Such is the nature of Christmas that even the masters of horror seem compelled to pay tribute to it. While in Juniper Books late Friday night, I noticed the likes of Dean Koontz with his book: Santa’s Twin, and Robert Bloch with Mistletoe Mayhem tainting the piles of heartwarming Christmas tales, but it was when I discovered a little picture book, written about an iconic Christmas image and by an infamous author whose classic I had just featured for Halloween, that I decided to comment on this unusual trend and share this rare publication. The book is entitled The Bells and written by Edgar Allan Poe.
The book, written in verse, begins with an idyllic survey of the beautiful sounds of various bells; sleigh bells, church bells, “Golden Bells! What a world of happiness their harmony foretells! Through the balmy air of night How they ring out their delight!”¹ The poetry of each page is accompanied by wondrous, magical sketches befitting of the holiday season.
But not to be fooled, there is more of the Poe than of the Christmas about this one, for things take a rather sinister turn when when the survey reaches alarm bells; the bells upon which Poe lavishes his attention.
he describes how:
“In the silence of the night
How we shiver with affright
At the meloncholy menace of their tone; for every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.”¹
The tale moves from townspeople cowering in fear in the night to phenomenal displays of ships burning on the ocean and the sound of the bells degenerates from tinkling and harmonious to clanging, clashing, roaring, moaning and groaning.
The change of atmosphere is somewhat gradual however, as a sense of foreboding seeps almost imperceptibly into the tale and builds slowly from the peaceful happy sounds of bells ringing out across the countryside in the beginning, to the final pages of the desperation and terror that the ghoulish spirits of the bells lord over humankind as as they ring out news of more suffering.
So although The Bells may not be your first choice to curl up with on a cozy Christmas Eve, I feel it is to Christmas’s credit that it managed to hook Poe at all and the outcome is a truly unusual and atmospheric book that is certainly worth a read.
1. Poe, Edgar Allan. The Bells. Philadelphia: Henry T. Coates & Co, 1881