Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, over many a quaint and curious episode of Netflix’s Wednesday that this show has a veritable shitload of references to Edgar Allan Poe.
The 19th century American writer and poet famous for his macabre tales of mystery, grief, insanity, murder, ghosts, and revenge like The Raven, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Fall of the House of Usher, plays a major thematic role in Tim Burton’s characteristically spooky teen series. Poe is the most notorious student to attend the fictional Nevermore Academy attended by our morbid protagonist, Wednesday Addams.
“Edgar Allan Poe said, ‘Believe nothing you hear and half of what you see,'” says Wednesday in episode 2. “Clearly Nevermore’s most famous alumni picked that up here. No wonder he became a drug-addled madman.”
Like Poe’s tales, Wednesday hinges on mysteries, monsters, and mayhem — with an ending twist worthy of the Gothic writer. And while Wednesday more often quotes her beloved Agatha Christie and nemesis Mary Shelley during the series, Burton throws a cask of amontillado at his series in order to Poe it up.
In this enviably stunning Gothic setting, Burton finds ways to use the author’s Gothic associations to Wednesday-ify the element of a typical teen series, from the school dance (The Rave’N) to the annual canoe race (the Poe Cup). Here’s just a few of the references to Poe in the Netflix series — maybe you spied more?
The central academic institution of Wednesday, Nevermore Academy, is named for Poe’s most famous poem, 1845’s The Raven, in which a stately ebony bird torments a grieving writer by perching above his chamber door and repeatedly croaking one foreboding, maddening word: “Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore.”
Just to be That Guy, the fictional Nevermore was founded in 1791, as our favourite pastel-haired werewolf Edith Sinclair explains in the series, “to educate people like us. Outcasts, freaks, monsters, fill in your favourite marginalised group here.” But Poe himself wouldn’t be born until 1809 and wouldn’t write the namesake poem for another 54 years.
Yeah, yeah, it’s a TV show, I’ll simmer down. But speaking of the ungainly fowl…
The midnight visitor from Poe’s most famous poem, The Raven, represents the protagonist’s immovable grief and loss for his love, Lenore. If you took a shot for every time a raven is mentioned or appears on screen during Wednesday, you’d be sloshed long before the identity of the monster is revealed.
From the raven-dotted wrought iron gates of Nevermore to the taxidermied raven sitting on Principal Weems’ desk, ravens soar through the episodes all the way to the annual school dance, The Rave’N. Wednesday sees ravens in her vision of Rowan’s doom, and Xavier is painting a colossal raven on the wall of the quad. There’s even a Raven Island on campus. Morticia describes Wednesday’s psychic power style as a “rave,” leaning toward a darker lens as opposed to her own positive “dove” style. Within these visions, Wednesday’s ancestor Goody Addams refers to her as “the raven in my bloodline.”
“The path of a Raven is a solitary one. You end up alone, unable to trust others, only seeing the darkness within them,” Goody tells Wednesday.
But The Raven isn’t the only Poe tale explicitly referenced in Wednesday…
The Poe Cup
Every magical school needs an annual, inappropriately deadly sporting tournament, apparently. A Nevermore annual tradition dating back 125 years and named for “Nevermore’s most famous alumni,” the Poe Cup is part canoe race, part chase, no rules. Each dorm has to pick a Poe story as inspiration for their team name, canoe decoration, and costumes, while rowing over to Raven Island, capturing a flag from Joseph Crackstone’s crypt, and racing back. Here’s a rundown of the team names and their associated Poe stories:
The Pit and the Pendulum
One of the teams, rowing a canoe equipped with double headed axes, is named for The Pit and the Pendulum, an 1842 Poe short story about helpful rats in a sticky situation. In the tale, a prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition is tortured then condemned to death in a small cell containing a deep dark pit and a swinging, slowly descending pendulum blade. The protagonist is able to enlist the help of rats in the cell to chew through his bonds and avoid a slicing, but then the walls start moving in…
The Gold Bug
The siren team, who play the dirtiest in the Poe Cup but look the most glamorous with their glittering beetle embellishments, pick the 1843 short story The Gold Bug, which is essentially a story of code-breaking and treasure hunting. However, Poe’s tale has some problematic elements, as the main character William Legrand is a former South Carolina planter who is bitten by a golden bug, and his servant, Jupiter, is a formerly enslaved man whose depiction has been dubbed by modern critics as a “minstrel-show sidekick.”
The Black Cat
Enid and Wednesday’s team takes their name from Poe’s 1843 short story, The Black Cat, a study of violence and guilt in which the protagonist abuses his own cat by cutting its eye out and hanging it from a tree (it’s pretty grim). When his house burns down, he finds another black cat, which brings out the same murderous intent in the protagonist, and when trying to murder it, he accidentally kills his wife. When he tries to hide his crime by burying his wife’s body in the wall of his basement, he’s undone by the cat — when the police investigate, the cat had been concealed in the wall too, and its incessant cries sent this asshole right to prison.
The Cask of Amontillado
Xavier and Ajax’s team, all dressed as horrifying jesters, takes their name from Poe’s 1846 tale of revenge, The Cask of Amontillado. Set in Italy during Carnival, the short story follows Montresor, a nobleman who plots to murder wine expert Fortunato, who apparently insulted him (get over it, dude) while wearing a jester’s outfit. Montresor lures Fortunato into his family vaults with the promise of rare amontillado, then traps and entombs him alive.
Xavier also alludes to Poe’s multiple stories of entombment and burying people alive, telling Wednesday the story of how they first met during a hide and seek game that saw Xavier headed to live cremation in his grandmother’s coffin.
The Poe statue
The man himself appears in Wednesday, sort of. There’s a statue in the cloisters of Nevermore showing Poe with a “sanctimonious smirk” holding a book and a raven, but which also functions as the entrance to the Nightshades. Wednesday notes Poe’s legendary penchant for riddles, and solves her way into the hidden door using a gleeful Addams Family double snap.
The Nightshade Society
This one could be a stretch, but the name of Nevermore’s secret Nightshade Society could be a reference to Poe’s 1935 short story Morella. According to the Baltimore Poe Society, “morel” is one of the names of the poisonous black nightshade, from which the drug belladonna derives. Considering the importance of nightshade poisoning in the story, this can’t be a coincidence.
They’re the main Poe references I could spot, but perhaps you saw even more among the murder and mayhem afoot at Nevermore. Tear up the planks!