What work of American poetry has proven more irresistible than Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven? Certainly we can seldom refrain ourselves from featuring it here on Open Culture. We’ve posted illustrations by Édouard Manet and Gustave Doré, readings by Christopher Walken, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee (all available here), James Earl Jones, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed, who offered his own modernized take on Poe’s words. Even notables primarily noted for something other than their recitation ability have got in on The Raven: just above, for instance, you can see a reading by none other than Marvel Comics mastermind Stan Lee.
We recognize Stan Lee, of course, as an icon of American culture for his achievements in the field of comics: doing his part to create enduring characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man, and the X-Men, fighting censorship from the Comics Code Authority, introducing the concept of coherent — or at least coherent-enough — fictional “universes,” and much more besides. But a decent portion of Lee’s fame also owes to his seemingly bottomless well of enthusiasm, from which he continues to draw, at the age of 92, for every public address to the “true believers,” and he doesn’t leave that enthusiasm behind when it comes time to interpret Edgar Allan Poe.
Having previously gone on the record in interviews naming Poe as one of his favorite authors in childhood (alongside other such high-, low-, and middle-browed literary immortals as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, O. Henry, and Shakespeare), he makes a certain kind of sense as a Raven-reader. (And hasn’t, say, Spider-Man’s origin story passed into American myth in much the same way as Poe’s tale of a lamenting lover tormented by a talking bird?) He also sets a high bar with his endearing performance itself, which should get you thinking: if you, too, one day become an icon of American culture, how will you approach your inevitable Raven-reading turn?
You can find Lee’s reading in our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free. Poe’s text lives here: 800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, and the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.