Friday, October 24, 2008

Thinking About Poe by Mark Troy

Edgar Allen Poe was born January 19, 1809 and died October 7, 1849. Next year marks the 200th anniversary of his birth and Virginia will remember him with statewide events.

I was in the seventh grade when I discovered a collection of Poe’s stories and poems in a box of books that belonged to my dad. I can still see the book. It had a cloth cover and inside were marvelous prints. Talk about sleeping with the light on! The Masque of the Red Death, in particular, scared the bejeezus out of me. I kept imagining the Red Death , himself, showing up.

The story that stuck with me, however, was The Cask of Amontillado. Some scholars say that story is Poe’s best story, possibly the best in American literature because there are no wasted words.

The story details a horrific act of revenge. The narrator, Montresor, gets back at his enemy, Fortunato, by sealing him up alive in the wall of a wine cellar. What did Fortunato do to deserve such a fate? Montresor claims he suffered insults from Fortunato. Insults? They must have been doozies.

Montresor says he bore the insults as best he could and continued to smile in Fortunato’s face. Here’s a note to everybody. Vent! Don’t keep your feelings bottled up! If Montresor had vented once or twice, this whole incident could have been avoided.

Fortunato isn’t the most likeable guy. He’s something of a wine snob. Montresor uses that snobbery to lure Fortunato to his end. But does snobbery, even wine snobbery, merit immurement? I hardly think so.

By the way, I think immurement is a great word for an act of murder. It rolls easily off the tongue, like defenestration, another great word. So architectural, both of them. But, I digress.

There’s an imbalance in The Cask of Amontillado that needs to be corrected. As Montresor says in the beginning, “A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser.” Since first reading the story, I believed somebody needed to unredress the wrong.

Four decades later, I got my chance. I wrote a story, The Montressor Hit, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Poe’s death. It was published in Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine in 1999 and remains one of my favorite short stories. It is now up on my website, though I’m not urging you to go read it. It’s really just a humble effort. (And yes, I did misspell Montresor, and no, it was not intentional.) Instead, go read The Cask of Amontillado again. Published in November, 1846, The Cask of Amontillado hasn’t lost a bit of luster in 162 years.


Morgan Mandel said...

I don't know any mystery lover who doesn't know about Poe.
He's one of those authors people can't forget through the ages.

Morgan Mandel

June Shaw said...

while I taught English I, I was thrilled to be able to introduce students to Poe. The Cask of Amontillado was also one of my favorites. Love it!
June Shaw

Jean Henry Mead said...

I read "The Cask of Amontillado" in junior high school and have never forgotten it. It was my introduction to Poe and I was hooked.

zhadi said...

Something about being walled up alive pretty much beats out most other forms of death for pure nastiness.

My favorite Poe stories were always THe Telltale Heart because my grandpa read it to us as a bedtime story (this explains a lot about me) and Descent into the Maelstrom. LOVE Poe.

Christine Duncan said...

I read "The Cask of Amontillado" as a kid and was so terrified I couldn't sleep for the next several nights. Poe was a master.