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The Raven's Tale

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
The Raven's Tale Book Poster Image
Gripping, dark exploration of famous writer's teen years.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

A few early poems of Poe's are printed in the back. An Author's Note explains some of the real people and events from Poe's life that inspired the story as well as her research into Poe. She also provides the sources and inspirations for poems and poetic phrases that appear throughout the story. An untranslated Latin phrase in the dedication may inspire kids to look it up. The setting provides insight into the culture and geography of Richmond, Virginia, and the University of Virginia.

Positive Messages

You have to nurture your muse (your creativity and inspiration), no matter how odd or scary it might be. If you do, it will grow to have the power to take you to unimagined places of beauty and artistic fulfillment. Don't take it for granted or lose the opportunity to let it do so because you're afraid of what others will think. Sometimes the only way forward is to strike out on your own and leave behind the influences and sentimental ties to your past that keep you from finding yourself, knowing what you're capable of, and achieving your dreams.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Poe is a mixed bag as a role mode -- definitely a troubled and conflicted soul. He's a loving and devoted son to his foster mother, but justifiably resentful of his foster father. He longs to write and is very talented, but he's afraid of where his obsession with death and the macabre will lead. He's also very good at satire but mostly uses it to belittle others. He's an excellent student, finishing his year at the top of his class, but gambles at cards as a way of trying to pay his university expenses, ending up thousands of dollars in debt. His foster family has two slaves, one of whom helped raise him. He's still emotionally close to her and she offers him and his muse, Lenore, advice, which of course they don't follow.

Violence

Lots of dark, creepy, mildly gory, horrifying, and macabre imagery in line with some of Poe's writing and obsession with death. Brief pairing of sex with violence when during a kiss with a fantasy creature. Poe sees gruesome, horrifying images in his mind that appear years later in his work. Another nonsexual kiss with a fantasy creature luring Poe into death by drowning. Guns are fired and a fantasy creature is hit with a gun; agonizing pain is described during surgery to remove the bullet. A few fights, one of which describes blood and flesh hanging in strips of a man's arms after he was bitten by his attacker. Poe briefly experiments with self-harm ("The exploration of pain for the sake of my art.") by biting his own arm. Other fights describe choking, punching, kicking, pain, bloody noses, and black eyes. An instance of verbal sexual harassment is mentioned without saying what was said.

Sex

Brief pairing of sex with violence when during a kiss with a fantasy creature, Poe sees gruesome, horrifying images in his mind that appear years later in his work. Another nonsexual kiss with a fantasy creature luring Poe into death by drowning. A few other kisses briefly described. Mention of beautiful breasts and an ample bosom showing. Poe's foster father Allan has a long-term, extra-marital relationship and the children resulting from it are mentioned. Once Poe wishes Allan would leave the house to "frig" his mistress until they turn blue and collapse on the bed. Lenore is attracted to women and some same-sex kissing and cuddling between fantasy creatures is briefly described.

Language

"Ass," "damn," "bugger," "turd," "bastard," "horse shit," "bloody hell," and "frig."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Edgar doesn't drink often, but he has a very low tolerance for alcohol and sometimes it only takes a few sips for him to exhibit very drunken behavior and even pass out. Consequences are mostly morning hangover symptoms and throwing up. His foster father drinks pretty heavily, once showing signs in the morning of being slightly drunk. Several times Edgar drinks to deliberately silence his muse (suppress his feelings and creative instincts). College students regularly drink heavily. A few tavern settings mention beer and brandy. Edgar's foster father also smokes a pipe; the smell of tobacco is mentioned quite a few times, usually in an unpleasant context. A couple of mentions of "opium eaters." Author's note mentions evidence or the lack of it for Poe's own drug use and alcohol abuse later in life. Poe never uses drugs in this story.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Raven's Tale is historical fiction that explores the life of Edgar Allan Poe as a 17-year-old. There're lots of dark, gruesome, horrifying, and sometimes violent images that are meant to show how he became the famous writer obsessed with death and darkness.There's some fighting, a few mentions of blood, fantasy violence that describes blood and pain, one somewhat gory description of injuries to an arm from biting, and vague pairing of sex with violence when during a kiss with a fantasy creature. Poe sees gruesome, horrifying images in his mind that appear years later in his work. Sexual content includes a few brief descriptions of real-world, opposite-sex kisses and a couple of same-sex kisses between fantasy creatures. Between Poe and his foster father there's a fair amount of drinking that's never glamorized and mention consequences like hangover symptoms and throwing up. An important character smokes a pipe and the smell is usually mentioned as unpleasant. There are a couple of mentions of people addicted to opium. Readers will learn a lot about Poe and his world. The Author's Note, list of resources, and list of sources for the poems and other works quoted in the story may inspire readers to learn and read more.

User Reviews

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Written byAnonymous June 25, 2019

very important book

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What's the story?

In THE RAVEN'S TALE, 17-year-old Edgar Poe can't wait to go off to college and get away from his oppressive foster father John Allan. Allan's worried that if Edgar pursues his love of writing, instead of a more stable career, Edgar will never be able to make a living. Shortly before starting at the University of Virginia, Edgar's creativity, inspiration, and dark obsessions become physically alive in the creature he names Lenore. But while at the university Edgar wants to keep Lenore a secret, afraid of what other people would think of him if they could see the strange embodiment of Edgar's macabre imagination. He tries to keep Lenore away, but she wants desperately to be seen by all. And she needs Edgar to fully embrace her, in all her strangeness, so that she can fully evolve into his guiding muse. Will Edgar stay anchored to his foster parents and his dreams of marrying the beautiful Elmyra? Will Lenore become the raven she was meant to be and lead Edgar to finally, fully express his creativity?

Is it any good?

Fantasy fans who love the dark side will enjoy this chilling exploration of teen Edgar Allan Poe as he struggles with who he is and what inspires him, however macabre it may be. The Raven's Tale is pretty macabre, for sure. Readers who already know and love Poe's work will enjoy this spine-tingling look at what he may have been like before the fame. And those who aren't already familiar with Poe will be intrigued and no doubt spooked by this introduction to one of the horror genre's true masters.

Romance, friendship, family conflicts, and more come into play, too. Lenore, the physical manifestation of Poe's dark muse, is an intriguing way of providing some female perspective on events, and she also provides an effective counterpoint to Poe's development as an artist. Occasionally things slow down or drag out a bit too long for a life story when the outcome is already well known, but things pick up again soon enough. It's thoroughly steeped in the gruesome and the macabre, so squeamish or sensitive readers beware.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in The Raven's Tale. Are stories and poems like Poe's a safe way to explore the darker side of human nature? Is reading it different than seeing it in movies or videos? How so, or why not?

  • Is Edgar as he's depicted here an alcoholic? What about his foster father? Does the depiction of drinking seem realistic? How are the consequences of drinking different now from what they were in Poe's time?

  • Did you learn anything new or surprising about Edgar Allan Poe? Have you read much of his work? Which stories or poems do you like best? If you haven't read anything of his besides what's in this book, would you like to now?

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