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Mystery of Mystery

In the spring of 1841, thirty-two year old Edgar Allan Poe decided to write a new kind of story. He gave his first story a salacious title - "The Murders in the Rue Morgue” which became an instant success! 

The ghastly crime and brilliant detective protagonist Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin mesmerised readers. What Poe had come up with was the detective story whereby he inverted the formula of Greek tragedy. 

For instance, in Greek tragedy, the audience knew the truth. The plot was spoiled at the start. Oedipus Rex, for instance, was the story of a man searching for the murderer of the king. It was framed as a cryptic crime story, but everyone already knew how the story ended: Oedipus was the killer he was trying to find.

In contrast, the genius of Poe was creating a tale designed to keep the reader in the dark.


The root of the word mystery is the ancient Greek μύω (MUO), which means “to shut the eyes,” or “to hide.” While fiction had traditionally relied on predictable beats, Poe’s stories were built around the element of surprise. He took the delightful search for clues that had defined narratives since Oedipus but added in an unpredictable ending. 

The entire point of the detective story was that the audience does not know the truth at all. And so the reader becomes another sleuth, searching for clues just like the characters on the page.

Poe’s insight was that the audience didn’t care about the murder. That was just the setup, the inciting incident. What they really cared about was the mystery.


Reference: Mystery (2021) by Jonah Lehrer

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