Masque Of The Red Death (Edgar Allan Poe)

Lon ChaneyDream in the language of dream, with an imagery shining forth in a symphony of sound and colour. Not to get too pretentious about it, but Masque is the greatest short story of the last 200 years. It contains a Biblical weight and foreboding tone that resonates in the reader’s back teeth. This is an Old Testament horror from the Prophet of Doom himself!

The “Red Death” is a plague that is wreaking havoc across the land and Prince Prospero decides to lock himself, and many of his friends, away in his castle. He ultimately ends up hosting a very grand masquerade party, and while he and his people are lavishly partying it up within the confines of his sanctuary, everyone else is dying a terrible death. There are seven uniquely decorated rooms in his home where the party-goers roam while the celebrations never cease. In the last room (decorated in black and red) there is an ebony clock which has a very eerie and distinct chime that marks the end of an hour. When the clock chimes, everyone inexplicably pauses and the music stops until the clock is quiet.

The clock in the story is symbolic of our internal clocks that are ticking away. (As I typed those words the grandfather clock in this room chimed nine times. It sounded very apocalyptic, lol). One thing in the story that I didn’t entirely catch the meaning of initially was the seven rooms. Upon further research, I learned that some believe that the seven rooms that were featured in Poe’s classic are to be interpreted as the seven stages of life. To me that makes sense. Or they could symbolize the seven chakras and other spiritual systems. Or the seven colours of the rainbow. Seven is a very metaphysical number at any rate. No matter what Mr Poe was trying to prove, this story is an astonishing one that vividly plays out in my head every time I read it. It feels so complete.

His stories are painted so vividly and if you look past the simple plot, you’ll notice the subtleties; you’ll see the exquisite imagery and the symbolism. The way he pushed the theme of disease to the forefront of horror was unique for his time. In fact, sickness of a spiritual kind is what I think of when Poe comes to mind. This is a very short but very powerful story with a bleak message: you can’t hide from death. No matter how hard you try. It will creep upon you like a thief in the night. Ready to take the one thing we have limited supply of. The one thing most of us take for granted: time. The clock in the story no doubt symbolizes our time ticking away; each passing minute ticking by until the fatal end. All the reader’s senses experience this story, so no wonder it lingers in the mind.

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