Perlego Book of the Month: The Terrifying Tales by Edgar Allan Poe

October was the month of terrifying Halloween pranks and spooky stories – and scariest of all, the dreaded midterms! With this theme in mind, we chose a book by the “father of horror” himself for our Perlego book of the month – The Terrifying Tales of Edgar Allan Poe. This volume includes many of the scary stories that you might have been too stubborn to read in high school English, including The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, The Masque of the Red Death, and many more. Edgar Allan Poe’s melancholy, genius, passion, and torment are all displayed in this set of stories. Poes work characterized American romanticism and secured him as one of the nineteenth century’s most enduring literary voices. Regardless of your UNYP major, these tales won’t leave you indifferent. 

UNYP students can explore the world of fiction with free access to the Perlego online library. 

One story which relates thematically to our current situation is The Masque of the Red Death. Poe takes the reader on a journey through an older Europe in the grip of the black plague. In this story, the black plague is known as the red death, for its symbol is the blood that flowed out of its victims as they perished. Despite the pain and suffering, in a castle with walls high as the sky, a prince known as Prospero threw a masquerade ball for a thousand guests amidst the pandemic depopulating his kingdom. Prince Prospero and his guests secluded themselves from the dying masses and enjoyed an endless night of pleasure with entertainers, dancers, music, wine, and enough provisions to last for years, delighted to have escaped the red death. The magnificent party lasted for months on end, as the libertine prince entertained his thousand guests while the world suffered and sickened outside. Throughout the mansion, especially the imperial suite, the bizarre rooms directly reflected the prince’s eccentric tastes. It was speculated that seven of the rooms were designed to represent the seven stages of life, for as one room gave way to another, there was an extremely sharp turn, and as the guests entered each new room, they saw its unique decorations. The first room was completely blue from windows to furniture, the second was purple, the third was green, and all the way to the seventh room which was shrouded in an eerie black velvet with red windowpanes. However, the seventh room had its own peculiarity; a gigantic ebony clock dominating the room with a sound so strong and peculiar that every time the hour struck, the musicians were forced to stop until the sound ended, and the festivities resumed.

It was an extraordinarily successful and majestic masquerade indeed. The dream lived on, the music played on, and the only thing that spoiled the fun was the sound of that clock dictating silence for a few moments every hour. Nonetheless, with the stroke of midnight, the chatter again stopped, but this time the silence lingered, for a masked presence had made itself known in the room. A horrific presence dressed in burial vestments, dripping with blood, and wearing a mask so hideous that it turned the stomachs of the guests. Prince Prospero roared “Who dares?” and ordered his guards to seize the intruder, but no one dared to do so, for the aura around the stranger resembled the stuff of nightmares. 

The masked individual walked through the seven rooms until he reached the ebony clock, and the prince, embarrassed and enraged, grabbed a dagger and pursued him throughout the seven rooms. As Prince Prospero caught the intruder to finally cut him down, a sharp cry filled the castle, and the dagger fell to the ground, followed by the prince’s corpse. The red death had entered the castle like a thief in the night, and one by one, the prince’s guests fell dead in the blood-soaked halls. In the end, the red death held dominion overall, the poor and the rich, the strong and the weak, the good and the bad, with no discrimination. 

In this story, the author explores the inevitability of death and the futility of seeking to avoid it. This critical theme is explicitly addressed in the entire narrative. Poe reinforces his theme by implying the stupidity of these foolish people who feel that high walls and iron gates will save them from death. The contrast of self-indulgent gaiety inside and ravaging death outside contributes to the overall horrific effect that the author is seeking. The importance of the seven rooms lies in the seventh and therefore last room. The seventh room’s importance will not escape the reader’s attention, regardless of whether or not the first six rooms have any symbolic purpose. In European cultures, black often symbolizes death. In addition to the room’s black velvet furniture, the window panes are likewise “scarlet – a deep blood color.” Poe uses heavy symbolism to emphasize the fleeting nature of life and time, which explains why the masked “Red Death” rushes from the Eastern room to the Western room (the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, symbolizing the beginning and the end of life). Poe also emphasizes the passing of time by describing the sounds of the event. For example, the musicians stop playing every time the clock strikes the hour, and all the revelers briefly cease their celebrating. 

The story’s greatness lies in its use of an age-old theme, the inevitability of death, and in the manner in which Poe produces and retains a complete unity of consequence to take us into the story’s horror. Every description, every word contributes to a consistent and cohesive mood of fear and horror, profoundly affecting the reader and letting the story achieve credibility. Don’t miss it!

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