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.