The Scariest Monsters Are the Ones That Lurk Within Our Souls

Edgar Allan Poe? Rona Jaffe? Apocryphal?

edgarpoe01Dear Quote Investigator: The following quotation has been tweeted repeatedly, and I have seen it on Facebook and several tumblrs. The words are always ascribed to the famed poet and writer of the macabre Edgar Allan Poe:

The scariest monsters are the ones that lurk within our souls.

I have not found this expression in any stories or essays by Poe, and I am suspicious. Is this ascription accurate?

Quote Investigator: Probably not. QI has not located this saying in any works by Edgar Allan Poe.

On November 9, 2011 a person with the twitter handle @Edgar_Allan_Poe sent out the following tweet. The message was retweeted at least 522 times reflecting its popularity and its wide dissemination: 1

The scariest monsters are the ones that lurk within our souls.

Edgar Allan Poe died in 1849, and QI thinks that it is unlikely a supernatural agency has been channeling his utterances through twitter. The twitter profile of @Edgar_Allan_Poe currently states: 2

Woebegone Poet, Prickly scribbler of the Fantastic, Inebriate, Literary Critic, Editor
Currently buried in Baltimore
71,690 Followers

The saying may have originated with the tweet on November 9, 2011. This tweet was identified by correspondent Adrian Bailey.

Here are additional selected citations and commentary.

Some of the people using handles on twitter that correspond to famous individuals from the past send out tweets that are compatible with the time period during which the figure lived. Indeed, some people who wish to embody a well-known literary figure on twitter send out tweets from the published works and letters by that figure.

Another approach places an emphasis on humor without temporal restrictions. Here are some tweets from @Edgar_Allan_Poe that are contemporary:

Tweeted April 10, 2013: Emoticons were first employed by Spawns of Satan in order to induce insanity in their victims =:-)

Tweeted March 21, 2013: While you’re screaming for attention on the Internet please be ready with your credit card number.

Nearly three decades before the quotation under investigation was tweeted a similar statement was printed in a review of a television program broadcast in 1982. The controversial novel “Mazes and Monsters” which presented a distorted vision of Dungeons & Dragons and live action role-playing was converted into a made-for-TV movie starring a young Tom Hanks, and the New York Times reviewer discussed the thesis of the story: 3

Miss Jaffe takes her story and characters through some fairly predictable turns as the game proceeds to its “logical extension.” At one point, the underlying message is spelled out directly: “The most frightening monsters are the ones that exist in our minds.”

In conclusion, QI hypothesizes that a tweet by the persona @Edgar_Allan_Poe was the primary locus of popularization for the quote and probably the origin. The statement was constructed long after the death of Poe.

(Great thanks to Adrian Bailey who inquired about this quotation and gave impetus to QI to formulate this question and initiate this exploration. Bailey located the tweet by @Edgar_Allan_Poe and proposed it as the starting point.)

Notes:

  1. Tweet message, Tweet handle: ‏@Edgar_Allan_Poe, Tweet name: “Edgar Allan Poe”, Time stamp: November 9, 2011 at 9:51AM, Retweets 522, Favorites: 143. (Examined April 17, 2013)
  2. Tweet profile, Tweet handle: ‏@Edgar_Allan_Poe, Tweet name: “Edgar Allan Poe”, Tweets: 2,566, Following: 1,108, Followers: 71,690. (Examined April 18, 2013)
  3. 1982 December 28, New York Times, “TV – ‘Mazes and Monsters,’ Fantasy” (Review), by John J. O’Connor, Quote Page C12, New York. (ProQuest)