Book reviews : The sandman and Tell Tale Heart

This weeks reviews, and especially after reviewing such a hefty book last week, consists of two short books from the Penguin Little Black Classics series which contains some fantastic bits size chunks of writing pleasure from some of the best thinkers, storytellers and novelists in history. Also the fact they all cost between eighty pence and a couple of quid mean they’re also pretty good value too! Anyway onto the reviews…

This week I’ve reviewed two 19th century ‘horror’ stories.

One from a German who is better known as the author of the “The nutcracker and the mouse king” (on which ‘The Nutcracker’ ballet is based on – thank you Wikipedia!). The other from an American author famous for his macabre tales.

So, to kick off, let me tell you the story of the sandman…

The Sandman (18)

by E.T.A Hoffman

Stories of the sandman have been part of European folklore for hundreds of years and is usually painted as a kindly character who helps children have sweet dreams and sleep soundly.

However Hoffman’s take on the fable is different.

The main character, Nathaniel, is traditional tale of the sandman as a child but connects the legend with a ‘friend’ of his fathers he despises and then his fathers death.

That’s when the story descends into an exploration of either Nethaniel’s delusional madness or the story of a young adult being tortured by the sandman.

This short story explores a bunch of different themes. Love, Delusion, Mental Illness, Science, Mysticism and strangely for a book first published in 1816, Robots! (or at least the 19th century version)

Whilst I wouldn’t describe ‘the sandman’ as one of my favourite short stories I’d ever read it’s worth an hour of so of your time and one shiny pound from your pocket…

…just don’t expect any of the characters to help you sleep more soundly.

The tell tale heart (19)

by Edgar Allen Poe

Edgar Allen Poe is known for short stories and poems which have the ability to send a chill down even the most stoic of readers. His stories are short but draw you in almost immediately. Poe’s stories have similar themes to Sandman’s author Hoffman and explores delusion and madness.

The main difference between Poe and Hoffman is that Poe is at his best when he paints his macabre pictures in as few words as possible.

There’s three short stories in this book. The titular ‘tell tale heart’, ‘The fall of the house of Usher’ and ‘The Cask of Amontillado’.

In my personal opinion the shorter stories (‘Tell tale heart’ & ‘The Cask of Amontillado’) are the ones where Poe’s supreme skill is clear. He also seems more comfortable writing when the protagonist is sly and murderous than sweet and caring.

Even if dark Gothic stories aren’t your thing it still might be worth picking up “The tell tale heart”….or if not there’s plenty of other choices in the Penguin little black classics collection!


Next time I’ll be reviewing a book which explores why some businesses are good whereas some become great…

….see you next time!

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