The spooky season is upon us once again, and as HP shares his experience with the horror stories of Robert E Howard, I’ve decided to get Gothic. This month is Poctober for me, as I spend some time with a master who inspired Howard, Lovecraft, and many other great succeeding SFF writers. Before now I’d only had the barest exposure to Edgar Allan Poe. Everyone knows “The Raven,” of course, and I read “The Cask of Amontillado” back in school. I’m really glad to be revisiting.
Perhaps what’s struck me most so far is how apparent his influence was on Lovecraft especially. If Lovecraft be one of the fathers of the weird tale, then Poe is just a step back in the genre’s paternal line. The works I’ve read so far feature a dread city where Death is enthroned, madness, a horrible monstrosity, and murder most foul.
“The Cask of Amontillado,” for those unfamiliar, showcases a grim amicicide. This fact itself is not the most horrifying element. The manner in which the narrator, Montresor, slips the metaphorical noose around his friend’s neck, mocks and plays with him, and finally tightens is terrible indeed. The unnamed slight the protagonist speaks of, either real or imagined, and the unclear motive (is this true revenge or is Montresor insane?) are chilling. The way in which the victim meets his end is haunting.
The tale is full to bursting with irony and symbolism. The white nitre deposits in Montresor’s cellar are strands of the web into which the unfortunate Fortunato has fallen. The “supreme madness of the carnival season” mirrors that of the narrator. And it is noteworthy that not once in the story does anyone refer to an actual “cask” of Amontillado…though “cask” is quite close to “casket,” isn’t it?
It’s not a long tale and I highly recommend giving it a read. Quick to consume with much to digest. H.P. Lovecraft is great for the Halloween season, but if you want a taste of one of his elders, try some Poe. You won’t regret it.