The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe is a short story by American writer Edgar Allan Poe and first published in 1842 in the literary annual The Gift: A Christmas and New Year's Present for 1843. The story is about the torments endured by a prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition, though Poe skews historical facts. The narrator of the story describes his experience of being tortured. The story is especially effective at inspiring fear in the reader because of its heavy focus on the senses, such as sound, emphasizing its reality, unlike many of Poe's stories which are aided by the supernatural. The traditional elements established in popular horror tales at the time are followed, but critical reception has been mixed. The tale has been adapted to film several times.
The unnamed narrator is brought to trial before sinister judges of the Spanish Inquisition, charged with offenses that are never stated. As seven tall white candles on a table slowly burn down, the narrator feels his hopes of survival diminishing as well. He is condemned to death, whereupon he faints and later awakens to find himself in a totally dark room. At first the prisoner thinks that he is locked in a tomb, but then he discovers that he is in a cell. He decides to explore the cell by placing a scrap of his robe against the wall so that he can count the paces around the room, but he faints before he can measure the whole perimeter.
When he reawakens, he discovers food and water nearby. He tries to measure the cell again, and finds that the perimeter measures one hundred steps. While crossing the room, he trips on the hem of his robe and falls, his chin landing at the edge of a deep pit. He realizes that had he not tripped, he would have fallen into this pit.
After losing consciousness again, the narrator discovers that the prison is slightly illuminated and that he is strapped to a wooden frame on his back, facing the ceiling. Above him is a picture of Father Time, holding a pendulum measuring "one foot from horn to horn".