It's Spooky Time: A Review of "The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe
Updated: Sep 22, 2020
I have yet to write a review on any classic work. I’ve talked about why The Great Gatsby is terrible, but I haven’t talked positively on any classic literature outside of the listicles I’ve done.
Since last week was our Lord and Savior’s, Edgar Allan Poe’s, birthday, and instead of covering one of his short stories I covered the Magic Tree House series and how it shaped my childhood, I decided to cover a Poe story a week late.
It honestly took me all week to figure out which story to cover. I have a complete collection of his works thanks to Barnes and Noble. Thanks, Barnes and Noble, you’re the true MVP. And having a complete collection, that gave me all the options; which was not something I needed. I only just picked which story to cover on Monday evening.
That being said, today we shall be talking about “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe. This is one of Poe’s more well known stories, but gets overshadowed by his more famous works of “The Black Cat” or “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
A brief summary for those who have yet to read this story, our story is set in an undisclosed location that is most likely Western Europe. While there are mentions of the horrors that envelop the outside world, “The Masque of the Red Death” takes place in castellated abbey owned by Prince Prospero who is entertaining over a thousand of his “closest aristocratic friends” in an attempt to shield themselves from the plague, the Red Death, that is sweeping the countryside.
Now, this story does not include much narrative. While it is stated that Prince Prospero and his guests have spent six months in this abbey to avoid the plague, the story itself takes place in what can’t be more than an hour. Prince Prospero is holding a masked ball for his guests, and at the height of the festivities a new figure is spotted.
While everyone Prospero has invited to his abbey is dressed in decadent gowns and suits, elaborate masks, and are likely dripping in jewels. This new figure is dressed in solid black and a mask that is reminiscent of the face of a corpse, and instead of being covered in jewels, is covered in blood; blood that is in the same areas that those who have succumbed to the Red Death have blood spewing out of.
This story is much like the other typical Poe stories with the gloomy, gothic atmosphere, death, mysterious illness, an un-named, unreliable narrator, but it’s so hauntingly beautiful. The descriptions of the seven consecutive rooms that make up the setting are absolutely stunning. I’m so used to Poe describing run down homes that may have been beautiful once upon a time, but “The Masque of the Red Death” shows a new side to his writing. For once in Poe’s writing, readers experience beauty in the traditional sense with elaborate, fancy rooms of the upper crust. It’s a side of his writing that readers don’t see often, and I love being able to see this different side of Poe’s writing. Like I said, it’s hauntingly beautiful.
It's even more so when you consider the large black clock in the seventh room represents our internal clock. The idea of the clock being a representation of our internal clock is strengthen by it being in the final room that is dressed in all black aside from the blood red windows. These rooms are laid out from east to west beginning with a bright blue room in the east and the black room at the end in the west. As the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, the rooms’ layout and colors are representative of the guests’ lives. The colors of the rooms grow darker as the sun would set; as if the sun was setting on the guests’ lives and out time is up.
No one wants to step into the black room at the ball, and only the physical representation of death dares to tread into the room. The guests show a fear of death in not wanting to enter the final room. It isn’t until Death itself steps foot into this room that anyone else follows. This is Prince Prospero who does so, and he is the first to die. The rest of his guests quickly follow with the clock stopping at the exact moment the final guest dies.
While all this may seem very on the nose as an allegory of death comes for everyone, I promise that this book is highly enjoyable. “The Masque of the Red Death” just feels different than Poe’s other works, and I think that just has to do with the setting, but it makes the book stand out from his other works. This book deserves more appreciation than it gets.