Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most revered horror writers of the 19th Century. Some of his works that are constantly mentioned are The Raven, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Fall of the House of Usher and The Tell-Tale Heart. One that’s rarely mentioned and one of my favorites is The Masque of the Red Death.
The story is about Prince Prospero taking all large group of his closest friends to a secluded abbey where they try to escape a plague called the Red Death. Prince Prospero decides to hold a ball six months after entering isolation where things go south.
Firstly, why masque instead of mask? It would seem obvious mask would be the proper usage, but what exactly happens in the story? That, my friends, is a masquerade ball and it takes place during the Red Death. While that may not sound clever, you’d be surprised how many people can’t figure that out.
As for the story itself, it’s still worth a read because while on the surface it doesn’t seem creepy but it really is. One of the things that humans have been fearful since humans first came into this world is disease. While many diseases nowadays have cures/treatments, in the 1800s “treatment” meant drinking snake oil, leeches and herbal remedies. You can imagine how many people died. Poe also died before the Third Plague hit the world and germ theory came into being thanks to Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister and Robert Koch.
There’s also the underlying message that says something like “death comes for us all and there’s no escaping it.” Prince Prospero tried escaping it will his friends but it showed up and took all of them. This is a theme that Poe loved to use and this story shows off one instance of how death comes for people in a rather elaborate way.
There’s also the clock that chimes loudly at every abbey. It’s here that everyone stops what they’re doing and listens to the clock chime the hour. This clock is a plot device used to symbolize the hours left until everyone dies. It’s at midnight when the Red Death appears because, traditionally, midnight is viewed as the “witching hour” when everything paranormal, especially witches (hence the name) become the most active. This is the perfect time for Poe to have this specter appear.
Edgar Allan Poe may have written a ton of creepy stories and poems, but The Masque of the Red Death is one of his finest and should be read by everyone to experience how to do subtle horror right.