December 13, 2021 9.30 pm This story is over 30 months old

Barry Turner: Truth being stranger than fiction, to Boris at least

“Darkness & Decay and the Red Death have at last triumphed”

In 1845 the master of the Gothic tale, Edgar Allen Poe wrote a short story called The Masque of the Red Death.  The story was made into a movie in the 1960’s starring horror matinee idol Vincent Price as the deranged Prince Prospero.

The story goes as follows.  Set in a fictional country at some point at the end of the middle ages the land is ravaged by a plague called the red death of the title. Prince Prospero the ruler of this dystopian land adopts a casual hubristic attitude to the crisis outside his palace gates. He preaches optimism and a happy go lucky persona, safe as he feels behind those locked gates.

As the plague ravages the countryside for some months Prince Prospero decides to hold a lavish masked ball within the ‘safe’ confines of the palace.  He decorates each room in a different colour, seven rooms in all, travelling from east to west. The first room in the east is blue with a blue stained glass window. The next room is purple and the rooms continue west going through green, orange, white and violet.

The last room to the far west is black with a red window.  In the room is an ebony clock that rings on every hour. During the evening all the guests move from room to room finding most of them to be a beautiful sort of dreamscape. However, because of its frightening atmosphere the guests at Prince Prospero’s Masked ball avoid the sinister and foreboding black and red room.

At midnight a terrifying guest appears. His mask is the face of a corpse and his outfit a funeral shroud. Prince Prospero is outraged that such a person should invade his party and moves to confront him.  The hideous new guest walks from room to room westwards, the other guests cannot stop him and Prince Prospero chases him into the final room to confront him about gate-crashing his party. As he confronts the figure he is convulsed and dies.  The Prince’s party-goers rush into the room to attack his assassin but find there is no one there.

Then they all die. Poe finishes the story with the words “Darkness & Decay and the Red Death have at last triumphed”

Rumour has it that the Conservative Party 1922 committee have bought Boris Johnson a first edition of Poe’s famous work for his Christmas present.  Apparently they are going to give it to him in the Number 10 press briefing room that is being specially decorated red and black by an unnamed party donor running a blind trust.

Barry Turner is a Senior Lecturer in War Reporting and Human Rights and a member of the Royal United Services Institute.