Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” Read by Christopher Walken, Vincent Price & Christopher Lee

Of the many read­ings and adap­ta­tions of Edgar Allan Poe’s clas­sic moody-broody poem “The Raven,” none is more fun than The Simp­sons’, in which Lisa Simpson’s intro tran­si­tions into the read­ing voice of James Earl Jones and the slap­stick inter­jec­tions of Homer as Poe’s avatar and Bart as the tit­u­lar bird. Jones’ solo read­ing of the poem is not to be missed and exists in sev­er­al ver­sions on Youtube.

But Jones is not the only clas­si­cal­ly creepy actor to have mas­tered Poe’s dic­tion. Above, we have Christo­pher Walken, whose unset­tling weird­ness is always tinged with a cer­tain wry humor, per­haps an effect of his clas­si­cal New York accent.

Accom­pa­ny­ing Walken’s read­ing are the stan­dard eerie wind sounds and the unusu­al addi­tion of some dis­tort­ed met­al gui­tar: per­haps an intru­sion, per­haps a unique dra­mat­ic effect. The visu­al com­po­nent, a mon­tage of expres­sive pen­cil draw­ings, also may or may not work for you.

You may wish to con­trast this pro­duc­tion with what may be the locus clas­si­cus for tele­vi­su­al inter­pre­ta­tions of “The Raven.” Of course I mean the ham­my Vin­cent Price read­ing (above), which lent so much aes­thet­i­cal­ly to The Simp­sons par­o­dy. One of my favorite lit­tle in-jokes in the lat­ter occurs dur­ing Bart and Lisa’s intro­duc­tion. Bart whines, “that looks like a school-book!” and Lisa replies, “don’t wor­ry, Bart. You won’t learn any­thing.”

Lisa’s rejoin­der is a sly ref­er­ence to Poe’s con­tempt for lit­er­a­ture meant to instruct or mor­al­ize, a ten­den­cy he called “the heresy of the Didac­tic.” Poe’s the­o­ry and prac­tice grew out of his desire that lit­er­a­ture have a “uni­ty of effect,” that it pro­duce an aes­thet­ic expe­ri­ence sole­ly through the author’s skill­ful use of lit­er­ary form. Poe may have antic­i­pat­ed and direct­ly influ­enced the French sym­bol­ists and oth­er aes­thetes like Oscar Wilde, but his assured place in high cul­ture has thank­ful­ly not got­ten in the way of pop appro­pri­a­tions of his more odd­ball tales, like “The Raven.” A peren­ni­al favorite read­ing of the poem is clas­sic hor­ror actor Christo­pher Lee’s (below), which may be the most straight­for­ward­ly creepy of them all.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Iggy Pop, Deb­bie Har­ry, Jeff Buck­ley & Oth­er Celebs Read Tales by Edgar Allan Poe

Watch the 1953 Ani­ma­tion of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Nar­rat­ed by James Mason

Find “The Raven” and oth­er works by Poe in our Free Audio Books and Free eBooks col­lec­tions

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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