The Pit and the Pendulum (radio)

The Pit and the Pendulum (radio)

The Pit and the Pendulum is a radio program from the American radio anthology series "Radio Tales". The anthology series adapted classic works of American and world literature for the radio. The series was a recipient of numerous awards, including four Gracie Allen Awards from the Foundation of American Women in Radio and Television (in 2004, [ [ "AWRT Press Release"] Accessed March 21, 2008.] 2003, [ [ "NPR Productions Win Gracie Allen Awards"] Accessed March 21, 2008.] 2001, [ [ "2001 Gracie Allen Award Winners"], as indexed by the Internet Archive at Accessed March 21, 2008.] and 1998), a New York Festivals WorldMedal, [ [ "2004 Winners, Radio Programming and Promotion, New York Festivals"], as indexed by the Internet Archive at Accessed March 21, 2008.] and a Golden Reel Merit Award. [ [ "NFCB Announces 2001 Golden Reel Award Winners"], as indexed by the Internet Archive at Accessed March 21, 2008.] “The Pit and the Pendulum” program from the Radio Tales series was an adaptation of the classic short story “The Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allan Poe.

Broadcast History

The Radio Tales production of “The Pit and the Pendulum” was first broadcast via NPR on July 4, 2000 [National Public Radio: "NPR Quarterly Edition Summer 2000". NPR Marketing, July – Sept. 2000, Vol. VI, No. III] . The program encompassed two half-hour installments that were distributed to NPR member stations as part of the NPR Playhouse cultural series. Since November 28th, 2002, the entire Radio Tales series has aired in reruns on the Sonic Theater channel (163) of the XM Satellite Radio service [ [ "Sonic Theater"] Accessed May 22, 2008.] . “The Pit and the Pendulum” program debuted on XM Satellite Radio on July 19, 2003.

Production Information

The program was produced and script edited by series producer Winnie Waldron, who also served as the on-air host [ [ "Winifred Phillips Official Site: Biography"] Accessed May 19, 2008.] . Composer Winifred Phillips created over fifty-six minutes of music for the program, and also performed as the featured actress [ [ "NPR Playhouse - January - March, 2001"] Accessed March 21, 2008.] . “The Pit and the Pendulum” was part of the fifth year of Radio Tales on NPR Playhouse [National Public Radio: "NPR Quarterly Edition Spring 2001". NPR Marketing, Vol. VII, No. II] .


The Radio Tales production of “The Pit and the Pendulum” has been available in numerous formats and venues, including burn-on-demand CDs manufactured and distributed by [ [ " Radio Tales"], as indexed by the Internet Archive at Accessed July 15, 2008.] and [ [ " Radio Tales"], as indexed by the Internet Archive at Accessed July 15, 2008.] . Beginning in 2005, programs from the series, including “The Pit and the Pendulum” program, have been available for download via the web site [ [ "audioVille | Stor>>Fiction | Radio Tales | Download Audio Books, Podcasts and more in MP3. Comedy, Fiction, sport, news, science, drama."] Accessed [September 29] , 2008.] .

Opening narration

Plot Summary

The story begins in a courtroom, as a sentence of death is passed on the unidentified narrator. The court belongs to the Spanish Inquisition, and the narrator has been convicted as a heretic, though specific crimes have not been enumerated. For a time the narrator exists in a state of shock in which sounds have disappeared but sights have become exaggerated and crisp – the faces of the judges, the black drapes of the courtroom and the candles on the table all appear in grotesque and dreamlike detail. The narrator thinks how welcome death will be, and then blacks out.

Resuming consciousness dressed in a woolen robe and lying in a room plunged in absolute darkness, the narrator is overcome by fear at the thought that the chamber may not be a dungeon but instead may be a tomb. After recovering from another fainting spell, the narrator stumbles blindly for a few paces and realizes that the size of the chamber is too large for a crypt. While pondering various rumors regarding the atrocities of the Inquisition, the narrator stumbles to the wall and begins following it around the room, but not before tearing off a strip of the woolen robe and setting it on the floor to mark the beginning of this exploration. Halfway through, the narrator collapses from exhaustion. Upon awakening, the narrator discovers bread and water have been left on the floor nearby. After eating, the narrator completes the circuit of the room and then begins walking blindly across its center, to measure its diameter. By a fortunate accident the narrator stumbles and falls just short of an unseen pit at the center of the room. Loosening a piece of stone from the floor, the narrator drops it into the pit, and hears the splash as the stone reaches the bottom. Instantly thereafter, light flashes into the room as a door is opened in the ceiling, and then rapidly closed again.

The narrator retreats from the pit and huddles against the wall for many hours before succumbing to sleep. Regaining consciousness, the narrator finds another loaf of bread and pitcher of water. After eating and drinking, the narrator falls into a deep (and certainly drugged) sleep, and awakens to find that the room is no longer completely dark.

The narrator is now lying face up on a low wooden platform, bound by a very long leather belt which only allows one arm the liberty to reach for a bowl of salty meat on the floor. From this position, the narrator can see that the walls are constructed of a metal which has been painted with various monstrous images, while the impressively high ceiling bears a depiction of father time holding a gigantic pendulum that appears to be swinging back and forth from its position a great distance over the narrator’s body. The floor is now swarming with rats which have ascended from the depth of the pit, attracted by the bowl of meat which the narrator must now protect by swinging the free arm to keep them away. Looking up again at the pendulum, the narrator observes that it appears to be lower than it was, and with dread realizes that the edge of the pendulum is as sharp as a curved sword.

Clearly this is a protracted mode of execution designed to stimulate the most terror imaginable beforehand, and the most pain imaginable during the event – in which the pendulum would slowly slice its victim in half by minute degrees with each descending swing. Realizing this, the narrator lapses into a delirium resembling insanity, which alternates between frenzied struggles to escape, equally frantic attempts to speed death’s approach by thrusting upward into the path of the pendulum, and periods of calm marked by either euphoria or despair. In one of these quiet moments, the narrator discovers that the strap that forms the sole binding is all of a single piece, with no interruptions, and that if it were broken anywhere its entire length could be removed. With a sudden inspiration, the narrator grabs the meat from the bowl and slathers it on the strap as far as possible, then lies still and allows the rats to swarm. The rats at last chew through the leather strap just as the pendulum begins to scratch the skin of the narrator’s torso, and the narrator slips free.

Soon after, the metal walls of the prison begin glowing white-hot and then advancing, with the intent to force their prisoner into the pit at the center of the room. Desperately looking down into the pit, the narrator sees an undescribed horror and shrieks, while the walls push inexorably forward. At the last instant, as the narrator totters on the brink of the pit, the walls suddenly rush back, and a hand catches the narrator’s. The Inquisition has fallen to the advance of the French, and the narrator has been saved from death.


External Links

* [ The Pit and the Pendulum Streaming Audio Excerpts on]
* [ The Official Radio Tales® Web Site]
* [ Radio Tales® Full Series - Streaming Audio Excerpts]
* [ XM Satellite Radio – Information on the Sonic Theater Channel]

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