The true story of Edgar Allan Poe in The Pale Blue Eye: Did he attend West Point and how the book ending is more true-to-life than the movie

The story of Edgar Allan Poe in The Pale Blue Eye incorporates aspects from the writer's real life and the Louis Bayard book includes even more

Edgar Allan Poe in The Pale Blue Eye next to the real Edgar Allan Poe
(Image credit: Future// Image 1: Scott Garfield/Netflix © 2022 // Image 2: Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Given Edgar Allan Poe in The Pale Blue Eye is a fictional version of the American poet and writer some viewers might well be wondering how much of his story in the movie really happened.

Weaving a Gothic web of sinister events and clues into a gripping mystery, The Pale Blue Eye on Netflix is perfect for anyone who loves the intricacies of The Death on the Nile plot as this will lay plenty of clues for you to follow. Set in New York in 1930 and based upon Louis Bayard’s book of the same name, The Pale Blue Eye even incorporates the very real The Tell-Tale Heart writer Edgar Allan Poe alongside a fictional cast of characters. Although the story remains fictional too, there are plenty of aspects which tie in with the real Poe’s life. Here we reveal whether Edgar Allan Poe attended the US Military Academy at West Point and how the book drops more details than the movie about what his future held…

*Warning: spoilers ahead!*

Was Edgar Allan Poe in the army and did he attend West Point? 

Given how many of even the best book-to-movie adaptations change things from the source material and especially since Louis Bayard’s The Pale Blue Eye book is historical, many fans might well be wondering if Edgar Allan Poe really attended West Point. Of course, both The Pale Blue Eye book and the Netflix movie are fictional, but the real Edgar Allan Poe actually did enroll at West Point Military Academy in New York. 

Mathew Brady studio portrait of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

(Image credit: Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Both the historical figure and his fictional counterpart were cadets there but in the true story of Edgar Allan Poe his time there was far less remarkable. He certainly didn’t solve any crimes or join forces with a detective to find out who was mutilating cadets’ bodies. Before his time at West Point he’d also been in the army and had risen quickly through the ranks.

According to the US Army Corps of Engineers, he made the choice to join the army because of gambling debts that grew worse after he funded the publication of Tamerlane and other Poems in 1827. Unfortunately for the writer who would later achieve mass acclaim, this didn’t grip people’s imaginations or make him money.  

Harry Melling as Edgar Allen Poe in The Pale Blue Eye

(Image credit: Cr. Scott Garfield/Netflix © 2022)

Instead, he is said to have enrolled in the US Army as Edgar A Perry and eventually achieved the rank of Sergeant Major for Artillery which was the highest rank available to an enlisted soldier. He quit the army and went to join the US Military Academy at West Point in March 1830.

Why was Poe kicked out of West Point?

As revealed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, Edgar Allan Poe’s time at West Point came after he stopped showing up to his classes. As could only have been anticipated by The Raven writer, he was promptly given a court martial and was officially dismissed from West Point academy in March 1831 for “gross neglect of duty” and “disobedience of orders”. 

This was a year after the events of the fictional The Pale Blue Eye movie began and although in the movie he’s shown as being bullied or looked down upon by several fellow cadets, in real life they proved rather useful to him. 

Christian Bale as Augustus Landor and Harry Melling as Edgar Allen Poe

(Image credit: Cr. Scott Garfield/Netflix © 2022)

He is understood to have managed to secure a financial subscription from many of them to help fund the publication of his third book of poetry. It’s said that when the book was published, however, it came as somewhat of a disappointment to the cadets given how much of his earlier poetry it apparently re-worked.

One is said to have written in his own copy, “This book is a damn cheat” whilst several copies were reportedly thrown into the Hudson River. 

According to the Poe Museum, Poe wrote to Colonel Sylvanus Thayer (played by Timothy Spall in The Pale Blue Eye movie) afterwards to declare his intention to try and secure an appointment in the Polish army and request his assistance in doing so. Though he never did join the Polish army and a month later apparently published Poems by Edgar A. Poe which was dedicated to the US Corps of Cadets. 

What happens to Poe at the end of The Pale Blue Eye book?

Anyone who’s already read Louis Bayard’s 2003 The Pale Blue Eye book might have been especially delighted to see how much of the dialogue is taken more or less directly from the pages of the novel. This includes the final reveal of the killer’s identity as they’re exposed by Edgar Allan Poe, but The Pale Blue Eye ending in the movie doesn’t give nearly as much detail to the cadet’s fate as the novel does. 

The last we see of the movie Poe is him bidding his investigative colleague detective Augustus Landor at his house and set off into the wintry landscape. 

Christian Bale as Augustus Landor

(Image credit: SCOTT GARFIELD/NETFLIX © 2022)

The final moments are devoted to Landor finally being able to let his daughter Mattie rest in peace and we never even hear mention of Poe again. But as book readers will know his story in The Pale Blue Eye novel didn’t end when he left the house.

In Louis’ book, Landor recounts to the reader via his 1st person perspective about Poe leaving the army. He recounts that he’d heard the young writer and cadet had deliberately disobeyed orders because he actively wanted a court martial so he could leave the US Army. This is something that genuinely happened as Poe was discharged from the army for his behavior. 

He states that his former friend became a “perfect paragon of nonobedience”. Later on Landor recounts how he’d received a copy of Poems by Edgar Allan Poe wrapped in yellow-gray cloth which hinted at his very real future as a poet and the real book of poems published after he left West Point. 

Christian Bale as Augustus Landor and Harry Melling as Edgar Allen Poe

(Image credit: Cr. Scott Garfield/Netflix © 2022)

The fictional detective cites how the cadets helped to fund Poe’s collection of poems and also didn’t shy away from recounting how dismally they went down with some of his financial backers.  

“I’ll bet they were disappointed,” Landor said, before adding, “Jack de Windt said he saw a bunch of cadets hurling their copies from Gee’s Point [on the Hudson River].” 

The book even mentions the old rumor that’s still not known if it’s true, but circulated nonetheless, that he once showed up for a drill in nothing but crossbelts holding his weapon as part of his attempt to get court-martialed. The Pale Blue Eye book also mentions Poe’s desire to join the Polish Army and all of this detail isn’t something that The Pale Blue Eye movie delves into. The last time he’s seen he wasn’t wearing his cadet uniform, but he doesn’t explicitly state that he’s left West Point.

Harry Melling as Edgar Allen Poe in The Pale Blue Eye

(Image credit: Cr. Scott Garfield/Netflix © 2022)

Who plays Edgar Allan Poe in The Pale Blue Eye?

Taking on the role of a historical figure isn’t easy as those who appear in The Crown and The Empress likely know full well. And the actor who stepped into the shoes of celebrated American poet, writer and literary critic Edgar Allan Poe in The Pale Blue Eye is British actor Harry Melling. He is perhaps best known for his roles in the Harry Potter series as Dudley Dursley and more recently as Kentucky State chess champion Harry Beltik in The Queen’s Gambit. In Netflix’s The Pale Blue Eye he takes on the challenge of bringing Louis Bayard’s fictional version of Edgar Allan Poe to life whilst being aware that he is also an important real life figure.  

Emma Shacklock

Emma is a Royal Editor with eight years experience working in publishing. Her specialist areas include the British Royal Family, ranging from protocol to outfits. Alongside putting her royal knowledge to good use, Emma knows all there is to know about the latest TV shows on the BBC, ITV and more. When she’s not writing about the next unmissable show to add to your to-watch list or delving into royal protocol, Emma enjoys cooking, long walks and watching yet more crime dramas!