Summaries of Edgar Allan Poe Stories

The following brief summaries are designed to quickly give readers an idea of what each story is about. Find something of interest then take a trip into Poe's imagination...

Summaries are listed in alphabetical order, by story title:


"The Angel of the Odd"

Comedy about being drunk

Read "The Angel of the Odd"


"The Balloon Hoax"

Newspaper story about balloon travel

This story appeared in the New York Sun in 1844 and claimed to have details about a group of men that successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a new type of balloon. Although it looked like a real story, it was completely ficticious, created entirely from Poe's imagination.

Read "The Balloon Hoax"



Horror story about teeth

This is a really creepy story with a gruesome ending. I don't want to give too much away. If you like horror stories, read this one. You'll shudder after you finish it...

"There came a light tap at the library door, and pale as the tenant of a tomb, a menial entered upon tiptoe. His looks were wild with terror, and he spoke to me in a voice tremulous, husky, and very low..."

Read "Berenice"


"The Black Cat"

Horror story about a cat

A drunk man kills his cat and it comes back to haunt him. In Poe's usual style, the narrator of the story is the killer and we see things through his eyes. Quite a horrific tale.

Read "The Black Cat"


"The Cask of Amontillado"

A story of revenge

The narrator in this story vows revenge upon a man named Fortunato. He takes advantage of Fortunato's ego and lures him down into the recesses of an underground vault to taste a rare wine, a cask of Amontillado.

"He had a weak point --this Fortunato --although in other regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself on his connoisseurship in wine."

Read "The Cask of Amontillado"


"A Descent Into The Maelström"

Man vs. Nature, Adventure Story

Three fisherman are at sea, off the coast of Norway. They encounter a hurricane and must fight for their lives while trying to avoid the Maelström, a huge whirlpool that sucks down anything in its path. Can these men survive the hurricane and escape the force of the Maelström?

"A singular change, too, had come over the heavens. Around in every direction it was still as black as pitch, but nearly overhead there burst out, all at once, a circular rift of clear sky — as clear as I ever saw — and of a deep bright blue — and through it there blazed forth the full moon with a lustre that I never before knew her to wear. She lit up every thing about us with the greatest distinctness — but, oh God, what a scene it was to light up !"

Read "A Descent Into The Maelström"



A love story

A beautiful love story. In many ways, it parallels Poe's life and his love for his wife, Virginia. The question is, who does the person at the end of the story represent?

Read "Eleonora"


"The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar"

Talking with a dead man

A man dying from tuberculosis asks his friend, the narrator of the story, to hypnotize him just before death. The event is witnessed by two doctors and a medical student. The results are interesting to say the least.

Read "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar"


"The Fall of the House of Usher"

An old house and its secrets

One of the most widely read of Poe's stories. The narrator receives a desperate letter from a "boyhood friend" requesting that he come to see him. The friend, a mister Roderick Usher, lives in a very old mansion out near a swamp. Once inside, the narrator finds more than he expected. A classic story of a creepy guy living in a haunted house.

"The room in which I found myself was very large and lofty. The windows were long, narrow, and pointed, and at so vast a distance from the black oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessible from within."

Read "The Fall of the House of Usher"


"The Gold Bug"

A search for pirate treasure

If Poe lived today, he could have been a hacker. In this story, two friends and a servant go on a hunt for the fabled buried treasure of Captain Kidd. Through his character named William Legrand, Poe explains how to decode an encrypted message. With Poe's technique, you could actually hack certain encrypyed messages! Besides being a great "Sherlock Holmes" type adventure story, it gives an insight into Poe's intelligence.

Read "The Gold Bug"



A midget seeks revenge

Are you looking for a short story about a crippled midget who seeks revenge on those who mistreat him and make fun of him? Well, this is that story.

Read "Hop-Frog"


"The Imp of the Perverse"

Procrastination and confession

A great little 5 page story about human nature. The narrator talks about how we can stand on the edge of a cliff, knowing it will be suicide to jump off, yet we wonder what it would be like. There is also a great paragraph about procrastination. Poe's character in this story is a murderer who is fighting the urge to confess his crime.

Read "The Imp of the Perverse"


"The Island of the Fay"

A poetic discussion

Another very short piece that is not really a story but a discussion about music, the nature of God and the universe, and finally, a beautiful and poetic visualization of life and death. "Fay" means fairy, or elf.

Read "The Island of the Fay"



A haunting supernatural tale

Probably my favorite Poe story. The narrator of the story describes his beautiful wife, Ligeia. She was tall and slender with pale skin and long black hair. She dies and he is heartbroken. Some time later he decides to move on with his life and he remarries. Strange things start to happen as the narrator thinks more and more about his first love, Ligeia...

Wait for a rainy night, turn off all the lights and light some candles before you read this story. Poe does such a great job of describing the surroundings in this story, you can easily place yourself there.

Read "Ligeia"


"The Man of the Crowd"

How to follow someone

A man is sitting in a coffee shop, watching all of the different kinds of people moving through the streets. A particluar old man catches his attention and he decides to follow him to learn more about him...

This story really makes you think. Its a story that you'll want to read several times.

Read "The Man of the Crowd"


"Manuscript Found in a Bottle"

Adventure at sea

This was the first story Poe received any money for. He entered it in a short story contest and won the prize. The narrator of the story is a passenger on a sailing ship. After several days at sea, they encounter a violent storm. The ship is being torn to pieces by the wind and the waves...

Read "Manuscript Found in a Bottle"


"The Masque of the Red Death"

The horror of the plague

The "Red Death" is a plague which has killed off half of the population. Prince Prospero gathers a thousand people from the knights and royalty. They seal themselves off from the rest of the world in an extensive castle, in an attempt to separate themselves from the horrible conditions on the outside. But, can they escape the Red Death?

Read "The Masque of the Red Death"


"Mesmeric Revelation"

Conversation with a hypnotized dying man

After hypnotizing a dying patient, a doctor has a remarkable conversation with him about the nature of the universe, spirits, and God.

Read "Mesmeric Revelation"


"The Murders in the Rue Morgue"

A detective story

Poe invented the detective story with this tale. The main character is C. Auguste Dupin, a sleuth that solves crimes by deduction. Two women have been brutally murdered and it appears that there was no way in or out of the room where the murders took place. How does Dupin figure it out? Who killed the women? (They didn't kill each other)

A reporter asked Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1894 if he had been influenced by the work of Edgar Allan Poe. The creator of Sherlock Holmes replied, "Oh, immensely! His detective is the best detective in fiction."

Read "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"


"Never Bet the Devil Your Head"

A comedy with a moral

A short comedy, only a few pages long. The first part is a narrative about stories that do not have morals. You almost wonder if Poe is talking about himself. The narrator describes his friend Toby Dammit whose favorite phrase is, "I'll bet the Devil my head!" As the story continues, the narrator and his friend Dammit are out for a walk in the country. They come to an old covered bridge and as they are crossing it, a strange little man appears...

Read "Never Bet the Devil Your Head"


"The Oval Portrait"

A tragic love story

A painter is so obsessed with painting the perfect portrait of his beautiful wife, that he does nothing else until it is finished. As an artist myself, I can relate to this story in more ways than one. It is very short, only a couple of pages, but definitely worth reading.

Read "The Oval Portrait"


"The Pit and the Pendulum"

A torture chamber

Another of Poe's more popular works. It's the story of a man's attempt to survive in a torture chamber during the Spanish Inquisition, one of the most deadly inquisitions in history. This isn't really a horror story. It's more of a suspenseful thriller. If you had been sentenced to death in a torture chamber, what would you do? and what's in the Pit?

Read "The Pit and the Pendulum"


"The Premature Burial"

About being buried alive

Given the title of this story, its already obvious what it's about. It's definitely a scary story. Poe makes you feel like you are there. Read this story carefully because there is also an important lesson to be learned.

"It may be asserted, without hesitation, that no event is so terribly well adapted to inspire the supremeness of bodily and of mental distress, as is burial before death. The unendurable oppression of the lungs- the stifling fumes from the damp earth–the clinging to the death garments–the rigid embrace of the narrow house–the blackness of the absolute Night–the silence like a sea that overwhelms..."

Read "The Premature Burial"


"The Purloined Letter"

A detective story

Purloined simply means stolen. A document of national importance has been stolen and the police can't find it or prove who stole it. Poe's character, C. Auguste Dupin, comes to the rescue, solves the crime and recovers the letter. It's great to read how the police go through all of their usual methods and are unsuccessful. Dupin comes along and figures it all out using the powers of deduction as his only weapon. Its like "CSI: Edgar Allan Poe".

Read "The Purloined Letter"


"Silence - A Fable"

A dream

A short piece, only a couple of pages long, it is more like a dream than a story with real characters. It is full of symbolism and rich imagery. Very deep, very intense. I'd like to know what Poe was thinking when he wrote this. Was he trippin?

Read "Silence - A Fable"


"Some Words With a Mummy"

A mummy speaks

An ancient egyptian mummy comes to life, but not to chase anyone around a tomb. This is a science fiction story, not a tale of horror. If you look carefully, you'll find a little sarcastic humor here and there. The mummy has a story of his own to tell, and its quite an interesting one, to say the least. Another example of Poe's fantastic imagination.

Read "Some Words With a Mummy"


"The Spectacles"

A great little comedy about love at first sight

This is one of Poe's few comedies but it's a great one. The narrator of the story is a young man who is in love with an aristocratic woman. The story is about his pursuit of her and ends with a surprise.

Read "The Spectacles"


"The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether"

Inside an insane asylum

This is not a horror story. It is a strange and surprising little tale about a visit to an insane asylum. The narrator, travelling through the french countryside, decides to stop at a well known private "mad house". He has heard from his medical friends in Paris that this hospital uses a new technique to care for its patients. The cast of characters that Poe invents for this story is wonderful.

Read "The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether"


"The Tell-Tale Heart"

A murderer's guilt

The narrator of this story tells you his "perfect" plan to kill an old man, then takes you through the process of doing it. He might get away with it too except he starts hearing things...

"I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening; — just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall."

Read "The Tell-Tale Heart"


"William Wilson"

Identical twins or something else?

The narrator of this story, who calls himself William Wilson, describes the events of his early life in school and the rivalry between himself and another person named William Wilson. As the story progresses, we learn of many similarities between the two Wilsons. Are they twin brothers? or something else?

Read "William Wilson"