The short story, “The Masque of the Red Death”, focuses on a terrible plague with gruesome symptoms. Victims of this disease are described as experiencing “sharp pains”, “sudden dizziness”, and “profuse bleeding at the pores.” The victims die within 30 minutes after experiencing symptoms, making the “Red Death”, as the plague becomes known, a particularly bloody and lethal sentence for those who contract it.
Ignoring the plight of the less fortunate souls suffering around them, Prince Prospero and 1000 fellow nobles retreat to the Prince’s abbey in order to wait out the plague amidst the luxury that their lofty stations afford them.
These nobles have the doors of the abbey welded shut, and the revelers believe they are safe from the horrors taking place outside their walls. They are so sure of their safety that Prince Prospero eventually decides to hold a masquerade ball in 7 rooms of his abbey. Each of these rooms is decorated in a specific color - blue, purple, green, orange, white, and violet. The panes of glass in each of these rooms are the same color as the room itself.
The final room where this lavish party is being held is black, but unlike the other six rooms, this final room’s panes of glass are a different color than the décor. In this room, the glass is a deep red, illuminating the space with a scarlet light that casts a blood-like glow about the room. Few revelers choose to venture into the ominous air of this final room, which also features a large ebony clock that chimes at the top of each hour. As soon as the clock begins to sound, all music and conversation at the party ceases, only to resume once the chimes are silent once again.
As the black clock tolls midnight during the masquerade, a mysterious red-robed figure enters the ball. He is dressed like the Red Death, and a crimson-hued skull mask adorns his face. The horrid countenance of this red-robed interloper is a chilling reminder of the bloody plague that the party-goes have sought to hide from.
Enraged by the impudence of this guest, Prince Prospero demands to know his identity, but no one knows who this mysterious figure may be, and he is allowed to pass unmolested through each of the first six rooms of the ball. Entering the final room, the Prince’s patience reaches an end. He draws a dagger and approaches his unwanted guest. The skull-faced interloper turns and Prince Prospero falls dead with a scream. Their host’s death spurs the other nobles to act and they rush the strange guest, removing his robes and tearing off his mask. Only then do they discover, much to their horror, that there is nothing there.
One by one, the nobles fall dead, the dreaded disease having somehow made its way into the walls of the abbey.
It should be noted that the “Red Death” is a fictional disease. Many have suggested that it was perhaps inspired by tuberculosis, which Poe’s wife Virginia was suffering from at the time of this story’s creation and publication. Others have suggested that the disease was inspired by cholera or the bubonic plague, but no clear evidence exists as to exactly where Poe drew inspiration from for the horrible disease referenced in the title of this short story.
The most obvious theme of this story is that of man’s futile attempts to cheat death, but Poe never explicitly states that this story was meant to carry any lessons, leaving readers to take from it what they will and draw their own conclusions.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1809, Edgar Allan Poe is best known for his short stories and poems, many of them exploring elements of the mysterious and the macabre. While often considered a “horror writer”, Poe’s literary contributions go well beyond this genre. He is one of the first American writers to embrace the short story format, and he may well be the creator of the detective fiction genre! His short story, “Murders in the Rue Morgue”, is often regarded as the very first detective story in the English-speaking world. That story was published in 1841. By contrast, the first Sherlock Holmes story, “A Study in Scarlet”, was not published until 1887, almost 50 years after Poe’s fictional detective, Auguste Dupin, was introduced.
Edgar Allan Poe enlisted in the United States Army under an assumed name in 1827. This was the same year he published his first collection – Tamerlane and Other Poems. It is believed that only 12 copies of this collection still exist, and the price of one of these rare editions is now worth more than Edgar Allan Poe made in his entire lifetime as a writer.
After a failed military career, Poe spent a number of years working for journals and periodicals as a literary critic. During this time he moved about extensively, living in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City. He was the first well-known American to make his living through writing alone, although his well-publicized vices, including a love of alcohol and gambling, resulted in a very difficult life for the writer.
Most commonly known for his short stories and poems, these were first available in a variety of publications, including Burton Gentlemen’s Magazine (“The Fall of the House of Usher” in 1839), the Saturday Evening Post (“The Black Cat” in 1843), the Pioneer (“The Tell Tale Heart” in 1843), Godey’s Lady’s Book ( “The Cask of Amontillado” in 1846), and Graham’s Magazine (the aforementioned “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” in 1841 and the poem “The Conqueror Worm” in 1843).
In January, 1845, Edgar Allan Poe published what is arguably his most popular and recognizable piece even today – the poem, “The Raven.” This poem brought Poe instant recognition, but very little financial success. He was paid only $9 for its initial publication.
“The Masque of the Red Death” was published in 1842 in Graham’s Magazine, which, as we have outlined, also published a number of Poe’s other works. Originally released under the title, “The Mask of the Red Death”, this publication earned the author $12. It would later be reprinted with the title that is used today, and which we used for our latest Figura Obscura figure – “The Masque of the Red Death.”
Edgar Allan Poe’s life was filled with excesses and lost loves. He married his 13-year old cousin in 1836, and buried her in 1847 when she died of tuberculosis. Poe followed his wife to the grave in 1849 at the age of 40. He was taken to Washington Medical Center in Baltimore, MD on October 3rd in dire health. He was wearing clothing that was not his own and was never coherent enough to tell doctors what had landed him in such a horrid state. Rumor has it that he repeatedly called out the name “Reynolds” on the night before his death on October 7th, and Poe’s attending physician claimed that the author’s final words were “Lord help my poor soul”.
All of the medical records from Poe’s death have been lost, including his death certificate, and the cause of Poe’s death remains a mystery. While substance abuse and suicide are often given as likely reasons for his demise, no clear evidence exists on this matter, adding to the unusual life of one of America’s most well-known, and yet also one of its most mysterious, authors.
The Red Death in Figura Obscura
The “Red Death” is the second Figura Obscura figure to be released around Halloween (following 2022’s Headless Horseman). Interestingly, the Red Death was not even on a short list of possible characters we were initially considering for this Halloween release. The idea for this character came to Eric Treadaway one evening after he was struggling to decide which character he wanted to explore next for Figura Obscura. He began work on the new figure the next day, the idea flowing freely once he finally decided to tackle this somewhat obscure literary character.
One of the challenges, as well as one of the opportunities, for the Red Death figure was the fact that there is very little description of the character in the short story. Additionally, unlike previous Figura Obscura characters, there really are no previously presented versions in popular media that are considered to be the definitive looks for this macabre character. Interestingly, one of the most well-known interpretations of the Red Death comes from another horror classic – Gaston Leroux’s “The Phantom of the Opera.” The 1925 film, as well as the ultra-popular stage play based on this story, both show Erik the Phantom attending a masquerade ball dressed as the Red Death. For our Figura Obscura release, we did not want to make this version, which is presented in a somewhat elegant looking masquerade-style costume. We wanted something that was creepier and more in line with the description from the original text, which reads:
The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat.
Our Figura Obscura: The Masque of the Red Death figure features a gaunt, zombie-like body. Fans will recognize some of these “zombie-limbs” from the Poxxus figure in the Mythic Legions wave of the same name, as well as in our Undead Builder Pack from the Necronominus wave. This particular figure uses those previously shown limbs, but also includes body parts never seen before now - namely the lower arms and lower legs, torso, as well as a new waist piece and loin attachment, which can be seen in one of the images below.
The head on the Red Death is also brand new, and one of the most striking aspects of the figure is the skull-like mask that he wears. That mask is featured across various other items that are available as part of this special release, including pins, mugs, and t-shirts.
Another important aspect of this new Figura Obscura release is the red robes he wears. Once again, we turned to our partners at CJESIM to help us create these fully wired, soft goods robes. Eric designed the look of these garments during the creation of this figure, presenting the CJESIM team with images to get them started. They took those renders and absolutely nailed the “habiliments of the grave” look that we needed for this latest release.
A notable aspect of this latest Figura Obscura is the limited number of accessories he comes with. Our goal with all these releases is to include pieces that are relevant to the story. For some characters, like the Monkey King or Father Christmas, this translates into a large number of included accessories. For the Red Death, however, there really were very few items referenced in the story’s text that made sense to include with the toy. The Red Death does come with the dagger that Prince Prospero would’ve approached him with, as well as some extra sets of hands. The main accessory included with this figure is the large ebony clock that sits in the Prince’s abbey where this story takes place. Along with the clock, a pool of blood is also included as a base, likely from the doomed nobles who have fallen dead to the gruesome plague which they have all failed to escape. The Red Death figure may only include a few accessories, but the large diorama-like pieces it does include really add to the overall display of this figure.
Above you can see images of the “turns” for this new Figura Obscura release. Thank you again to Trevor “One-Six Shooter” Williams for all the amazing figure photography seen throughout this article.
The Art of the Masque of the Red Death
A Figura Obscura release just would not be the same without the stunning packaging artwork of Nate Baertsch. Once again this Figura Obscura packaging is covered with brand new artwork created specifically for this figure. The front panel features the Red Death himself as he reaches out to touch the onlooker with his blood-red hand. You can see that packaging below.
The inside of the magnetic front panel on Figura Obscura releases is the single largest and unobstructed area of each package. We have started to use this panel to provide an environment-like backdrop for these figures, or as we did in the case of the Red Death, an important scene. This large panel shows the nobles at the masquerade ball, and the 7 windows behind them reflect the rooms referenced in the story.
One interesting note on the artwork of this masquerade scene that you may not realize upon first seeing it is that Nate used the seven characters shown on this panel, and the masks that they wear, to reflect the seven deadly sins. Can you pick each of them out in the artwork below?
Behind the character on the inside of the package are the red-paned windows of the final room in the Prince’s suite, while scenes of the countryside and the horrible conditions of the plague make up the rest of the box’s panels. The entire presentation, with its heavy reliance on reds and blacks, creates a gothic-inspired packaging scene unlike any we have done to date, and one which is perfect for this new release.
In addition to the figure’s packaging, the artwork that Nate created was also used in a “The Masque of the Red Death” mini-comic that accompanies this release. Since this figure was based on a short story that some of our fans may have not read, we decided to include the full text of this story alongside Nate’s artwork to create a nice addition to this Figura Obscura character. Below you can see one of the page layouts from that mini-comic.
The Party Has Just Begun
The Masque of the Red Death is the fifth character to join the ranks of the Figura Obscura (that's why the teaser image had the hand of the clock on the number 5) - but this party is just getting started. We can already hear more characters from the worlds of legends and lore, literature and more clamoring to be called forth. Who will answer the call next? You will have to wait and see…