The season of Carnivale and The Cask of Amontillado

Though COVID has large communal gatherings still largely banned, this time of springtide always makes me think about the tradition of Carnivale, and Edgar Allan Poe’s story The Cask of Amontillado, where Poe writes about a drunk reveler being walled up in a catacomb by the narrator, Montresor.

I grew up in Florida, quite non-religious, and I had never experienced firsthand anything like Carnivale, unless you count the local Renaissance Festival in the spring. But the way Poe wrote about the atmosphere–the revelry, and the surreal horror, the tragedy, of this drunk fool so oblivious to his own plight that he doesn’t realized he’s being methodically walled up with bricks.

It was now midnight, and my task was drawing to a close. I had completed the eighth, the ninth and the tenth tier. I had finished a portion of the last and the eleventh; there remained but a single stone to be fitted and plastered in. I struggled with its weight; I placed it partially in its destined position. But now there came from out the niche a low laugh that erected the hairs upon my head. It was succeeded by a sad voice, which I had difficulty in recognizing as that of the noble Fortunato.

The voice said– “Ha! ha! ha! –he! he! he! –a very good joke, indeed –an excellent jest. We will have many a rich laugh about it at the palazzo –he! he! he! –over our wine –he! he! he!” “The Amontillado!” I said. “He! he! he! –he! he! he! –yes, the Amontillado. But is it not getting late? Will not they be awaiting us at the palazzo, the Lady Fortunato and the rest? Let us be gone.” “Yes,” I said, “let us be gone.” “For the love of God, Montresor!” “Yes,” I said, “for the love of God!” But to these words I hearkened in vain for a reply. I grew impatient. I called aloud — “Fortunato!” No answer. I called again — “Fortunato!” No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within. There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells. My heart grew sick; it was the dampness of the catacombs that made it so. I hastened to make an end of my labour. I forced the last stone into its position; I plastered it up. Against the new masonry I re-erected the old rampart of bones. For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat!

The uncanniness of it. I read that story as a child, over twenty years ago, and it still makes my skin crawl. And that feeling of unease, the prevailing sense that something just isn’t right, is something that stayed with me, and it’s what I feel when I’m writing about Mada Ilan.

It’s funny the things that stay with you. Have you ever read something that left a permanent impression on your mind? Tell me about it.

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