Study Guide

Ligeia

Ligeia Introduction

First published in 1838, horror master Edgar Allan Poe's "Ligeia" tells the story of a woman's surprising return from death. It's often grouped together with two other Poe tales, "Morella" and "Berenice," both of which are also named after and about women who just can't stay dead. But something key separates "Ligeia" from the others: quality. Poe once claimed that "Ligeia" was his best story, and lots of critics have agreed with him.

Like many Poe stories, it has inspired a number of very loose adaptations, notably "Tomb of Ligeia," starring Vincent Price. Oh, and there's a "metalcore" band from Massachusetts that borrowed the name. Go figure.

What is Ligeia About and Why Should I Care?

If you had to sum up Edgar Allan Poe's work in one word, what would you say? Ask most people and they'd say something like, "Scary," "Spooky," "Creepy," or "That's the guy who wrote 'The Raven,' right?" All those answers are correct – Poe wrote a lot of scary, spooky, creepy stuff (including "The Raven"), but that's only one side of the story.

You see, another word that maybe doesn't but really should come right to mind when you hear "Edgar Allan Poe" is "inventive"; and "Ligeia" is a perfect example of that inventiveness. Yeah, it's got all the thrills and chills you want out of a good horror story: a woman not only comes back from the dead, but she takes over the body of her husband's next leading lady in order to do it. But even though that's the end of the story, it's only the beginning when it comes to what "Ligeia" has to offer.

In "Ligeia," Poe poses a simple question: What if the only reason we died was because we weren't trying hard enough to live? The harder you think about it, the scarier it becomes. What if that's all that is stopping us from living forever? What if we're just a bunch of weaklings? Soon enough you'll be tearing your hair out and foaming at the mouth. OK, hopefully not. But maybe. Now you're starting to sympathize with the narrator a little, though? You could call the whole thing a thinking man's scary story – and really, some people believe the whole return-from-the-dead thing is just that: the story of a man who thought too hard about the possibility of his wife coming back.

Poe takes what could be a very simple story – woman comes back from the dead! – and turns it into something else – women triumphs over death (maybe) by sheer force of will. And he leaves open the possibility that we, too, can do the same if we go for it.

Ligeia Resources

Websites

Poe Stories
A nice look at Poe's stories and poems, complete with biography, full text versions of his works, and other assorted goodies.

The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore
A great website for all things Poe, with an emphasis on scholarly texts.

The Poe Museum
Another helpful resource

American Masters
This great site form PBS has lots of great information on Poe.

Poe's Grave
This site has lots of pictures of Poe's grave.

Movie or TV Productions

The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)
This is the last of a long series of movies based on Poe's works directed by Roger Corman. It's not a particularly faithful adaptation. Just look at the tagline: "Even on her wedding night she must share the man she loved with the 'female thing' that lived in the Tomb of the Cat!" Remember the Tomb of the Cat? No? Neither do we.

Ligeia (2009)
Don't believe the title. This is not Edgar Allan Poe's "Ligeia." Unless we skipped the part about "soul stealing."

Historical Documents

Many Forms of "Ligeia"
This page, from the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, contains a number of different versions of "Ligeia," so you can see how Poe revised the story over the years.

Video

The Trailer for Ligeia (2009)
Straight out of the twisted mind of Edgar Allan Poe!

Images

A Famous Photo of Poe
If you only see one picture of Poe this year, this is the one to check out.

Henry Clarke's Illustration for "Ligeia"
This is only the tip of the iceberg: Clarke did many other illustrations based on Poe's work.

A Painting of Ligeia by Byam Shaw
Here's one man's take on the final moment of "Ligeia."