Having had the question put to me, ‘What books have influenced your writing?’ The answer that immediately sprang to mind was The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe. Although this is only a short story I have always been completely seduced by his fear provoking descriptiveness.
The story is told through the eyes of an anonymous torture victim of the Spanish Inquisition. Following his trial he awakes to the utter darkness he was dreading:
‘My worst thoughts, then, were confirmed. The blackness of eternal night encompassed me. I struggled for breath. The intensity of the darkness seemed to oppress and stifle me. The atmosphere was intolerably close. I still lay quietly, and made effort to exercise my reason.’
From the outset, how beautifully he conveys the feeling of being completely alone and helpless in the darkness. The reader is drawn into the feeling of claustrophobia and finds themself trying to breathe for him. Several times throughout the story he falls unconscious only to awaken in a different situation within his personal dungeon.
We share in our narrators terror as he studies the indeterminably slow descent of the razor-sharp pendulum towards his tightly bound torso, gripping the reader as we join him in his horrific situation.
‘Down — steadily down it crept. I took a frenzied pleasure in contrasting its downward with its lateral velocity. To the right — to the left — far and wide — with the shriek of a damned spirit! to my heart with the stealthy pace of the tiger! I alternately laughed and howled, as the one or the other idea grew predominant.’
To the horror of the pit – the pit of what? well I guess that is a question that only Poe would know the answer to. Hell perhaps or worse … if there can be any worse.
‘I rushed to its deadly brink. I threw my straining vision below. The glare from the enkindled roof illumined its inmost recesses. Yet, for a wild moment, did my spirit refuse to comprehend the meaning of what I saw. At length it forced — it wrestled its way into my soul — it burned itself in upon my shuddering reason. O for a voice to speak! — oh, horror! — oh, any horror but this!’
I can only dream of being able to convey fear and emotion in the way Poe has in this story, but I will of course keep trying.
Read ‘The Pit And The Pendulum’, by Edgar Allan Poe: