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Penguin Classics the Pit and the Pendulum: The Essential Poe Paperback – International Edition, May 28, 2013
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Peter Ackroyd is a well known writer and historian. He has been the literary editor of The Spectator and chief book reviewer for the The Times, as well as writing several highly acclaimed books including a biography of Dickens and London: The Biography. He resides in London and his most recent highly acclaimed work is Thames: Sacred River.
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Why do such a thing? The story's torture chamber is not a makeshift construction slapped together; rather, with its pendulum descending in mathematical precision and its collapsing metal walls turning red hot, to assemble such a bizarre, intricate room would take sophisticated engineering. huge resources and lots of time, perhaps years. What does such a room say about the Western monastic tradition and the mentality of monks?
In `A Distant Mirror, The Calamitous 14th Century", author Barbara W. Tuchman richly portrays the psychology of these chaotic, disorderly times. For example, she writes, "In village games, players with hands tied behind them competed to kill a cat nailed to a post by battering it to death with their heads, at the risk of cheeks ripped open or eyes scratched out by the frantic animal's claws. Trumpets enhanced the excitement. Or a pig enclosed in a wide pen was chased by men with clubs to the laughter of spectators as he ran squealing from the blows until beaten lifeless. Accustomed in their own lives to physical hardship and injury, medieval men and women were not necessarily repelled by the spectacle of pain but rather enjoyed it. . . . It may be that the untender medieval infancy produced adults who valued others no more than they had been valued in their own formative years." Nowadays, we have a name for "untender infancy": child abuse. We also have a word for enjoying the spectacle of pain inflicted on others: sadism.
Of course, the effects of child abuse and living in a society accepting sadism as the norm would not disappear when men became monks. What undoubtedly added fuel to this psychological fire was a religion and theology giving a central place to guilt and sin and thus turning men against their own bodies, and, more specifically, again their own sexuality. Reaching absolute conclusions about the mindset of peoples living centuries ago can never be an exact science, but it doesn't take too much imagination to understand how such a life in such a time would produce a population of dark, twisted people. Poe's tale takes place in 1820s not the 1350s, but how much did the psychology of the monasteries really change in these years?
Altered States of Consciousness
In the beginning stages of the narrator's ordeal, he conveys the following, "Very suddenly there came back to my soul motion and sound - the tumultuous motion of the heart, and, in my ears, the sound of its beating. Then a pause in which all is blank. Then again sound, and motion and touch - a tingling sensation pervading my frame. Then the mere consciousness of existence, without thought - a condition which lasted long." Yogis and Buddhist teachers talk about the `consciousness of existence, without thought', that is, the gap between thoughts. In such a gap between thoughts we are given a glimpse of the ground of being, pure awareness of space. This awareness can be developed through meditation or occasionally experienced through such things as hallucinogens, trance, or, as with the narrator of Poe's tale, extreme emotional states.
Adding to the fear of actual physical suffering, there is the fear we project with our minds and imaginations. The narrator's imagination is afire: "And now, as I still continued to step cautiously onward, there came thronging upon my recollection a thousand vague rumors of the horrors of Toledo. Of the dungeons there had been strange things narrated - fables I had always deemed them - but yet strange and too ghastly to repeat, save in a whisper. Was I left to perish of starvation in this subterranean world of darkness; or what fate, perhaps even more fearful, awaited me?" Fear thrives on our projecting into the future: whatever pain or agony we are currently experiencing, there is always the ever-present possibility our plight will become worse.
Hope and Good Fortune
The narrator is forever hopeful and it's the narrator's hope coupled with his fear and sufferings that gives the tale its emotional depth and breath . And, as it turns out, good fortune or what we more commonly call `luck' follows the narrator at three critical junctures in the tale. Oh, Fortuna, if we could all have such good fortune and luck at critical points in our own lives!
October 13, 2005
This year I read The Pit and the Pendulum, by Edgar Allen Poe. It's about a guy who is captured and tortured by a pendulum, but shortly after is thrown into an abyss. My favorite artist, Griss Grimly makes drawings from Poe's stories. So since I love Griss so much I decided to check Poe out. I'd recommend this story to any one who likes Griss Grimly's art who is over the age of thirteen. If you don't like guar, crazy, magical, scary, mystery books you wouldn't like this story, but if you do like everything I said you like this book.
This book was wonderful because of all the torture. The guy in this book was hearing people that really weren't there. For example he said "I saw the lips of the black robed judges. They appeared white whiter then this sheet upon which I write these words and thin even grotesquely. Also another scary moment in this story is when the pendulum gets closer and closer to his rob, it was very suspenseful. It said "down steadily down it crept. Down certainly, relentlessly down". The only thing wrong was it was a little hard to understand. Like "it enveloped my limbs and body close in all directions, save in the path of the destroying crescent".
My over all opinion was a wonderful experience. It was fun and not boring, unlike all the other books I've read. Anyone looking for horror stories, which love terror scary and fun you will like this book.