The Fall of the House of Usher, the Netflix miniseries, is loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story. I say loosely because the short story was about Roderick Usher lamenting about the death of his twin sister, Madeline, and his connection to their ancestral home. It didn’t have anything about Roderick’s six children, his deal with the devil, which was causing the deaths of all his children and grandchildren, or a complicated case of fraud committed through his pharmaceutical company. All that was adapted from various short stories written by Poe and then modernized to give them a contemporary touch. In addition to that, Flanagan and his team of writers also incorporated Poe’s poems, and the most recognizable one is The Raven. The famous literary work has been referenced in literature, movies, and T.V. shows quite a lot since its inception in 1845. But it was Flanagan’s miniseries that appropriately channeled the poem’s melancholic and ominous nature.
Let’s get through the poem first and then talk about how it has been referenced throughout the Netflix series. The narrator of The Raven was a broken-hearted individual who was thinking about the time he had spent with the love of his life, Lenore, that too, at midnight while being half-asleep. That was when he heard a faint knocking at the door. He was already frightened by the movement of the curtains. So he hesitated to actually check who was knocking. When he finally mustered up the courage to open the door, he saw that no one was there. Into the darkness, he whispered the name of his former lover and heard its echo. As soon as he closed the door, he heard another knock, and this time, it was coming from the window. When he opened it, the titular Raven flew in and sat on the bust of Pallas (the Greek goddess who was synonymous with knowledge, the art of war, and artisanship). The narrator asked the Raven its name; he expressed his hopelessness, his desire to forget about Lenore, his need for some form of respite from this hell he was in, and he even tried to get it to fly away. However, the Raven only said “nevermore.” Eventually, the narrator breathed his last while the Raven kept looking at him from the Pallas bust.
Based on the bust of Pallas and the books that the narrator mentions, he was a scholar who was heartbroken, and the heartbreaker was evidently Lenore. It wasn’t clear if Lenore had left the narrator or if she had died. Either way, the incident was seemingly recent because the narrator was having a hard time forgetting about her. Now, given the presence of the books and the appearance of the Raven (which is supposed to symbolize death), there are theories out there that the narrator was partaking in black magic, probably to resurrect Lenore. Edgar Allan Poe never made it clear if the Raven was something supernatural or if it was just a bird that had flown into the narrator’s room, and the narrator was merely projecting. Ravens are known to mimic human speech, and it was quite possible that they had learned the word “nevermore” from somewhere and were repeating it. The narrator attached any meaning that suited his narrative and went with it, thereby illustrating the fact that a distraught mind can anthropomorphize anything, in this case, a raven. The Raven also talked about Nepenthe (a drug from Homer’s Odyssey that had the power to erase memories), Balm of Gilead (a medicine with healing powers, according to the Book of Jeremiah), and Aidenn (Garden of Eden) to show that the narrator either wanted to forget about Lenore, heal the scars left by her departure, or reunite with her in heaven.
Now, coming to The Fall of the House of Usher, chronologically speaking, Roderick and Madeline Usher came across a taxidermied raven at Verna’s bar after murdering Rufus Wilmot Griswold, the last owner of Fortunato, before Roderick and Madeline took over. By the way, and you don’t have to be a genius to notice this, Verna is an anagram of Raven. Roderick pointed out that it was bad luck to keep a raven in a place of business. Verna said that some cultures considered ravens to be a good thing. Technically, both of them were right. The Greeks considered the Raven to be a symbol of bad luck. According to the Hebrew Bible and in Judaism, the Raven was seen as a symbol of immorality (because they copulated in Noah’s Ark), God’s provision (because they guided Noah’s Ark to safety), and selfishness (because it fed off the corpses of those who had drowned in the great flood). In the Middle Ages, they symbolized protection. The Qur’an apparently states that it was a raven that taught Cain how to bury his dead brother. In Norse mythology, these flying creatures were Odin’s pets and informers. According to Hindu mythology, the Raven is Shani’s steed. The list just goes on, but you get the gist, right? That said, given the context of the miniseries, the Raven definitely represented death because Verna was a version of the Grim Reaper, or a kind of crossroads devil.
When Roderick and Madeline exited Verna’s bar after making the deal that sealed the fate of the Usher bloodline, it was marked with the graffiti of the Raven. When Roderick, Madeline, Arthur Pym, and Lenore buried Frederick and Tamerlane, Roderick saw the Raven again, which prompted him to say that it was time. At that moment, he realized that he was on the final page of the final chapter of his life. Since Verna would come for Roderick and Madeline after she was done with the youngest descendant of the family (Lenore), he also realized that he was about to lose the person he loved the most. Coincidentally, she was the only person left in Roderick’s palatial home, and that gave him the opportunity to get some kind of closure. But their final conversation was devastating because Lenore had plans for the future of the Usher family. Little did she know that, due to his endless greed, her grandfather had ensured that his family wouldn’t have a lasting future. Roderick didn’t tell that fact to Lenore. She learned about it when she went to her bedroom and found Verna waiting for her to put her to sleep (the permanent kind). When Roderick found Lenore’s body, he saw the Raven in the house and followed it until it perched itself on the bust of Pallas. Roderick’s disembodied voice recited Edgar Allan Poe’s iconic poem to underscore what he was feeling at that moment as the Raven looked down upon him. It only squawked, though, and didn’t say “nevermore.”
Yes, the big difference between The Raven and its adaptation in the Netflix’s series was that Lenore was the narrator’s granddaughter. The poem had a high degree of ambiguity regarding Lenore’s status, but the miniseries made it pretty clear that Lenore was dead. So, while you could project your feelings onto the narrator in The Raven, you were given a distinct idea of where the narrator’s sadness was coming from. However, and this is my personal observation only, while I felt sad for the narrator in The Raven, I didn’t feel sad for the narrator in The Fall of the House of Usher, i.e., Roderick, because I knew he was a bad person. Instead, I felt sad for Lenore (whose literary version was rather vague) because she didn’t deserve the end that she met. That said, I was a little disappointed that the Raven hadn’t said “nevermore.” But all my disappointment went away as soon as I saw the glitched-out A.I. version of Lenore (that Madeline had created for her chatbot program) continuously texting “nevermore” to Roderick. You can interpret it in two ways. Firstly, A.I. Lenore’s text messages were a sign to Roderick that since he and his bloodline had come to an end, they wouldn’t be able to harm the world anymore. And secondly, you can see A.I. Lenore glitching out as Mike Flanagan’s way of saying that humans can create as many facsimiles of their loved ones. However, it will never be the same as the flesh-and-blood version that they didn’t cherish when they were alive.
The ending of the series was similar to Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, with the Usher household collapsing on Roderick and Madeline while the narrator (in the show’s case, Auguste Dupin) looked on. There was no mention of a raven in the short story, but the miniseries bookended things by showing Verna standing atop the rubble that was once the house of the Ushers and then turning into a literal raven and flying away into the stormy night. As per The Raven, the titular bird was nothing but a bird that the narrator projected his feelings on. But with its final few frames, the miniseries made it apparent that its version of the Raven was definitely an extension of death as well as the devil, as it presented itself in front of the Ushers to entice them into a deadly deal. But once the deal was about to end, the Raven became a personification of death and started going after each of the ushers. Therefore, if The Raven warned readers not to take a bird too seriously, especially when they are heartbroken, the miniseries warned viewers not to make a deal with people whose name is an acronym of Raven, and they have a taxidermied raven at their imaginary bar.