Monday, May 23, 2011

The Poe Shadow (2006) Matthew Pearl

The Poe Shadow is a novel by Matthew Pearl published by Random House. It tells the story of one young lawyer's quest to solve the mystery of Edgar Allan Poe's death in 1849. It is a work of historical and literary fiction, where some previously unpublished details about the last days of Poe are conveyed through the thoughts and the actions of the main character, along with the generally shared ideas on Poe's death as of the publication date.

Plot summary

Baltimore lawyer Quentin Hobson Clark witnesses a somber, simple funeral on October 8, 1849. He learns it was for author Edgar Allan Poe, with whom he had previously exchanged letters about providing legal support for a new publication, The Stylus. Clark feels obliged to look into the mysterious circumstances surrounding Poe's death, despite protests from his fiancee Hattie Blum and his friend Peter. Clark's journey takes him to Paris to seek out the real-life inspiration for Poe's character C. Auguste Dupin, a man of intellect who could help unravel the mystery. After investigating many possibilities of the inspiration of Poe's detective. A Baron C.A. Dupin, a famed lawyer in Paris, and a lone detective with a similar name: Auguste Duponte. After a confrontational encounter with the Baron Dupin and his aid, Bonjour, Clark realizes that the Baron is not quite the character as described in the detective stories of Poe and that Auguste Duponte, with his approach to problem-solving with Ratiocination, was the real inspired character in the stories. They journey back to Baltimore to investigate the final days of Poe before his death, only to find that the Baron and Bonjour have been on the same track, if not ahead, of solving the same investigation. Evidence is uncovered from interviews of the funeral attendants, witnesses, and secret rummaging of Henry Reynolds, a funeral attendant, who obtained a written letter from Poe the day he was found in the streets of Baltimore. What other mysteries that unfold through the odyssey of Clark to clear Poe's name from infamy continue on to a shocking and sorrowful conclusion of the death of the most important Gothic Fiction writer of American Literature.

Matthew Pearl is an American novelist and educator. His novels, The Dante Club, The Poe Shadow and The Last Dickens, have been New York Times Bestsellers, International Bestsellers, and have been published in more than 40 countries.


Matthew Pearl graduated from University School of Nova Southeastern University (NSU). He was then educated at Harvard College and Yale Law School and has taught writing and literature at Emerson College and Harvard University. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Dante Club was published in 2003. His second novel, a historical thriller about the death of Edgar Allan Poe called The Poe Shadow, was published by Random House in the United States on May 23, 2006 and has also been a New York Times Bestseller and an International Bestseller. His third novel The Last Dickens was released in the United States on March 17, 2009. Pearl has also written op-ed articles on literature and culture for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Boston Globe.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Pit and the Pendulum (2009) - David DeCoteau

The Pit and the Pendulum (2009)- Directed by David DeCoteau, the horror movie bears little resemblance to the original story but, like the 1961 version, utilizes the large swinging pendulum in the penultimate scene. The film follows a group of university students who visit a hypnotherapy institute lorded over by a sinister hypnotist who wants to use the students to experiment with the possibility of breaking the pain threshold.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Pit and the Pendulum (1991) - Stuart Gordon

The Pit and the Pendulum (released on DVD in the United States as The Inquisitor) is a 1991 horror film directed by Stuart Gordon and based on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe.

The film is an amalgamation of several Edgar Allan Poe tales, including "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Cask of Amontillado." The film also appropriates the anecdote of "The Sword of Damocles," re-assigning it to Torquemada.


Set in Spain, 1492, Grand Inquisitor Torquemada leads a bloody reign of terror, torturing and killing in the name of religion. Upset with the way the Church is practicing torture, Maria speaks out during a public burning and whipping of a title-stripped family. Maria's own beauty leads Torquemada into temptation and brutal atonement. Confused over his desires, he accuses Maria of being a witch and to be tortured until confession. During Maria's interrogation, Torquemada cannot help but to stare at her naked body leading him to order her put in the prison. Imprisoned, Maria is befriended by Esmerelda, a confessed witch. Together they struggle to save themselves from the sinister Torquemada.

Outside the castle walls, Maria's husband Antonio breaks into the castle to rescue his innocent wife. After a failed escape, Antonio is imprisoned for his actions and Torquemada decides to test his new machine of pain on him; The Pit and the Pendulum.


Peter O'Toole was originally slated to play Torquemada and Billy Dee Williams was originally slated to play a character named Abdul. Sherilyn Fenn was originally slated to play Maria.


The film was given quick runs at many film festivals until its home video release in the summer of 1991. In 2000, Full Moon released a DVD of the film, but the DVD has now been discontinued for copyright reasons. Since then it has been released on DVD as part of the Stuart Gordon boxset, which also includes Castle Freak, Deathbed and a bonus disc.


Lance Henriksen - Torquemada
Stephen Lee - Gomez
William J. Norris - Dr. Huesos
Mark Margolis - Mendoza
Carolyn Purdy-Gordon - Contessa D'Alba Molina
Barbara Bocci - Contessa's Son
Benito Stefanelli - Executioner
Jeffrey Combs - Francisco
Tom Towles - Don Carlos
Rona De Ricci - Maria
Jonathan Fuller - Antonio
Oliver Reed - Cardinal
Larry Dolgin - Sergeant of the Guards
Frances Bay - Esmeralda
Fabio Carfora - Beggar

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Fanny" Published 1833


by Edgar Allan Poe

THE dying swan by northern lakes
Sing's [Sings] its wild death song, sweet and clear,
And as the solemn music breaks
O'er hill and glen dissolves in air ;
Thus musical thy soft voice came,
Thus trembled on thy tongue my name.

Like sunburst through the ebon cloud,
Which veils the solemn midnight sky,
Piercing cold evening's sable shroud,
Thus came the first glance of that eye ;
But like the adamantine rock,
My spirit met and braved the shock.

Let memory the boy recall
Who laid his heart upon thy shrine,
When far away his footsteps fall,
Think that he deem'd thy charms divine ;
A victim on love's alter [altar] slain,
By witching eyes which looked disdain.


Fanny (1833)

First published in the Baltimore Saturday Visiter on May 18, 1833, the poem laments the death of a young love. It was originally signed only as "TAMERLANE." Title inspired by Poe's friend Frances Sargent Osgood.

Frances Sargent Osgood (née Locke) (June 18, 1811 – May 12, 1850) was an American poet and one of the most popular women writers during her time. Nicknamed "Fanny," she was also famous for her exchange of romantic poems with Edgar Allan Poe.

"Tamerlane" is an epic poem by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in the 1827 collection Tamerlane and Other Poems. That collection, with only 50 copies printed, was not credited with the author's real name but by "A Bostonian." The poem's original version was 403 lines but trimmed down to 223 lines for its inclusion in Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems.

Timur (8 April 1336 – 18 February 1405), normally known as Tamerlane (from Tīmūr-e Lang) in English, was a fourteenth-century conqueror of Western, South and Central Asia, founder of the Timurid Empire and Timurid dynasty (1370–1405) in Central Asia, and great great grandfather of Babur, the founder of the Mughal Dynasty, which survived until 1857 as the Mughal Empire in India.

Born into the Turco-Mongol Barlas tribe who ruled in Central Asia, Timur was in his lifetime a controversial figure, and remains so today. He sought to restore the Mongol Empire, yet his heaviest blow was against the Islamized Tatar Golden Horde. He was more at home in an urban environment than on the steppe. He styled himself a ghazi yet some Muslim states, for example the Ottoman Empire, were severely affected by his wars. A great patron of the arts, his campaigns also caused vast destruction. Timur told the qadis of Aleppo, during the sack of that newly conquered city,"I am not a man of blood; and God is my witness that in all my wars I have never been the aggressor, and that my enemies have always been the authors of their own calamity."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Pit And The Pendulum (1961) - Roger Corman & Richard Matheson

The Pit and the Pendulum is a 1961 horror film directed by Roger Corman, starring Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, John Kerr, and Luana Anders. The screenplay by Richard Matheson was based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story of the same name. Set in 16th century Spain, the story is about a young Englishman who visits a forbidding castle to investigate his sister's mysterious death. After a series of horrific revelations, apparently ghostly appearances and violent deaths, the young man becomes strapped to the titular torture device by his lunatic brother-in-law during the film's climactic sequence.

The film was the second title in the popular series of Poe-based movies released by American International Pictures, the first having been Corman’s House of Usher released the previous year. Like House, the film features widescreen cinematography by Floyd Crosby, sets designed by art director Daniel Haller, and a film score composed by Les Baxter. A critical and box office hit, Pit's commercial success convinced AIP and Corman to continue adapting Poe stories for another six films, five of them starring Price. The series ended in 1965 with the release of The Tomb of Ligeia.

Film critic Tim Lucas and writer Ernesto Gastaldi have both noted the film’s strong influence on numerous subsequent Italian thrillers, from Mario Bava’s The Whip and the Body (1963) to Dario Argento’s Deep Red (1975). Stephen King has described one of Pit’s major shock sequences as being among the most important moments in the post-1960 horror film.

"The Pit and the Pendulum" Published 1842

"The Pit and the Pendulum" is a short story written by Edgar Allan Poe and first published in 1842. The story is about the torments endured by a prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition, though Poe skews historical facts. The narrator of the story describes his experience being tortured. The story is especially effective at inspiring fear in the reader because of its heavy focus on the senses, such as sound, emphasizing its reality, unlike many of Poe's stories which are aided by the supernatural. The traditional elements established in popular horror tales at the time are followed, but critical reception has been mixed.

Plot summary

The story takes place during the Spanish Inquisition. At the beginning of the story an unnamed narrator is brought to trial before various sinister judges. Poe provides no explanation of why he is there or for what he has been arrested. Before him are seven tall white candles on a table, and, as they melt, his hopes of survival also diminish. He is condemned to death and finds himself in a pitch black compartment. At first the prisoner thinks that he is locked in a tomb, but he discovers that he is in a cell. He decides to explore the cell by placing a hem from his robe against a wall so he can count the paces around the room; however, he faints before being able to measure the whole perimeter.

When the prisoner awakens he discovers food and water near by. He gets back up and tries to measure the prison again, finding that the perimeter measures one hundred steps. While crossing the room he slips on the hem of his robe. He discovers that if he had not tripped he would have walked into a deep pit with water at the bottom in the center of the cell.

After losing consciousness again the narrator discovers that the prison is slightly illuminated and that he is bound to a wooden board by ropes. He looks up in horror to see a painted picture of Father Time on the ceiling; hanging from the figure is a gigantic scythe-like pendulum swinging slowly back and forth. The pendulum is inexorably sliding downwards and will eventually kill him. However the condemned man is able to attract rats to his bonds with meat left for him to eat and they start chewing through the ropes. As the pendulum reaches a point inches above his heart, the prisoner breaks free of the ropes and watches as the pendulum is drawn back to the ceiling.

He then sees that the walls have become red-hot and begun moving inwards, driving him into the center of the room and towards the brink of the pit. As he gazes into the pit, he decides that no fate could be worse than falling into it. It is implied by the text that the narrator fears what he sees at the bottom of the pit, or perhaps is frightened by its depth. The exact cause of his fear is not clearly stated. However, as the narrator moves back from the pit, he sees that the red-hot walls are leaving him with no foothold. As the prisoner begins to fall into the pit, he hears human voices. The walls rush back and an arm catches him. The French Army has taken Toledo and the Inquisition is in the hands of its enemies.


Poe takes dramatic license with history in this story. The rescuers are led by Napoleon's General Lasalle (who was not, however, in command of the French occupation of Toledo) and this places the action during the Peninsular War, centuries after the height of the Spanish Inquisition and at a time when it had lost much of its power. The elaborate tortures of this story have no historic parallels in the activity of the Spanish Inquisition in any century, let alone the nineteenth. The Inquisition was, however, abolished during the period of French intervention (1808–13). Although doubts remain, the pendulum as a torture device is generally regarded as a real device used during the Spanish Inquisition.

Poe places a Latin epigraph before the story, describing it as "a quatrain composed for the gates of a market to be erected upon the site of the Jacobin Club House at Paris." The epigraph was not Poe's invention; such an inscription had been reported, no later than 1803, as having been composed with the intention (possibly facetious) of having it placed on the site,[1] and it had appeared, without attribution, as an item of trivia in the 1836 Southern Literary Messenger, a periodical to which Poe contributed.[2] It does not appear, however, that the market was ever built as intended. Charles Baudelaire, a noted French writer who translated Poe's works into French and who was largely inspired by him, said that the building on the site of the Old Jacobin Club had no gates and, therefore, no inscription.[3]


"The Pit and the Pendulum" is a study of the effect terror has on the narrator,[4] starting with the opening line that suggests he is already suffering from death anxiety ("I was sick—sick unto death with that long agony") and, shortly thereafter, when he loses consciousness upon receiving the death sentence.[5] Such anxiety is ironic to the reader, who knows of the narrator's implicit survival: the text refers to the black-robed judges having lips "whiter than the sheet upon which I trace these words", showing that he himself is writing the story after the events have happened.[6] What makes the story particularly effective at evoking terror is in its lack of supernatural elements; the action taking place is real and not imagined.[7] The "reality" of the story is enhanced through Poe's focus on sensation: the dungeon is airless and unlit, the narrator is subject to thirst and starvation, he is swarmed by rats, the closing walls are red-hot metal and, of course, the razor-sharp pendulum threatens to slice into the narrator.[8] The narrator experiences the blade mostly through sound as it "hissed" while swinging. Poe further emphasizes this with words like "surcingle," "cessation," "crescent," "scimitar," and various forms of sibilance.[9] "The Pit and the Pendulum" can be considered a serious re-telling of the satirical "A Predicament." In that story, a similar "scythe" slowly (and comically) removes the narrator's head. That action has been re-imagined with a pendulum preparing to slice through the narrator's chest.[10]


Poe was following an established model of terror writing of his day, often seen in Blackwood's Magazine (a formula he mocks in "A Predicament"). Those stories, however, often focused on chance occurrences or personal vengeance as a source of terror. Poe may have been inspired to focus on the purposeful impersonal torture in part by Juan Antonio Llorente's History of the Spanish Inquisition, first published in 1817.[11] It has also been suggested that Poe's "pit" was inspired by a translation of the Koran (Poe had referenced the Koran also in "Al Aaraaf" and "Israfel") by George Sale. Poe was familiar with Sale, and even mentioned him by name in a note in his story "The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade". Sale's translation included commentary and, in one of those notes, refers to an allegedly common form of torture and execution by "throwing [people] into a glowing pit of fire, whence he had the opprobrious appellation of the Lord of the Pit." In the Koran itself, in Sura (Chapter) 85, "The Celestial Signs," a passage reads: "...cursed were the contrivers of the pit, of fire supplied with the fuel... and they afflicted them for no other reason, but because they believed in the mighty, the glorious God."[12] Poe is also considered to have been influenced by William Mudford's The Iron Shroud, a short story about an iron torture chamber which shrinks through mechanical action and eventually crushes the victim inside.[13] Poe apparently got the idea for the shrinking chamber in the "Pit and the Pendulum" after Mudford's story was published in Blackwood's magazine in 1830.[14][15][16]

Publication and response

"The Pit and the Pendulum" was included in The Gift: A Christmas and New Year's Present for 1843, published by Carey and Hart. It was slightly revised for a republication in the May 17, 1845 issue of the Broadway Journal.[17]

William Butler Yeats was generally critical of Poe, calling him "vulgar." Of "The Pit and the Pendulum" in particular he said, "[it does] not seem to me to have permanent literary value of any kind... Analyse the Pit and the Pendulum and you find an appeal to the nerves by tawdry physical affrightments."[18]

Film and television

Several film adaptations of the story have been produced, including the early French language film Le Puits et le pendule in 1909 by Henri Desfontaines. The first English language adaptation was in 1913, directed by Alice Guy Blanche.[19]

The 1961 film The Pit and the Pendulum directed by Roger Corman starring Vincent Price and Barbara Steele, like the other installments in the Corman/Price "Poe Cycle", bears minimal resemblance to the Poe story: the torture apparatus of the title makes its appearance only in the final 10 minutes of the film. A novelization of the film was written by Lee Sheridan adapted from Richard Matheson's screenplay in 1961 and published by Lancer Books in paperback.

In 1983, Czech Surrealist Jan Švankmajer directed a 15-minute short film called The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope, based on this story and the short story "A Torture by Hope" by Villiers de l'Isle-Adam. It is a fairly faithful adaptation of both stories, featuring a unique first-person camera perspective and segments of Švankmajer's trademark stop-motion and cut-out animation (in an otherwise live action film). Most of the art design was done by his wife, Eva Švankmajerová.

In 1991 a film version of the story, directed by Stuart Gordon and starring Lance Henriksen, was released. The plot was altered to a love story set in Spain in 1492.

In 2006 a stop-motion animated version of the story "The Pit and the Pendulum" was completed under the 'Ray Harryhausen Presents' banner. The film was executively produced by Ray Harryhausen and Fred Fuchs, directed by Marc Lougee, produced by Susan Ma and Marc Lougee, and funded by Bravo!FACT.[20]

The 2007 Nightwish album Dark Passion Play includes a song inspired by "The Pit and the Pendulum". It's called "The Poet and the Pendulum". Nightwish songwriter Tuomas Holopainen said it's his favorite Nightwish song.

The 2009 horror film directed by David DeCoteau bears little resemblance to the original story but, like the 1961 version, utilizes the large swinging pendulum in the penultimate scene. The film follows a group of university students who visit a hypnotherapy institute lorded over by a sinister hypnotist who wants to use the students to experiment with the possibility of breaking the pain threshold.


3.^ Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. New York: Checkmark Books, 2001. ISBN 081604161X p. 188-9
4.^ Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. p. 359. ISBN 0801857309
5.^ Kennedy, J. Gerald. Poe, Death, and the Life of Writing. Yale University Press, 1987. p. 53. ISBN 0300037732
6.^ Kennedy, J. Gerald. Poe, Death, and the Life of Writing. Yale University Press, 1987. p. 32. ISBN 0300037732
7.^ Fisher, Benjamin F. "Poe and the Gothic Tradition" as collected in The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe, Kevin J. Hayes, ed. Cambridge, UK: Oxford University Press, 2002. p. 84 ISBN 0521797276
8.^ Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991. p. 204 ISBN 0060923318
9.^ Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991. p. 206 ISBN 0060923318
10.^ Goddu, Teresa A. "Poe, sensationalism, and slavery", as collected in The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe, Kevin J. Hayes, ed. Cambridge, UK: Oxford University Press, 2002. p. 104 ISBN 0521797276
11.^ Alterton, Margaret. "An Additional Source for Poe's 'The Pit and the Pendulum'" from Modern Language Notes, Vol. 48, No. 6 (Jun., 1933), p. 349
12.^ Murtuza, Athar. "An Arabian Source for Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum" from Poe Studies, vol. V, no. 2, December 1972, p. 52
13.^ The Iron Shroud from Project Gutenberg
14.^ Online Biography of William Mudford from the Dictionary of Literary Biography hosted by BookRags p. 2
15.^ Oxford Journals Critique of William Mudford Notes and Queries July 31, 1943 p. 83
16.^ Title The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, and Related Tales The world's classics Oxford World's Classics Author Edgar Allan Poe Editor J. Gerald Kennedy Edition reissue, illustrated Publisher Oxford University Press, 1998 ISBN 0192837710, ISBN 9780192837714 Length 336 pages Quote: "Explanatory Note #254: Poe apparently got the idea for his shrinking chamber from an 1830 Blackwood's story titled the 'Iron Shroud'"
17.^ Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. New York: Checkmark Books, 2001. ISBN 081604161X p. 188
18.^ Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. New York: Cooper Square Press, 1992. ISBN 0815410387 p. 274
19.^ Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. New York: Checkmark Books, 2001. ISBN 081604161X p. 189
20.^ 2006 stop motion short film The Pit and the Pendulum

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Masque of the Red Death (2008) - Berlin Poe Fans

A gothic and nostalgique black and white adaptation of the classical story "The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe, performed by some Poe-enthusiasts in Berlin, November 2008.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Masque of the Red Death (2007) - Mat Van Rhoon

A short film of Edgar Allan Poe's classic story "The Masque of the Red Death"
created at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Director: Mat Van Rhoon
Producer: Evangeline Aguas

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Diamanda Galas "Masque of The Red Death" (1989)

Diamanda Galás (born August 29, 1955) is a Greek-American avant-garde composer, vocalist, pianist, performance artist and painter.

Known for her expert piano as well as her distinctive, operatic voice, which has a three and a half octave range, Galás has been described as "capable of the most unnerving vocal terror." Galás often shrieks, howls, and seems to imitate glossolalia in her performances. Her works largely concentrate on the topics of suffering, despair, condemnation, injustice and loss of dignity. She has worked with many avant-garde composers, including Iannis Xenakis, Vinko Globokar and John Zorn.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Masque of The Red Death (1964) with Vincent Price

The Masque of the Red Death is a 1964 British horror film starring Vincent Price in a tale about a prince who terrorizes a plague-ridden peasantry while merrymaking in a lonely castle with his jaded courtiers. The film was directed by Roger Corman; the screenplay by Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell was based upon the 1842 short story of the same name by American author Edgar Allan Poe. The film is one in a series of eight Corman film adaptations of Poe's works, and incorporates a sub-plot based on another Poe tale, "Hop-Frog." The Masque of the Red Death has been televised in America and has been released on DVD. It was made by American International Pictures.


The story is set in medieval Europe. Prince Prospero, a cruel, jaded Satanist, invites several dozen of the local nobility to his castle for protection against an oncoming plague, the Red Death. The local peasantry, or anyone that the Prince suspects of being infected by the plague, are killed by crossbow fire outside the castle walls, or their villages are burned to the ground.

Subplots include the abduction and attempted corruption of Francesca, an innocent Christian peasant girl, the revenge of the dwarf jester Hop-Frog upon the brute who abuses his beloved mistress, and the Satanic self-initiation and downfall of Prince Prospero's consort Juliana. The film includes one of Corman's distinctive psychedelic dream sequences.

Prospero orders his guests to attend a masked ball, with the stipulation that no one is to wear red. At the ball, amid a general atmosphere of debauchery and depravity, Prospero notices the entry of a mysterious hooded stranger dressed all in red. Believing the figure to be an ambassador from his master, Satan, Prospero addresses him as "your Excellency." As the ball is transformed into a danse macabre, the red-masked figure asks why Prospero keeps calling him "your Excellency," declaring "I have no title." Realizing his error, Prospero rips off the figure's red mask, revealing Prospero's own blood-spattered face.

The figure is not an emissary of Satan, but the Red Death himself, declaring that "There is no face of Death until the moment of your own death ... Each man creates his own God for himself — his own heaven, his own hell."

Prospero attempts to flee through the now-infected crowd, but his red-cloaked self is always in front of him. The Red Death finally corners him, asks him, "Why should you be afraid to die? Your soul has been dead for a long time," and strikes him down.

In an epilogue, the Red Death is playing with his Tarot cards with a young child, laughing as he shows her a card. He then picks up the cards and puts the deck in his robes as other similarly cloaked figures gather around him, each wearing a different colour: the "White Death," the "Yellow Death," the Golden Death, the Blue Death, the Violet Death and the "Black Death." They discuss among themselves the numbers of people each of them had 'claimed' that night, each accepting of their endless terrible task. When asked of his work, the Red Death says to them, "I called many ... peasant and prince ... the worthy and the dishonored. Six only are left." Among the six are Francesca, her fiance Gino, Hop-Toad, the dancer he loves, the little girl the Red Death played cards with and an old man from a nearby village. The Red Death then says "Sic transit gloria mundi" (Latin for "Thus passes tha glory of the world") and the cloaked figures then file offscreen in a grim procession. Over the procession are Poe's final words from the story itself: "And darkness and decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all."


Vincent Price as Prince Prospero
Hazel Court as Juliana, his mistress
Jane Asher as Francesca, a peasant girl
David Weston as Gino, Francesca's lover
Nigel Green as Ludovico, Francesca's father
John Westbrook as The Red Death
Patrick Magee as Alfredo
Skip Martin as Hop Toad, a dwarf jester
Verina Greenlaw as Esmeralda, Hop Toad's dwarf lover

Sunday, May 1, 2011

"The Masque of the Red Death" Published 1842

"The Masque of the Red Death," originally published as "The Mask of the Red Death" (1842), is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. The story follows Prince Prospero's attempts to avoid a dangerous plague known as the Red Death by hiding in his abbey. He, along with many other wealthy nobles, has a masquerade ball within seven rooms of his abbey, each decorated with a different color. In the midst of their revelry, a mysterious figure enters and makes his way through each of the rooms. Prospero dies after confronting this stranger. The story follows many traditions of Gothic fiction and is often analyzed as an allegory about the inevitability of death, though some critics advise against an allegorical reading. Many different interpretations have been presented, as well as attempts to identify the true nature of the titular disease.

The story was first published in May 1842 in Graham's Magazine. It has since been adapted in many different forms, including the 1964 film starring Vincent Price. It has been alluded to by other works in many types of media.

Plot summary

The story takes place at the castellated abbey of the "happy and dauntless and sagacious" Prince Prospero. Prospero and one thousand other nobles have taken refuge in this walled abbey to escape the Red Death, a terrible plague that has swept over the land. The symptoms of the Red Death are gruesome: The victim is overcome by convulsive agony and sweats blood instead of water. The plague is said to kill within half an hour. Prospero and his court are presented as indifferent to the sufferings of the population at large, intending to await the end of the plague in luxury and safety behind the walls of their secure refuge, having welded the doors shut.

One night, Prospero holds a masquerade ball to entertain his guests in seven colored rooms of the abbey. Six of the rooms are each decorated and illuminated in a specific color: Blue, purple, green, orange, white, and violet. The last room is decorated in black and is illuminated by a blood-red light; because of this chilling pair of colors, few guests are brave enough to venture into the seventh room. The room is also the location of a large ebony clock that ominously clangs at each hour, upon which everyone stops talking and the orchestra stops playing. At the chiming of midnight, Prospero notices one figure in a dark, blood-spattered robe resembling a funeral shroud, with an extremely lifelike mask resembling a stiffened corpse, and with the traits of the Red Death, which all at the ball have been desperate to escape. Gravely insulted, Prospero demands to know the identity of the mysterious guest so that they can hang him. When none dares to approach the figure, instead letting him pass through the seven chambers, the prince pursues him with a drawn dagger until he is cornered in the seventh room, the black room with the scarlet-tinted windows. When the figure turns to face him, the Prince falls dead. The enraged and terrified revelers surge into the black room and remove the mask, only to find that there is no face underneath it. Only then do they realize that the figure is the Red Death itself, and all of the guests contract and succumb to the disease. The final line of the story sums up: "And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all."


In "The Masque of the Red Death" Poe adopts many conventions of traditional Gothic fiction, including the setting of a castle. The multiple single-toned rooms may be representative of the human mind, showing different personality types. The imagery of blood and time throughout also indicate corporeality. The plague may, in fact, represent typical attributes of human life and mortality.[1] This would imply the entire story is an allegory about man's futile attempts to stave off death; this interpretation is commonly accepted.[2] However, there is much dispute over how to interpret "The Masque of the Red Death"; some suggest it is not allegorical, especially due to Poe's admission of a distaste for didacticism in literature.[3] If the story really does have a moral, Poe does not explicitly state that moral in the text.[4]

Blood, emphasized throughout the tale along with the color red, serves as a dual symbol, representing both death and life. This is emphasized by the masked figure – never explicitly stated to be the Red Death, but only a reveler in a costume of the Red Death – making his initial appearance in the easternmost room, which is colored blue, a color most often associated with birth.[5]

Though Prospero's castle is meant to keep the sickness out, it is ultimately an oppressive structure. Its maze-like design and tall and narrow windows become almost burlesque in the final black room, so oppressive that "there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all."[6] Additionally, the castle is meant to be a closed space, but the stranger is still able to get in, suggesting that control is an illusion.[7]

Like many of Poe's tales, "The Masque of the Red Death" has also been interpreted autobiographically. In this point of view, Prince Prospero is Poe as a wealthy young man, part of a distinguished family much like Poe's foster parents, the Allans. Under this interpretation, Poe is seeking refuge from the dangers of the outside world, and his portrayal of himself as the only person willing to confront the stranger is emblematic of Poe's rush towards inescapable dangers in his own life.[8]

The "Red Death"

The disease the Red Death is fictitious. Poe describes it as causing "sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores" leading to death within half an hour.

It is likely that the disease was inspired by tuberculosis (or consumption, as it was known then), since Poe's wife Virginia was suffering from the disease at the time the story was written. Like the character of Prince Prospero, Poe tried to ignore the fatality of the disease.[9] Poe's mother Eliza, brother William, and foster mother Frances Allan had also died of tuberculosis. Alternatively, the Red Death may refer to cholera; Poe would have witnessed an epidemic of cholera in Baltimore, Maryland in 1831.[10] Others have suggested that the plague is actually Bubonic plague or the Black death, emphasized by the climax of the story featuring the "Red" Death in the "black" room.[11] One writer likens the description to that of a viral hemorrhagic fever or necrotizing fasciitis.[12] It has been suggested that the Red Death is not a disease or sickness at all but something else[clarification needed] that is shared by all of humankind inherently.[13]

Publication history

Poe first published the story in the May 1842 edition of Graham's Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine as "The Mask of the Red Death," with the tagline "A Fantasy." This first publication earned him $12.[14] A revised version was published in the July 19, 1845 edition of the Broadway Journal under the now-standard title "The Masque of the Red Death."[15] The original title emphasized the figure at the end of the story; the new title puts emphasis on the masquerade ball.[16]
Film, TV, theatrical, or radio adaptations

The story inspired Russian filmmaker Vladimir Gardin's A Spectre Haunts Europe in 1921.

Basil Rathbone read the entire short story in his early 1960s Cademon LP recording The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe. Other audiobook recordings have had Christopher Lee, Hurd Hatfield, Martin Donegan and Gabriel Byrne as readers.

Short films based on the story include a 1969 Zagreb Film production, Maska crvene smrti, and [17] a 2006 Tarantula production directed by Jacques Donjean, Le Masque de la Mort rouge.[18]

The story was adapted in 1964 by Roger Corman as a film, The Masque of the Red Death, starring Vincent Price. The film also adapted parts of another Poe story, "Hop-Frog", involving the court jester and his wife. Corman produced, but did not direct, a remake of the film in 1989, starring Adrian Paul as Prince Prospero.[19]

The story was adapted, combined with elements from Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," by American director Orson Welles as a planned episode for the Poe anthology film Spirits of the Dead, which was to have starred Welles as Prince Prospero and Oja Kodar as Fortunata. The French producers replaced the episode with segments directed by Roger Vadim and Louis Malle.
The story was adapted by George Lowther for the January 10, 1975, broadcast of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. It starred Karl Swenson and Staats Cotsworth.

A radio reading was performed by Winifred Phillips, with music she composed. The program was produced by Winnie Waldron as part of National Public Radio's Tales by American Masters series.

The story has been adapted by Punchdrunk Productions, in collaboration with Battersea Arts Centre, as a promenade theatre performance in Battersea from September 17, 2007 to April 12, 2008.[20]

Musical adaptations and references

The heavy metal band Crimson Glory wrote and released the song "Masque of the Red Death", which follows the story, on their 1988 album Transcendence.

The horror adventure game The Dark Eye features a reading of the story by writer William S. Burroughs.

The metal band Stormwitch released the song "Masque Of The Red Death" on their 1985 album Tales Of Terror. Its lyrics follow the storyline.

The post-hardcore band Thrice effectively re-tells the story in the song "The Red Death", on their album The Illusion of Safety.

The Red Death is a metal band from Upstate New York whose name is derived from the title disease and released albums on Metal Blade Records and Siege of Amida/Ferret Records.


1.^ Fisher, Benjamin Franklin. "Poe and the Gothic tradition" as collected in The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Kevin J. Hayes. New York City: Cambridge University Press, 2002. ISBN 0521797276 p. 88
2.^ Roppolo, Joseph Patrick. "Meaning and 'The Masque of the Red Death'", collected in Poe: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert Regan. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1967. p. 137
3.^ Roppolo, Joseph Patrick. "Meaning and 'The Masque of the Red Death'", collected in Poe: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert Regan. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1967. p. 134
4.^ Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. ISBN 0801857309. p. 331.
5.^ Roppolo, Joseph Patrick. "Meaning and 'The Masque of the Red Death'", collected in Poe: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert Regan. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1967. p. 141
6.^ Laurent, Sabrina. "Metaphor and Symbolism in The Masque of the Red Death", from Boheme: An Online Magazine of the Arts, Literature, and Subversion. July 2003. Available online.
7.^ Peeples, Scott. "Poe's 'constructiveness' and 'The Fall of the House of Usher'" as collected in The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe. Cambridge University Press, 2002. ISBN 0521797276 p. 186
8.^ Rein, David M. Edgar A. Poe: The Inner Pattern. New York: Philosophical Library, 1960. p. 33
9.^ Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. Harper Perennial, 1991. ISBN 0060923318 p. 180-1
10.^ Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. Cooper Square Press, 1992. ISBN 0815410387 p. 133
11.^ Cummings Study Guide for "The Masque of the Red Death"
12.^ "Molecules of Death" 2nd edition, edited by R H Waring, G B Steventon, S C Mitchell. London: Imperial College Press, 2007
13.^ Roppolo, Joseph Patrick. "Meaning and 'The Masque of the Red Death'", collected in Poe: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert Regan. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1967. p. 139-40
14.^ Ostram, John Ward. "Poe's Literary Labors and Rewards" in Myths and Reality: The Mysterious Mr. Poe. Baltimore: The Edgar Allan Poe Society, 1987. p. 39
15.^ Edgar Allan Poe — "The Masque of the Red Death" at the Edgar Allan Poe Society online
16.^ Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. New York: Checkmark Books, 2001. p. 149. ISBN 081604161X
17.^ "The Best of Zagreb Film Volume 1". Rembrandt Films.
18.^ "Le Masque de la Mort rouge de Jacques Donjean". Suivez mon regard.
19.^ Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. New York: Checkmark Books, 2001. p. 150. ISBN 081604161X
20.^ National Theatre online

Deathday: "Hollow Earth" Theorist John Cleves Symmes Jr. 1829

John Cleves Symmes, Jr. (1779 – May 1829) was an American army officer whose 1818 Hollow Earth theory, expounded on the lecture circuit, gained him considerable notoriety.


Symmes was born in New Jersey to Timothy Symmes. In some local dealings he used the name Junior to distinguish himself from his prominent uncle John Cleves Symmes. His cousin, Anna Harrison briefly served as First Lady of the United States. He died in May 1829 and is buried in Symmes Park at Hamilton, Ohio. His son, Americus Symmes, erected a Hollow Earth monument above his grave.

He joined the United States Army in 1802 and rose to the rank of Captain during the War of 1812. He was stationed along the Canadian frontier, at both Fort Niagara and Fort Erie.

His 1818 theory of a Hollow Earth, envisioning a shell about 1250 km (800 mi) thick, with openings at both poles about 2200 km (1400 mi) across with four inner shells also open at the poles, made his name famous/notorious.

Some have claimed he was the real author of: Symzonia; Voyage of Discovery, which was attributed to "Captain Adam Seaborn." A recent reprint gives him as the author. Other researchers argue against this idea. Some think it was written as a satire of Symmes ideas, and believe they identified the author as an early American writer named Nathaniel Ames who wrote other works, including one that might have served as the inspiration of Moby Dick. (see Lang, Hans-Joachim and Benjamin Lease. "The Authorship of Symzonia: The Case for Nathanial Ames" New England Quarterly, June 1975, pg 241-252.)

Symmes himself never wrote a book of his ideas, as he was too busy expounding them on the lecture circuit, but others did. His follower James McBride wrote Symmes' Theory of Concentric Spheres in 1826. Another follower, Jeremiah N. Reynolds apparently had an article that was published as a separate booklet in 1827: Remarks of Symmes' Theory Which Appeared in the American Quarterly Review. In 1868 a professor W.F. Lyons published The Hollow Globe which put forth a Symmes-like Hollow Earth theory, but did not mention Symmes. Symmes's son Americus then published The Symmes' Theory of Concentric Spheres to set the record straight.


Compare a fictional echo of Symmes in Ian Wedde's Symmes Hole (1987); and a focus on both Symmes and Reynolds in James Chapman's Our Plague: A Film From New York (1993).

Poe Note

Poe used elements of the hollow earth theory in the ending to his only novel:

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838) is the only complete novel written by American writer Edgar Allan Poe. The work relates the tale of the young Arthur Gordon Pym, who stows away aboard a whaling ship called the Grampus. Various adventures and misadventures befall Pym, including shipwreck, mutiny, and cannibalism, before he is saved by the crew of the Jane Guy. Aboard this vessel, Pym and a sailor named Dirk Peters continue their adventures further south. Docking on land, they encounter hostile black-skinned natives before escaping back to the ocean. The novel ends abruptly as Pym and Peters continue towards the South Pole.