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Baltimore’s New Poe Toaster Honors Edgar Allan Poe

For the past five years, it looked as if a cherished literary tradition was at risk of dying out for good. An anonymous figure dubbed the “Poe Toaster” had been visiting Edgar Allan Poe’s grave site in Baltimore every year on his birthday, reportedly since the 1940s, only to suddenly vanish after 2009. This weekend, the practice was brought back from the brink of extinction when the newest incarnation made the legendary trip to the writer’s grave.

While the origins of the original Poe Toaster had previously been shrouded in mystery, this latest figure was selected through an organized competition. Last fall, the Maryland Historical Society held auditions for “Baltimore’s Next Poe Toaster” with plans to restore the tradition in time for Poe’s birthday in 2016. Competitors were required to give a live performance that could include “anything within the bounds of the imagination” (just so long as it was Poe-related). And while the winning Poe Toaster had to be seen in public in order to be selected, his identity was kept anonymous.

On January 16, the Poe Toaster fulfilled his newly appointed destiny when he visited Edgar Allan Poe’s grave before an audience of onlookers. The festivities began that afternoon with a dramatic reading of “The Cask of Amontillado” followed by a toast of apple cider and a raffle to take home a Poe-themed cake. The crowd of close to 100 then clustered around the grave to await the arrival of the new Poe Toaster.

Like the Toasters of years past, the figure was dressed in all black with a white scarf draped over his shoulders and a wide-brimmed hat worn to conceal his face. He poured himself a glass of cognac and left the bottle behind with three red roses, also keeping with tradition. But this rookie Poe Toaster introduced his own spin on the time-honored tradition: In addition to executing the ritual in the daylight, he performed a rendition of Camille Saint-Saëns's "Danse Macabre" on the violin and left his instrument leaning against the headstone beside the flowers and liquor.

Though the event took place over the weekend, Poe was born on January 19, 1809, making today his actual birthday. If you can’t make it to his grave in Baltimore tonight, feel free to pour yourself a glass of cognac in his honor.

[h/t: The Baltimore Sun]

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A Limited Edition, Handwritten Manuscript of The Great Gatsby Can Be Yours for $249
SP Books
SP Books

Fans of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby need to put this on their holiday wish list: The French manuscript publisher SP Books is releasing a deluxe, limited-edition version of Fitzgerald’s handwritten Gatsby manuscript.

A handwritten manuscript of 'The Great Gatsby' open to a page
SP Books

The 328-page, large-format edition is cloth-bound and features an ornamental, iron-gilded cover. The facsimile of Fitzgerald’s original manuscript shows how the author reworked, rewrote, and otherwise altered the book throughout his writing process, changing character’s names (Nick was named “Dud” at one point), cutting down scenes, and moving around where certain information was introduced to the plot, like where the reader finds out how Gatsby became wealthy, which in the original manuscript wasn’t revealed until the end of the book. For Fitzgerald superfans, it's also signed.

A page of the handwritten manuscript with a pen on it
SP Books

The publisher is only selling 1800 copies of the manuscript, so if you’re a lover of literary history, you’d better act fast.

It’s available from SP Books for $249.

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Pop Culture
An AI Program Wrote Harry Potter Fan Fiction—and the Results Are Hilarious
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

“The castle ground snarled with a wave of magically magnified wind.”

So begins the 13th chapter of the latest Harry Potter installment, a text called Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash. OK, so it’s not a J.K. Rowling original—it was written by artificial intelligence. As The Verge explains, the computer-science whizzes at Botnik Studios created this three-page work of fan fiction after training an algorithm on the text of all seven Harry Potter books.

The short chapter was made with the help of a predictive text algorithm designed to churn out phrases similar in style and content to what you’d find in one of the Harry Potter novels it "read." The story isn’t totally nonsensical, though. Twenty human editors chose which AI-generated suggestions to put into the chapter, wrangling the predictive text into a linear(ish) tale.

While magnified wind doesn’t seem so crazy for the Harry Potter universe, the text immediately takes a turn for the absurd after that first sentence. Ron starts doing a “frenzied tap dance,” and then he eats Hermione’s family. And that’s just on the first page. Harry and his friends spy on Death Eaters and tussle with Voldemort—all very spot-on Rowling plot points—but then Harry dips Hermione in hot sauce, and “several long pumpkins” fall out of Professor McGonagall.

Some parts are far more simplistic than Rowling would write them, but aren’t exactly wrong with regards to the Harry Potter universe. Like: “Magic: it was something Harry Potter thought was very good.” Indeed he does!

It ends with another bit of prose that’s not exactly Rowling’s style, but it’s certainly an accurate analysis of the main current that runs throughout all the Harry Potter books. It reads: “‘I’m Harry Potter,’ Harry began yelling. ‘The dark arts better be worried, oh boy!’”

Harry Potter isn’t the only work of fiction that Jamie Brew—a former head writer for ClickHole and the creator of Botnik’s predictive keyboard—and other Botnik writers have turned their attention to. Botnik has previously created AI-generated scripts for TV shows like The X-Files and Scrubs, among other ridiculous machine-written parodies.

To delve into all the magical fiction that Botnik users have dreamed up, follow the studio on Twitter.

[h/t The Verge]

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