Not knowing the difference between “mask” and “masque” doesn’t mean you can’t be terrified by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of Red Death.”
In fifth grade, I pooled my cash together and talked my mom into buying me a collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories. I decided this would be my way of turning Halloween into a month-long celebration. Clearly, I have not forgotten this strategy.
Of all the stories in the book, which I read cover to cover, none scared me as much as”The Masque of Red Death.” The social commentary of Prospero’s saving the beautiful people in his castle while the rest of the world died was mostly lost on me. In my eyes, the story was about the insidious nature of contagion. Prospero tried to keep his world safe, but in the end could not stop the rot of death.
The image of the skull-faced specter stalking Prospero’s party haunted me deeply. The disease-spreading spirit spoke to my lifelong fears of germs and sickness before I was even aware I had those fears.
Some nights, when I was all alone, I used to imagine the Red Death was standing right behind the chair I was sitting in, blocking access to my bedroom. Interestingly, I never imagined it killing me. I only imagined it staring at me: bony, bloody, and very dead. After that, the sickness would have me.
If there really is a Grim Reaper, I propose he will look like the Red Death looked to me.