story? Oh yeah, I’ve done it once, and I’m totally doing it again.

Most critics find the incest theme fairly obvious, but some others critique Madeline as being at fault for the house collapsing. One writer catalogued all Poe’s descriptions of the decrepit, dirty state of the house and concluded that Madeline caused the fall because she didn’t keep the house clean. No, I swear, I’m not making this up. And they didn’t say Roderick should have gotten out his tool box and fixed things, either. What’s even better in terms of shock value is that this was a female-identified writer. I won’t name names.

Madeline deserved revenge and still deserves revenge for idiotic ideas like the one stated above. Turning a modern eye on the story while maintaining an ecstatically pretentious Gothic voice, I decided to say a nice big Eff You to all the victim-blamers.

In my story, Madeline survives. I won’t tell you how, because that’s the fun of the story and the puzzle I strove to solve in digging into it. I will tell you straight up that she survives, and that this is the best revenge against oppression or abuse.

Remember this: The survivor always wins.

Read “The Revenge of Madeline Usher” in the anthology NOT ALL MONSTERS from Rooster Republic Press.

Published by: Joe

Joe Koch writes literary horror and surrealist trash. A Shirley Jackson Award finalist, Joe is the author of The Wingspan of Severed Hands, The Couvade, and Convulsive. Their short fiction appears in publications such as Vastarien, Southwest Review, Pseudopod, and Children of the New Flesh. He’s been a flash fiction judge for Cemetery Gates Media as well as co-editing the art horror anthology Stories of the Eye from Weirdpunk Books. Find Joe (he/they) online at and on Twitter @horrorsong.

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