Friday, October 10, 2008

The Pit and the Pendulum

I was never really into Edgar Allen Poe. This fact has always perplexed me, because I do really like dark, gothic stuff, and nobody is better known for that than him. We had to read a fair number of his short stories in high school, including "The Pit and the Pendulum." A few years ago I read "The Fall of the House of Usher," and was completely underwhelmed. I would like to care more about Poe, but I just don't.

All I remeber of having read this in high school was the following: (1) It was about this guy locked in a dungeon and his tied down and there is a pendulum suspended from the ceiling and it's coming towards him and will soon split him in half; (2) I was ambivalent about it; and (3) Miss Bernheisel told us the story demonstrated "suspension of disbelief." Meaning - you're reading the story and are so engrossed that you take this guy's story as truth, but afterwards you're supposed to wonder if any of it really happened. Was he just delerious?

Bearing those things in mind, I decided to read the story again (and guess what - it's on a list...go figure). I was right about the plot, but I forgot many of the details - that this whole torture chamber is set up to kill the guy one way or another. First, there's a pit in the middle of the dungeon. Then they tie him up and try to kill him with the pendulum. When he outsmarts them there, they make the walls hot and move them (like in the garbage disposal scene in Star Wars) to try to get the guy to fall into the pit. And then, in the end, rescue! I'm still ambivalent about it. But I did think about Miss Bernheisel's statements...and I think she might have been right. I was also struck by the way in which the Inquisitors had designed this whole room to kill the man without having to bother doing it themselves. It reminded me of the torture chamber in The Phantom of the Opera (the book, not the musical/movie), in which Raoul and The Persian (also left out of the musical) find themselves as they pursue the Phantom and Christine. I don't know if LeRoux would have read or been influenced by Poe's story. The wikipedia article was no help :-)

Overall, it was a half-decent story to read on an October afternoon, but as I had suspected: really not that great.

No comments: