“The Pit and the Pendulum” is a classic short story written by American author Edgar Allan Poe. Set during the Spanish Inquisition, it is a gripping tale of horror and suspense, of death and fates worse than death. It holds the reader’s heart in its gasp until the final sentence and ends not a punctuation-mark too late.
The narrator, who speaks in first person and spends the entire story without a name, is sentenced to death during the Spanish Inquisition. He spends much of the story drifting in and out of consciousness, describing what little he can see both in his state of mind and limited field of vision. Eventually, he is cast into a lightless dungeon, which by first inspection is made of bricks, of an odd shape, and approximately fifty yards in circumference.
Upon further inspection, the narrator discovers a pit in the center of the dungeon, into which he nearly falls. The narrator is then drugged and tied to a bed, which is placed directly under a swinging blade that is slowly descending from the ceiling. Death eludes him for hours. After realizing that he can use his head to fight against it, the narrator rubs food on the ropes that bind him to the bed. He is then swarmed by rats chewing off the ropes, and escapes in the nick of time.
Unfortunately, there is a third method of execution in the prison. The walls, which are in actuality made of iron, begin to glow red-hot and press in, forcing him into the pit. Just before he falls, he is rescued by the French during their invasion of Spain.
“The Pit and the Pendulum” is an epic of tension and high stakes. Not a word is wasted. The descriptions, especially in the absence of light, are remarkable. The vocabulary is rich and varied, arranged in such a way that we feel the fear of the narrator.
The story is a classic, and it has earned its place in the bookshelves and libraries of Americans across the country. It gives a hint, not only of the rich literature that was available in the 19th century, but also of the terrors of the Spanish Inquisition.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.