Short Story Spotlight: The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe

Thursday, September 13, 2012

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I knew Edgar Allan Poe was the perfect choice for a little fall creepiness. And when I turned to my Kindle to read from The Poe Nevermore Collection, a small compilation put together by Kelly Creagh of some of the Poe poems and stories highlighted in the novel Nevermore, I was excited to see that "The Masque of the Red Death" was first. I read a few Poe stories in high school, and this one stands out in my mind more than any other. I was excited to revisit it.

A brief synopsis: The rich and somewhat cavalier Prince Prospero decides to evade the Red Death, a plague that has been, well, plaguing his country, by hiding in an abbey and inviting several hundred of his best friends to do the same. They keep themselves entertained through their self-imposed quarantine by having parties and revelries. However, one particular night, in which Prospero has arranged seven rooms in different colors for a masquerade (and the last, in disturbing black and blood red, seeming to mimic the red death, along with a clock whose dire tolling interrupts the party every hour), someone arrives dressed as the Red Death. Everyone is appalled at his lack of tact, but when they try to get rid of him, he proves to be insubstantial, and everyone dies.

The two things I really remembered about "The Masque of the Red Death" were that there were multi-colored rooms and that it was freaky (par for the course with Edgar Allan Poe). What stood out to me this time around was the haunting beauty of Poe's writing and his attention to disturbing detail.

In the past, I definitely never associated Poe with beauty. His stories are so twisted and nightmarish, how could anyone? However, there is something spell-like and enchanting about his writing. Haunting seems a cliched word, but it really is the best word. Every image was vivid in my mind as I read, and even the darkest were described in beautiful language, making it more like a dark fairy-tale with an unhappy ending.

I think what makes the beauty of Poe's writing go dark is not just the disturbing outlines of his plotting, which granted are disturbing enough, but the details he adds to further frighten and haunt his reader. For example, the Red Death isn't just a plague -- it kills in about thirty minutes. And the masked stranger wasn't just dressed as the Red Death -- his mask and clothing were literally spattered with blood. Every detail adds to the atmosphere and the chills of the story.

Edgar Allan Poe is a masterful writer, and "The Masque of the Red Death" is a prime example of his skill. I am looking forward to reading more of his short stories and poetry as the fall goes on.


  1. I love Edgar Allan Poe. He is such a great writer. But somehow I think I missed this story. I will definitely be looking for him at the library this fall.

    1. Oh my goodness! You need to read this one. For me it is the quintessential Poe story, I think just because it is one of the first ones I ever read. What are some good ones you recommend?


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