Friday, September 11, 2015

Edgar Allan Poe - Ligeia - Discussion

So, who else envisions Vincent Price as the male protagonist and hears Price's voice as the narrator? I can't help it! Every time I read Poe stories, I picture and hear Vincent Price. I guess it's because my earliest exposure to Poe's works were indeed from Price's movies. And I still love them to this day.

This was an interesting story. I don't think I've read it previously. And I was thinking that it was never made into a film because I don't remember seeing it. Wrong! As I did my Google search, I came across The Tomb of Ligeia, starring (guess who?) Vincent Price. It was a 1964 film. The IMDB description: "A man's obsession with his dead wife drives a wedge between him and his new bride." Even better, here's what the movie poster said, "Even on her wedding night, she must share the man she loved with the 'female thing' that lived in the tomb of the cat." Sounds good! I'm going to see if my library has it, or maybe I'll just buy it. I've found that I like owning Vincent Price films. The House of Wax still creeps me out to this day. (Addendum: Turns out there is a more recent film based on this story that I have seen. It was pretty good, as horror films go. Now that I know it's based on this story, I will have to watch it again. I do remember, upon reading the synopsis, that it does veer off from the original story quite a bit. 2009 film, The Tomb)

I found some discussion questions online that I thought might help facilitate our discussion. Feel free to answer them in the comments, or if you feel like sharing your thoughts without answering the questions, be my guest.

1) "Ligeia" is an evocative name. What does it suggest?
2) What effect does the notion that the narrator does not know the paternal name of his wife
have on us?
3) Ligeia's eyes are so prominent, so compelling. Why?
4) What does the poem about the conqueror worm have to do with her character / the story?
5) What does the Lady Rowena have in common with Ligeia? How?

My thoughts on the questions, etc...

I wasn't sure of the name of Ligeia and what it suggests so I did a search of its meaning: Derived from Greek λιγυς (ligys) meaning "clear-voiced, shrill, whistling". This was the name of one of the Sirens in Greek legend. This gave me an interesting thought. Ligeia in the story is a siren and she has the narrator firmly under her spell, even after death. I believe that she used her powers to cause him to poison Rowena and he was so firmly under her spell (and high on opium) that he didn't realize that he indeed killed her. 

I'm not even sure why #2 is relevant. I did not find myself asking why we did not learn, nor does the narrator know, Ligeia's paternal name. What about you? Do you find that strange? I'm thinking perhaps, going back to the siren idea, that she is actually a daughter of a god (like the Greek gods, for instance).

When I came to this question, I went back and read about her eyes again. It seems to me that the narrator is most compelled by her eyes. Perhaps her eyes are where her siren powers actually derive, or perhaps it's the old adage for him, "The eyes are the window to the soul"? The issue with the eyes also makes me think of her as a divine being, such as an angel. Which would also tie into the poem in the story, The Conqueror Worm.

This question got me thinking. The audience watching the play in The Conqueror Worm are angels, and so are immortal beings, and the players (mimes) on stage represent the human race. The worm then is death, devouring the humans and the audience (angels) are forced to watch this play out over and over in their immortality. And yet she laments to God in the passage directly after the poem about mortality (at least that's what I got from it) so perhaps she decides then and there that she will not give into to death. She will resist it with her sheer will and so she decides to get rid of Rowena and take over her body and life. There really could be so many interpretations here!

One similarity I noticed is that the narrator does not know or remember where or how he met Ligeia and again the same with Rowena. He isn’t sure how it happened that the family of the bride allowed their daughter to marry him. Another similarity is that both Ligeia and Rowena take ill and die. So perhaps, in the long run, the narrator is psychotic and is, in fact, a wife murderer. Food for thought.

I really enjoyed this story. I'm going to watch some movies based on it, as I mentioned above. I'm looking forward to your thoughts on it.

Next up we have The Cask of Amontillado. Watch for the discussion post next week.

I forgot to add that this counts for R.I.P. X

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  1. Honestly, I can't really remember if I'd read "Ligeia" in the past or if I'm confusing it with other Poe girls, like Morella. I know I've read "The Conqueror Worm" before.

    That's an interesting tidbit about the name Ligeia. Coincidentally, it ties in with Glen Hirshberg's Motherless Child that I'm currently reading. It's a vampire novel (somewhat) and the main progenitor describes his power over others as Whistling. I thought it was kind of odd that he didn't know Ligeia's family name but more in the "Dude doesn't even know her last name??? Sheesh!" kind of way. In retrospect though, I wonder if maybe his Ligeia wasn't the first Ligeia and she doesn't really have a last name anymore. I now wonder how many husbands *she's* put in the ground!

    More thoughts at:

    1. Yeah, Poe had a thing for the tales about women. It's easy to confuse them. I had never heard of Ligeia until I started researching specifically Poe's Gothic tales and this was one that came up.

      That is an interesting thought about Ligeia and previous husbands. Could very well be true.

      So, is Motherless Child good?

  2. Wow, you really took a deep dive into this one! I read Ligeia for the first time for the 24/48 readathon this year, where I picked 24 short stories to read - & several of them were E.A.P.'s (my favorite was his "The Imp of the Perverse, I think) I'm right there with you about the Vincent Price connection too. I have a vivd memory of listening to a reading of "The Raven" that he did which was quite exquisite... :-) Enjoy the rest of R.I.P!

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