Did Edgar Allan Poe Go To West Point? Was He in the Military?

Image Credit: Scott Garfield/Netflix

Directed by Scott Cooper, Netflix’s murder mystery film ‘The Pale Blue Eye’ revolves around a young cadet and published poet Edgar Allan Poe. When the death of a fellow cadet named Leroy Fry shakes the Military Academy, the officials at the place bring in Detective Augustus Landor to investigate the same.

Landor quickly realizes that Poe has enough skills to become his de facto assistant, and the duo sets out to find the murderer who kills Fry and Randolph Ballinger. Since Edgar Allan Poe is one of the greatest American poets of all time, the viewers must be eager to know whether the character was really as shown in the film. Well, here’s what we can share about the same!

Real-Life Raven: Edgar Allan Poe’s Brief Military Stint

The character Edgar Allan Poe of both ‘The Pale Blue Eye’ and the eponymous source novel of the film by Louis Bayard is partially based on the real poet himself. Like the character, the real-life Edgar Allan Poe was a cadet in the United States Military Academy, located in West Point, New York. In 1826, he joined the University of Virginia to study ancient and modern languages, only to drop out eventually.

Image Credit: Scott Garfield/Netflix

The following year, after cutting financial ties with his benefactor John Allan, Poe enlisted in the United States Army as a private since he couldn’t find any other way to support himself. His appointment in the Army led him to the Military Academy in West Point. Bayard was intrigued about the six months Poe was as a cadet in the Academy, a period in his life that was cut short by the gross neglect of his duties.“It was very clear that [Poe’s] romantic and poetic notions were not a good fit for West Point life,” Cooper told Netflix’s Tudum.

The conflicts Poe must have confronted at the Academy became a significant part of Bayard’s novel. Since the poet’s court-marshal records were the only resources the author could rely on, he conceived several fictional details to complete Poe’s characterization and West Point life. The similarities between the character Edgar Allan Poe and the real-life poet start and end with the latter being a cadet like the character. The Poe in ‘The Pale Blue Eye’ is entirely the creation of Bayard.

The poet was neither part of any murder investigation during the six months he spent at the Military Academy nor had a father figure like Augustus Landor to look up to. The character’s murder investigation, relationship with Landor, and companionship with Lea Marquis were conceived by Bayard. “The nice thing about being a historical novelist is you get to make shit up,” the author shared in the same interview, making it clear that his character and the real-life poet are drastically different.

Image Credit: Scott Garfield/Netflix

Still, Bayard and director Scott Cooper conceived their respective versions of ‘The Pale Blue Eye’ as an origin story of the real-life Poe but with fictional details. The author and director made it possible by integrating the prominent elements of the poet’s bibliography, such as satanism and occultism, into the fictionalized character’s life. “This is really an Edgar Allan Poe origin story, so you have to have the themes that ultimately influence this young unformed writer to become the writer he became,” Cooper told Collider.

In addition, the director wanted to offer an unconventional portrayal of the real-life poet through his version of Poe. Since Poe is known for his expertise and obsession with death, macabre, and horror, he is often presented as an enigmatic figure. On the other hand, Cooper wanted his character to be much more pleasant.

“I wanted to tell a formative Poe story, where he is warm and witty and prone to poetic and romantic fantasy, and someone we’re not accustomed to seeing on the screen,” the director told Deadline about the foundations of his fictionalized version of the poet. Thus, Poe in ‘The Pale Blue Eye’ can be considered a fictional character based on the real-life poet’s reality.

Read More: Is The Pale Blue Eye Based on a True Story?