People know two things about Edgar Allan Poe: He was a drug-taking
drunkard, and his horror stories reflected his own degenerate life.
These two “facts” form the basis of the new film, “The Raven.”
Actually, though, neither is true, says Edward Pettit, the literary critic known as “the Philly Poe Guy.”
myths about Poe’s life can be traced back to a single person, Pettit
explains. Poe’s literary rival, Rufus Griswold, wrote his obituary and
called him a drunk, a drug addict and a friendless misfit.
Pettit, an adjunct professor of literature at LaSalle University, was
disappointed, but not terribly surprised, by “The Raven.” In the film, a
madman commits a series of gruesome murders. A detective (Luke Evans)
realizes the murders are based on stories written by Poe (John Cusack)
and enlists Poe to help solve the crimes.
The portrayal of Poe is
inaccurate both in biographical details — Poe wasn’t the social pariah
he’s portrayed as in the film — and literary details. After seeing the
preview, Pettit headed straight to the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic
Site at Seventh and Spring Garden streets, where Poe once lived and
wrote. “The rangers there are really knowledgeable,” Pettit says, “and I
wanted to warn them as soon as possible [that] there would be a new
flood of visitors who would have the wrong ideas about Poe.”