Some of Poe’s most popular tales of terror were inspired by true events. One example is “The Pit and the Pendulum,” which tells of the story of a prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition, an infamous program of trials in which the judges were allowed to use torture to extract confessions from the accused. Poe sets this story in a torture chamber during the Spanish Inquisition. He may have been inspired by a paragraph in Thomas Dick’s Philosophy of Religion (1825): “On entry of the French into Toldeo during the late Peninsular War, General Lasalle visited the Palace of the Inquisition. The great number of instruments of torture, especially the instruments to stretch the limbs, and the drop baths, which cause a lingering death, excited horror, even in the minds of soldiers hardened in the field of battle.” Poe’s story ends with Lasalle entering the Palace of the Inquisition and rescuing one of the prisoners. Poe imagines a series of terrifying events leading up to that conclusion.
In composing his story, Poe describes tortures that differ from those actually used by the Inquisition. In one room, for example, the victim is placed in a dark room with a seemingly bottomless pit and burning walls that close in on him. In another room, the man is tied to a table over which a sharp blade swings, gradually lowering until it almost chops him in half. Through a combination of luck and intelligence, the prisoner is able to narrowly escape each challenge set before him.
After the French invasion of Spain in 1808, Joseph Bonaparte briefly suppressed the Inquisition and appointed Llorente to take over the Inquisitions archives and to write its history. This work was published in 1812. When the Spanish drove out the French, Llorente moved to Paris where he issued a French translation of his history of the Inquisition. By 1826, two English translations were published. Any of these could have been Poe’s sources for research while writing “The Pit and the Pendulum.” The Spanish Inquisition finally ended in 1834, just eight years before Poe wrote his story, so reports of the terrors of that time would still have been fresh in the minds of the public.
The Poe Museum’s new exhibit, “The Pit and the Pendulum: Fact and Fiction,” recreates a scene from Poe’s story and brings together a rare first printing of the tale, illustrations by Harry Clarke, Mark Summers, and others, as well as translations of the work into other languages.
The show runs until August 30 in the Poe Museum’s Exhibits Building.
June’s Unhappy Hour (which took place on June 23rd) featured Poe’s short story “The Pit and the Pendulum”. First published in October 1842, the story is a hair raising tale of a prisoner’s experiences at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition and is notable for evoking terror through its heavy reliance on sensory details to emphasize the reality of the narrator’s harrowing situation.
The museum has put together a new exhibit based on Poe’s tale that opened for the Unhappy Hour.
Here is a small sampling courtesy of Keith Kaufelt:
You’ll have to come experience the whole exhibit for yourself – it will be here through the end of August.
Unhappy Hour featured a Spanish Inquisition themed scavenger hunt as well as Spanish themed food in honor of the story. Jamie and Katie, two of our lovely staff members, even volunteered to make pendulum cookies for the occasion.
Pendulum cookies – with “bloody” sprinkle edges courtesy of Jamie and Katie
Family enjoying the Spanish Inquisition scavenger hunt at Unhappy Hour
Marvel at their hard work!
Lovely Spanish guitar music was provided by the Robinson Guitar Duo.
The Robinson Guitar Duo
Guests enjoying June’s Unhappy Hour festivities
Lots more Unhappy Hour photos (plus larger versions of the ones posted in this entry) may be found here: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjvg7uxN.
Unless you’re a victim of the Inqusition, a good time can always be had during Unhappy Hour at the Poe Museum.
Next Unhappy Hour will be on July 28th from 6pm-9pm and will feature a carnival and an amontillado tasting in honor of “The Cask of Amontillado.” Beggars of Life will provide the evening’s musical entertainment.
You might have so much fun you’ll never leave …
This isn’t technically related to the bicentennial, but the exhibit of Poe in the comics is still running at the Poe Museum. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to see it, you still have until the end of October visit. Even those of you who are not particularly interested in comic books or graphic novels will still be able to appreciate the artistry of some of these drawings and paintings. Among my favorites were the illustrations by Richard Corben for “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Beautifully rendered, these dramatic images really make an impression on the viewer. The murderer’s face in “The Tell-Tale Heart” truly evokes his nervousness and paranoia. Corben’s drawings for “The Raven” are lyrical and enigmatic. They are hanging in a suitably creepy black room on the second floor of the exhibit building along with some dark drawings by other artists.
The first floor of the exhibit contains an overview of Poe in the comics. This section shows how not only Poe’s stories but also Poe, himself, have appeared in comics from the 1940s until today. The area devoted to Poe as a comic character gives the viewer a new perspective on the idea of Poe as a pop culture icon. Here you will encounter Poe joining forces with Batman and helping “the world’s smallest super hero” the Atom fight crime. An original drawing by Rick Geary for his book The Mystery of Mary Rogers details the real Poe’s attempt to solve an actual murder mystery, proving that Poe didn’t need Batman’s help to battle the forces of evil. (Come to the Poe Museum’s Summer 2009 exhibit “Ratiocination” to learn more about how Poe tried to solve some real-life mysteries.)
One case in this room is devoted to Poe parodies. Among these are a Simpsons version of “The Cask of Amontillado” and a story entitled “The Tell-Tale Fart.”
A favorite with many of visitors is Gris Grimly’s watercolor cover art for Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Madness. Grimly uses subtle washes of watercolor with delicate pen-and-ink details to create a twisted world that reminds one of a cross between a Tim Burton film and an Egon Schiele drawing.
In addition to the exhibit, the Poe Museum has published a catalog, The Incredible Mr. Poe, which includes a history of Poe in the comics by Dr. M. Thomas Inge, the collector who loaned many of the pieces in the show, as well as chronology of most of Poe’s comic appearances from the 1940s until 2007.