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The Supernatural, Poe And Irving Essay, Research Paper

Role of the Supernatural

In life there is the natural and the supernatural. Often the supernatural in life is easily forgotten or derided. Life becomes too busy and one forgets that there exists good and evil. One should not spurn the urging in the Bible to remember that “we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against persons without bodies – the evil rulers of the unseen world, those mighty satanic beings and great evil princes of darkness who rule this world; and against huge members of wicked spirits in the spirit world” (Bible 1194). Neither should one carry their fascination of the supernatural to an obsession. The supernatural good and evil in life plays and role in determining the course ones life will take. This paper will compare and contrast the fascination with the supernatural in Irving and Poe’s writings and will tell the effect each author tries to achieve.

In Irving’s “The Devil and Tom Walker”, he gives the devil human qualities and describes him as “a great black man seated directly opposite him, on the stump of a tree. He was exceedingly surprised, having neither heard nor seen anyone approach; and he was still more perplexed on observing, as well as the gathering gloom would permit, that the stranger was neither Negro nor Indian. It is true he was dressed in a rude half-Indian garb, and had a red belt or sash swathed round his body; but his face was neither black nor copper color, but swarthy and dingy, and begrimed with soot, as if he had been accustomed to toil among fires and forges. He had a shock of coarse black hair that stood out from his head in all directions, and bore an ax on his shoulder. He scowled for a moment at Tom with a pair of great red eyes” (Irving 106, 107). He also makes it sound as if it is normal for people to be familiar with the names of the devil. “Oh, I go by various names. I am the wild huntsman in some countries; the black miner in others. In this neighborhood I am known by the name of the black woodsman. I am he to whom the red men consecrated this spot, and in honor of whom they now and then roasted a white man, by way of sweet-smelling sacrifice. Since the red men have been exterminated by you white savages, I amuse myself by presiding at the persecutions of Quakers and Anabaptists; I am the great patron and promoter of slave dealers, and the grandmaster of the Salem witches” (Irving 107). Irving also shows his fascination with the supernatural by making it appear apart of the real world. The Devil appears to be good and a man worthy of making a business deal. The Devil makes a deal with Tom Walker but in the end the Devil came for Tom Walker to take his life. “Tom shrank back, but too late. He had left his little Bible at the bottom of his coat pocket, and his big Bible on the desk buried under the mortgage he was about to foreclose; never was sinner taken more unawares. The black man whisked him like a child into the saddle, gave the horse the lash, and away he galloped, with Tom on his back, in the midst of the thunderstorm” (Irving 112). In the end the supernatural won and “Tom Walker never returned to foreclose the mortgage” (Irving 112). Irving also shows that once you have had an encounter with the supernatural you will be changed. After Tom had been with the Devil “he found the black print of a finger burned, as it were, into his forehead, which nothing could obliterate” (Irving 108). In comparison, Poe describes evil as an “ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling, by the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore, ‘Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,’ I said, ‘art sure no craven, ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nighty shore- tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!’ Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore’” (Poe 128). Poe also shows that once the supernatural enters ones life it will stay with them shadowing their life. “And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting on the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door; and his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming, and the lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor; and my soul from out the shadow that lies floating on the floor shall be lifted – nevermore” (Poe 130). Both Irving and Poe personify the supernatural and give it human characteristics. They also reveal that an encounter with the supernatural will leave an everlasting effect.

Although both authors have a fascination with the supernatural they perceive it in different ways. Irving sees evil as “a great black man” (Irving 106). He also sees it as something that can make a business deal and can “haggle about the terms on which the former was to have the pirate’s treasure. There was one condition understood in all cases where the Devil grants favors; but there were others about which, though of less importance, he was inflexibly obstinate” (Irving 110). In contrast Poe sees the supernatural as a “stately Raven” (Poe 128). He also sees it as something that cannot be controlled or made to do what one wants it to do. “From the thunder, and the storm- and the cloud that took the form (When the rest of Heaven was blue) of a demon in my

view-” (Poe 133).

In Irving’s writings the effect he tries to achieve is to make the supernatural come alive in the real world. He does this by making the devil converse with the characters with scurrilous words. The characters are also able to see the devil but when the “clerks turned to look for the black man, he had disappeared” (Irving 112). Poe, in contrast, tries to make the supernatural appear dark, vitriolic, and oppressive. He describes it as his “soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor shall be lifted – nevermore” (Poe 130). He also describes it as an “ebony bird” (Poe 128) or as “a demon in my view-” (Poe 133).

In conclusion, Irving and Poe’s fascination with the supernatural is very evident and plays a vital role in their writings. Irving’s fascination makes the supernatural appear good in some ways and execrable in others. Whereas, Poe’s fascination is on the dark and oppressive side of the supernatural. Irving and Poe both convey their fascination of the supernatural but in different ways. Through their writings we see that the supernatural does play an important role in human lives. Whether one wants to admit that or deny it. Irving and Poe’s ideas of the supernatural vary in their writings, but it is evident that both agree that the supernatural plays a role in the human life.

Works Cited

Bible. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers. 1194.

Irving, Washington. “The Devil and Tom Walker.” American Literature. Mission Hills,

CA: Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 1991. 106, 107, 108, 110, and 112.

Poe, Edgar Allan. Alone. American Literature. Mission Hills, CA:

Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 1991. 133.

Poe, Edgar Allan. The Raven. American Literature. Mission Hills, CA:

Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 1991. 128 and 130.


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