Why is Edgar Allan Poe in The Pale Blue Eye if it's not a true story?

Eve Edwards January 11, 2023
Why is Edgar Allan Poe in The Pale Blue Eye if it's not a true story?

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As Louis Bayard’s The Pale Blue Eyes finally gets its screen adaptation, you might be wondering why Edgar Allan Poe plays a central character in the detective mystery.

Move over Sherlock, there’s a new detective duo in town. The Pale Blue Eye follows veteran detective Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) as he investigates a series of gruesome local murders. And who is his companion in these investigations? None other than literary legend Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling).

With Poe featuring heavily in Netflix’s adaptation of The Pale Blue Eyes, you might be wondering why a real-life character is a central part of the plot.

As the mystery premieres on Friday, January 6, let’s take a look at how Edgar Allan Poe is woven into Louis Bayard’s story.

Cr. Scott Garfield/Netflix © 2022

The Pale Blue Eye finds inspiration in real life but is fictional

Despite Edgar Allan Poe being a character taken from the real world, The Pale Blue Eye is not a true story. It is a fictional reimagining of Edgar Allan Poe’s time spent at the US Military Academy at West Point.

After accumulating a significant gambling debt while a student at the University of Virginia, Poe moved to Boston. He left Virginia with no degree, but that wouldn’t stop his ambitions to write. In Boston, age 18, in 1827, Poe published his first book of verse titled Tamerlane and Other Poems.

At the age of 21, Edgar Allan Poe entered West Point Academy in March 1830, after serving several years in the army. This is the point at which we meet Poe in The Pale Blue Eye.

But if Louis Bayard was taking real life source material and then fictionalizing, it beggars the question: why did Bayard include Poe in his book at all?

Why is Edgar Allan Poe in The Pale Blue Eye?

Louis Bayard is a historical fiction writer, meaning he likes to take real history and reimagine it; in the case of The Pale Blue Eye, reimagining Edgar Allan Poe’s younger years.

After his days spent at West Point Academy, Poe would go on to become one of America’s greatest mystery writers. There were no murders that took place at West Point Academy while Poe was there.

But Bayard creates a fictional mystery in The Pale Blue Eye which could’ve sparked the young poet’s interest in the genre.

“These events that occur in our film shaped his worldview and helped him become the writer that he became –– with the recurring themes that deal with the questions of death, and the effects of decomposition and reanimation of the dead and mourning –– all those things that are considered part of his dark romanticism,” director Scott Cooper explains.

In real life, Edgar Allan Poe quit his classes in January 1931, less than a year into his time at West Point. He was court-martialed and dismissed from the academy on March 6, 1831, the US Army Corps of Engineers reports.

Poe was one of many literary characters in Louis Bayard’s work

It is not just Edgar Allan Poe who features in Louis Bayard’s novels. The author often takes literary figures and weaves them into his fiction stories.

Bayard’s first novel, Mr Timothy, is a continuation of Tiny Tim’s tale, taken from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Tiny Tim plays a small but crucial role in the Christmas classic, but in Bayard’s version, we meet Tim all grown up, at the age of 23, to continue his story.

In Bayard’s first novel, following the publication of The Pale Blue Eye, the author explores the life of French criminal turned criminalist, Eugène-François Vidocq. Bayard explores Vidocq’s life in The Black Tower. A number of celebrated writers have explored Vidocq’s story including Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, and even Edgar Allan Poe himself.

Edgar Allan Poe’s role in The Pale Blue Eye explored

In The Pale Blue Eye, we meet a young Edgar Allan Poe while he is a cadet at West Point Military Academy.

When a string of grisly murders occur at the academy, detective Gus Landor is recruited to solve them. Landor then requires the help of Poe, his man on the inside, in solving the crimes.

Although Landor is a fictional character, his name is derived from a number of Poe’s stories. ‘Gus’ is taken from C Auguste Dupin, a detective in Poe’s The Murders In The Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter. ‘Landor’ comes from Poe’s short story, Landor’s Cottage.

You can watch The Pale Blue Eye on Netflix now.

Cr. Scott Garfield/Netflix © 2022
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Eve Edwards is a staff writer for The Focus who has been with GRV Media since April 2019. Having gained a BA (Hons) in History from the University of Bristol, Eve joined GRV starting out as a writer for Reality Titbit before making her way over to HITC. With a passion for music, TV, and cultural news, Eve eventually found a home at The Focus. Eve spent 2021-2022 freelancing for GRV Media while she completed a Masters in Music Performance, and brings her wide array of interests to the company in her written work. In Eve's spare time you'll find her working her way through the day's Wordle, Heardle, and Quordle, or struggling to complete The Guardian's cryptic crossword.