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The Pit and The Pendulum

"The Pit and the Pendulum" is a short story by American writer Edgar Allan Poe and first published in 1842 in the literary annual The Gift: A Christmas and New Year's Present for 1843. 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 of 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. The tale has been adapted to film several times.

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Jeffrey Keeten
”The entire surface of this metallic enclosure was rudely daubed in all the hideous and repulsive devices to which the charnel superstition of the monks has given rise. The figures of fiends in aspects of menace, with skeleton forms, and other more really fearful images, overspread and disfigured the walls.”

A classic of sensational horror, The Pit and the Pendulum is also, for me, one of the Poe stories that most closely resembles (and certainly influences) later writers such as Franz Kafka. Here we have several Kafka-like elements: a judgment pronounced by distant, stern, inhuman judges, with no sense of what crime, if any, may have been committed, and then a devious punishment that gets more devious as time goes on. The narrator is also utterly alone in the world, save the hungry rats, and this loneliness allows him to reflect quite eloquently on his own dream-like consciousness. At the same time, Poe maintains a frenzied intensity that literally kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. Amazing how much he packs into so few pages!

As the doorbell rings nearly incessantly and the frigid air seeps into my living room, I am all tucked up in a corner of the couch with my fluffy blanket, a glass of The Velvet Devil Merlot, and a book of tales from the master of horror, Edgar Allan Poe. I'm leaving the job of distributing candy to everyone else. I can't think of a better way to spend the evening!

The Pit and the Pendulum is a classic - one that keeps you in the grip of horror while the tension mounts relentlessly. The torture chamber of the Inquisition is a place you will relish reading about, but do expect to get a grand case of the willies by the time you reach that last sentence! Oh, and that ending - perfect!

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